Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mt. Katahdin, Maine

Mount Katahdin at 5,268 feet is the highest mountain in Maine. It marks the northern end of 
The Appalachian TrailOver 2,000 miles, the AT is the longest marked footpath in the world. 
My son has summited Katahdin twice and dreams of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail one year.
Hiking with me, our aim was to climb only 2/3 up Katahdin to Chimney Pond. This was six-miles roundtrip 
from Roaring Brook campground. My son did all the planning, including rations and campsites, for our 4-night 
visit to Baxter State ParkWe split the 4 hour drive to the North Woods from our home in coastal Maine. 
The view at one third up Katahdin was in itself worth the climb. 
In mid July at this high elevation, the bugs weren't too bad and the Mountain Laurel was in bloom. 
It wasn't a difficult climb, but the rocky footing made it challenging. Hiking boots and poles were a good idea.
We were aiming for that plateau valley, another mile and a half above us: Chimney Pond. 
Chimney Pond is ringed by jagged peaks with crystal clear turquoise water. It reminded me oddly of Switzerland.
We were allowed to pump water and to picnic by the shore but not to swim. 
We needed warm fleeces more than a dip in the water anyway. Although it was in the low 70's at the base,
it was 10 degrees colder at Chimney Pond. The wind was gusting too. 
Often the summit trails are closed due to bad weather or high winds. My son says that up on the Knife's Edge
trail, it feels like you can touch the clouds. I got scared just looking up at it. The Native Americans
refused to climb Katahdin. When there was thunder, they believed the gods were rolling boulders up there.
People have died on its steep slopes, but exposure poses a greater threat.
My favorite view of Mt. Katahdin was from back down at Sandy Pond. This photo was taken
on the same day as the opening shot. The weather changes so quickly there.
We hiked with raincoats and rain pants, fleeces, food, 2 liters of water each, purification tablets,
sunscreen, first aid kit, compass, map, headlamps and most important of all: my DSLR camera. 
The next day, we climbed an "easier" mountain, South Turner. The first mile was flat through woodland marsh,
but the second mile climbed 1,700 feet. It went up and up and up. Once we got above the tree-line, high winds
nearly knocked me over. I decided to quit at 200 feet from the summit. We were passed by a girl scout troop.
The view of Katahdin was stunning, but my vertigo returns just looking at this picture.
My hands were shaking so much it was hard to hold the camera steady. 

Now you know why I didn't summit Katahdin.
My sense of equilibrium returned back down in the woods.
Being in the wilderness brings me both challenges and peace.

I'll be posting more Baxter photos in the coming weeks, focusing on moose, canoeing and wildflowers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Small Damages by Beth Kephart

When Beth Kephart mentioned that her latest novel was set in Seville, I knew I had to read it. I visited Spain as a child and was entranced. I recall late, spicy dinners tuned to strumming guitars and the swishing skirts of flamenco dancers. In high school I was a foreign exchange student myself but in France. After reading two other young adult novels by Beth, I guessed that her lyrical, thoughtful writing would capture the experience of living abroad and this was so:
"Outside in the courtyard, I hear the Gypsies settling in - someone laughing, someone pulling out the drum, someone making rasgueado and turning around the sound, and when I look through the open door to the earth beyond, I see Rafael stomping at the dust at his feet and the dust rising like fog."
In Small Damages a pregnant American teenager is shipped off to Spain, where a couple is waiting to adopt her child. Keeping the baby would derail Kenzie's college plans and her nascent career in filmmaking. No one, other than her mortified mother and her Yale-bound boyfriend, needs to know of her misstep. Her cover is that she is learning how to cook Spanish food and improving her language skills. In Spain, however, Kenzie realizes there are more choices to make.

The backstory unfolds slowly in shuffled flashbacks while exploring Seville and working on a remote bull ranch. This exotic setting is peopled with multidimensional characters who are distinctly Spanish. Shy and modest Esteban isn't a typical romantic hero, and Estela, the cook with a past, hides her generosity behind a gruff exterior. As the gypsies come and go, their music lingers. This book engages all the senses so that the reader is there in the moment with the protagonist.

Kenzie is self-absorbed at first, but that's understandable given her difficult situation. Her mother's insistence on hiding the accidental pregnancy seems rather anachronistic. Her boyfriend refuses to see this as his problem too. Both her mother and her boyfriend had suggested abortion, but Kenzie had refused. Still grieving the death of her father, she sees the fetus as a link to him.
 The narrative dutifully follows the convention of young adult literature by side-stepping abortion. In this novel, choice is not political, religious or even moral; it's a personal decision. 

I'd recommend Small Damages to mature teenagers and to adults who enjoy literary fiction. It will be released tomorrow on July 19, 2012. Simmering with secrets, savory flavor and dusty heat, this book is seasoned just right for summer.

The book trailer features the author's talented husband on guitar
and her gorgeous photos of Spain.

Small Damages received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.
It was also reviewed in the NYT Books section last weekend.
Congratulations, Beth!

Disclosure: Author Beth Kephart is a blog buddy.
I received a free ARC from the publisher on my request.
My reviews of two more Kephart novels are here:
Undercover by Beth Kephart (review and interview)
You are My Only by Beth Kephart (review)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

It's almost Scout's first birthday too. I wish you all the best today.
Next week I'm off camping in the North Woods with my son.

Scout will help my husband guard the fort.
See you July 18th!