From the summit of Berlin Mountain I can see across 24 years

Last time I climbed Berlin Mountain was 24 years ago … at dawn. I remember because it was my first week in the Berkshires, in the first days of my first year at Williams College, and this weekend I stood on the summit again.
In my first days of college, I signed up for a camping trip. Bernice Lewis sang for us before we headed out. I still remember sitting in Lasell with an old sleeping bag, out of place in a new world, and listening to her, and feeling soothed.
My trip reached the foot of the mountain at about 10 a.m. on our first morning, and our leaders had to figure out what to do with us for the rest of the day. We charged up an old ski trail and paddled in a stream where the rocks looked like sculpted limestone … sat under the trees and talked.
I remember moments clearly. Trust falls. Couscous over a camp fire. The group who went on ahead as advance scouts and found an old Isuzu chained to a tree.
Most of all, I remember two moments. The first was the pause, somewhere on the second day, when the conversation shifted. We had been talking pop culture and sports and getting-to-know-you, and it was as though we looked around and thought hey … we’re in college. And suddenly we were talking about physics, and the lyrics of Pippin, and all the things we loved and had learned not to bring out in polite conversation because other people wouldn’t understand or care. It was all right to be as smart as we really were. It was fresh air.
And the second moment came on the last morning. We climbed to the summit on our second day, and when we came down at sunset I realized I’d left my belt pack on top. With my wallet in it. And we had to catch a ride back early the next day. One of the group leaders was mensch enough to get up at 5:30 the next morning and pelt back up the mountain with me to get it.
So we were heading back up the trail straight up the face of the hill, and the sun was rising. And I remember looking out over the valley. The light was glinting off the roofs of the college buildings in the mist, tiny and far below.
I remembered it, this weekend, when I walked south on the Taconic Crest Trail from Petersburgh Pass for the first time. The trail rises gradually, and keeps rising, and you’re walking along the ridge through birch and beech trees … until you come out into the open and you’re surrounded with blue sky.

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