Tough Cookie expresses her displeasure at seeing the cut trees along the trail in Manchester’s Livingston Park.
“I need rock,” Janelle says, entirely dissatisfied with the small boulder we discover along the trail around Dorrs Pond in Manchester. “I need to climb something soon.”
We have ignored the unusually cold weather and icy-crusted conditions in a desperate attempt to find an afternoon of hiking near our home. We settle on the trail around the pond in Livingston Park because that’s one place in our city we have not yet hiked together. We’re running out of such places in Manchester.
“You need a mountain?” I ask, knowing the answer.
She nods. “Or a climbing wall, or whatever. Just rock.”
This has been a tough winter; cold, busy and, for Tough Cookie, fraught with the confusing and sometimes difficult obstacles of pre-teen angst, barely controlled energy and, well, just plain growing up. She’s committed herself to our book tour and presenting with me with as much discipline and focus as she did to hiking, but it’s not the same. She needs hiking, and climbing, and running, as a means of head clearing. Being outside has become her meditation, and if I am to be honest with myself, I just haven’t been able to give her as much as she’s needed.
Feeding ducks on partially frozen Dorrs Pond.
We swing around the small pond, slipping and sliding along on the icy, uncleared trail. We have big plans for the year: an overnight at Lonesome Lake Hut, a couple 4,000-footers on tap and maybe, if we can swing it, a thru-hike of the Cohos Trail. For now though, we satisfy ourselves with small hikes, local runs and occasionally an amazing event.
One of those presentations took place in Melvin Village last week at the Willing Workers Hall, a sort of community Grange for Tuftonboro. We were invited last year to speak as guests of honor for a women’s club known as The Hikers. (The club has been around since the 1930s and are known as The Hikers not because they climb mountains, but because they traditionally would hike to each others’ houses to meet each week!)
The experience of an old-fashioned New England pot luck social is something special. About 50 “Yankees” stopped by carrying delicate dishes of steaming, mostly homemade food. Everything from baked mac and cheese to boiled chicken to Ramen noodle salad to treats like blueberry pie covered two long tables.
But the corn pudding, oh my!
Throughout this adventure, I’ve often considered the direction this ongoing experience has moved us. From the timely circumstances surrounding the twins entry into our lives, to the hiking path that has created such an amazing bond between Janelle and myself, which ultimately led to the book, which in turn has created a sort of career path at just the moment I needed direction.
Being introduced at the Willing Workers Hall.
But sitting there in that old social hall, with Janelle and Meena, surrounded by a group of kind, attentive, comfortable new friends, I finally figured out what this whole endeavor has ultimately been about.
And I’m here to tell you my friends, it is about corn pudding; creamy, sweet, perfectly baked, corn pudding. Before we left that hall, we befriended the amazing woman who brought that dish, and she kindly gave us her recipe. And now I know, no matter what the future brings, this incredible adventure – this earnest and deeply challenging quest for friendship that Janelle and I have undertaken with all of your love – does indeed have meaning. And that meaning can be found in a box of Jiffy Corn Bread Mix along with a couple of cans of cream corn.
Salvation is not as difficult to find as one imagines and can thrive in the most mundane of places. Perfect happiness can be found in a simple social hall, surrounded by friends and a heaping plate of corn pudding.