The girls are lost.
Well, not lost, I don’t think. But they certainly are doing a very fine job of hiding among the enormous and amazing boulder field in Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham. Neither Janelle nor I have ever been to this part of the park, and we are instantly mesmerized.
We’ve come for a day hike with our close friends Ralph and his daughter Alayna. The two girls met only once before, at our grand book release party, and formed an instant connection. We’ve been trying to get back together ever since. To Janelle, Alayna is the kid her age who climbed Mt. Katahdin, who hiked over Knife Edge. “I don’t think I could do that,” Tough Cookie has said on more than one occasion about Alayna’s feat; a statement tinged, I believe, with a mix of fear and hopefulness.
She talks about Katahdin in Maine in the same tones she uses for Mt. Washington, as if to say, that sounds terrifying, but if you think I can do it, I’ll give it a shot. Someday, we will.
But for now, the weather is mellow, the forest is open and dry and we are surrounded by the most amazing boulders and caves.
We had initially planned on doing a loop through the boulder field, then up and over North Peak and back to the car. But once we stepped up onto that first boulder and scanned the incredible field ahead, all four of us understood pretty quickly that we’d spend the rest of the day here. How could I never have come here before?
With the undergrowth down and sight lines through the field excellent, the girls decide to play a game of hide and seek. They would hide, we would find them. Turns out, they are very good at hiding, and we are very bad at finding. Ralph and I spread out to try to box them in, but they are fast and every time we get close they scamper away like field mice.
At one point, they disappear altogether after scurrying down the ridge and literally disappear. Ralph and I split up to look for them, and I feel a small twinge of concern. But I can’t imagine getting lost here where the boulders rise up everywhere. It would be very difficult to get turned around. And it’s Janelle, right? I taught her to keep the ridgelines in sight, to find waymarks, to understand terrain.
I wind my way back down toward the boulder cave where we initially set up our camp and where we’ll have lunch. I have a hunch they doubled back. Along the way I pass a dozen rock climbers working on various routes in the field.
And as I come around a turn, I see their little heads peeking up from behind a table boulder, just feet from our backpacks. They are both hugging the rocks, trying to keep out of site. Grinning madly. And I think to myself that maybe being here works just fine. That maybe, as grand as a Presidential ridgeline can be, that today, here, among the rocks and caves, memories made will be just as indelible. Little Pawtuckaway will give us that on this cold fall day; two little girls climbing on rocks in the woods.
“I found them, Ralph,” I shout, and the girls laugh and disappear behind the granite and the chase is on once again.