Rainy Day Walk in the White Mountains

Hiking signs on Randolph Mountain Club footpaths in New Hampshire.
Hand-carved signs direct hikers on about 100 miles of Randolph Mountain Club footpaths, many dating to the 19th century.

This blog was written before Hurricane Ida. My heart goes out to everyone in the path of the storm.

It is worth the while to walk in wet weather;
the earth and leaves are strewn with pearls.
— Henry David Thoreau

Rain beads on the spruce twigs and polishes the Clintonia leaves to a shine as they hug the ground beneath their sapphire-colored fruit. I’m walking in a cloud on a 19th-century footpath, the highest peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains — lost in cloud — just to the south.

If it was ever worth the while to walk in wet weather, this is it. The air is infused with spruce and balsam fir. The yellow birches with their peeling champagne bark are glowing, their stalwart roots crossing the path and hugging the rocks at the edge of Carlton Brook. When I pluck my first blueberry of the day along the stone wall next to the Pasture Path, it is sweet and dewy.

Clintonia lily leaves with blue fruit in New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Rain-washed Clintonia lily leaves are adorned with sapphire-blue late summer fruit.

This has been a very hard summer. With the returning surge of Covid, the desperate situation in Afghanistan, violence in our cities, and ghastly tragic weather emergencies from fatal floods to drought and wildfire, the world seems to be in very dire straits. We struggle to remain calm and optimistic, wondering, What can we do?

When I’m lost for proactive ideas, I do what I have always done: seek solace in Nature.

My mother-in-law, Paula Elliott Bradley, died, suddenly and peacefully, this month and I’m grateful to be able to remember her in these northern woods that she loved. I know she’d appreciate the brilliant mossiness of this rainy day. Evergreen spruces, firs, hemlocks, and pines — raindrops pearled at the tips of their needles — rise above electric lime beds of moss and the earthy dark of decaying leaves. The woodland symphony includes white and yellow birches, several maple species, an occasional oak, and the wild viburnum called hobblebush, with its brilliant red fruit. On the forest floor, the gold-speckled berries and heart-shaped leaves of the diminutive Canada mayflower and mushrooms of fanciful shape prick through the moss. Every brook and rivulet is running high, exuberant with the music of water and rock.

Mossy planks form a trail into the woods of New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Wooden planks carry the Diagonal path through a wetland near where a mother moose and her calf crossed the path.

Knee-high ferns tunnel across the wooden planks that bridge the boggy places along the path. Fresh moose prints are stamped in the mud between planks, and a mother moose and her calf — their fur the color of milk chocolate — race across the trail, heading downhill.

I have become a connoisseur of every kind of weather and seasonal normalcy. Yes, I worry constantly: Will these baby firs and spruces — plump and confidently green — have winters cold enough and summers cool enough to grow into the forests of the future? Can the sugar maples and white birches survive a warming northern New England? According to scientific prediction, it doesn’t look good.

Yet I am here today, walking in the rain, a normal gentle rain, and the forest is growing and glowing. It is my right, my duty even, to appreciate the brilliant wonder of this woodland, at this moment, with a grateful and hopeful heart.

I remember the closing words of the Mary Oliver poem, “The Summer Day,” as I walk:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Melanie Choukas-Bradley is a naturalist, forest bathing guide, and author of several nature books, most recently Resilience—Connecting with Nature in a Time of Crisis and Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island.

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