I promised myself Hawk Mountain when I forced myself to book my airline tickets. I was going back to Breinigsville to visit my mother for a week in spring.
She didn’t like the idea of my going to the mountain. She felt slighted. A bit abandoned.
But if I was being inconsiderate, I didn’t care. I had to give myself a few short hours to visit a place I loved as a girl, when I was desperate to find a refuge from a violent home. Hawk Mountain spoke to my heart decades ago when I was a child. All these years later I still long for its beauty. To deny my heart time on the mountain would have broken it.
The place I love is part of the Appalachian Trail in eastern Pennsylvania. Opened as a bird sanctuary in 1934, its trails skirt the edge of the Blue Ridge and are situated beneath a major migratory path for raptors and other soaring winged wonders.
The climb to North Lookout was easier than I remembered. The trail was wide and clean with rough-hewn benches every hundred yards or so. The limestone outcrop my high school friends and I huddled beneath on chilly Saturdays during our senior year was now fenced off and deemed too dangerous to climb. Stairs to the lookout helped those who could not manage the boulders I scrambled over at sixteen. But the view from the lookout was untouched and stretched in front of me as it had for generations I could follow the course of the Schuylkill River and the train tracks from Kempton. I could see Bake Oven Knob in the distance and below me the bare plowed earth.
I climbed the rocks and searched the skies. I breathed the late spring air made damp by rain clouds moving in from the next town over. I crawled beneath boulders to photograph the stalks and spores of spawning green moss and then knelt next to the grey lichen clinging to glacial debris ten thousand years old.
During my morning on the mountain I opened to the space around me. I pushed against the wind and felt the wind push back. I stretched into the sky and curled under rocks. Hard granite pressed against my bones and when the sky finally opened the rain washed my skin.
There was new life on that mountain. The new growth of a warm spring. I was new life on that mountain, too. I returned home to visit a mother I don’t know, to learn about a family who are strangers to me. On that grey morning, the morning I gave to myself as a gift, I listened to what the mountain had to teach me about memories and moving on.
And as I drove away from Hawk Mountain through the slashing rain, I knew I was ready at last to hear the stories my mother needed to tell.
As part of an assignment for the class Psychology of the Body, I was asked to write about my relationship with the land. We all have a landscape we hold in our soul. A place we love and return to if not with our bodies then in spirit. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to walk Hawk Mountain once again.