Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond, including out west for what I expect was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

North Country

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

Cherry Pond, NH

Cherry Pond, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, Jefferson NH

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

Androscoggin River valley NH

Androscoggin River valley seen from Milan Hill, NH

For more destinations and photos, find the rest of the post at Granite State Walker.

A Holy Door I’ll remember

Unless my understanding is dim (always a possibility), every year is a Year of Mercy in the economy of salvation. Even so, I understand and rejoice in Pope Francis’s declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy now drawing to a close. I’ve enjoyed the little delights, the mini-pilgrimages, visiting different churches with Holy Doors. Each has been a place of prayer and peace.

I was privileged early in the year to travel to Venice, Italy, an unexpected blessing that materialized on very short notice. I was eager to visit Basilica San Marco, which I knew was a Holy Door pilgrimage site. As I approached the church, I noticed two doors in use: a large central door was for tourists, and a smaller door to the right for pilgrims.

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dome inside Baptistery, Basilica San Marco, Venice

Once inside, I was guided to the Baptistery, where at first I was too stunned by the grandeur to pray. I was much more tourist than pilgrim at first. Get a grip, I told myself more than once. Eventually, alone in the splendid room, I was able to pray – beginning with a quick thank You.

The very antiquity of my surroundings gave me pause. My diocesan cathedral was built about 120 years ago. That’s old, by local standards. The Baptistery in Basilica San Marco, on the other hand, is a 14th-century addition to an 11th-century church.

After a few minutes, the art and ornamentation became less distracting to me and more integrated into worship of Christ. My very solitude became a gift. I liked being alone in the silent Baptistery when I knew that guided tours were going on nearby in the main part of the basilica. It was the off-season for tourists, I guess, and that was my good fortune.

Eventually, the sense of being a tourist faded. I was in a place consecrated to God. The communion of saints became vivid to me as I knelt in a place where fellow Christians had knelt nearly a millenium before.The stories told in the mosaics were familiar and needed no translation. The Blessed Sacrament was the Real Presence.

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Making a Holy Year pilgrimage is as easy as going to one’s own diocesan cathedral or other designated spot. (In my own state, the Bishop has even blessed a Holy Door in the chapel at the men’s State Prison for the inmates there.) I didn’t need Europe for my Jubilee celebration. I got it nevertheless, through a set of circumstances I couldn’t have anticipated even six months in advance. Who knows why? Some blessings make no sense, and I’m left with nothing to do but whisper a prayer of gratitude.