I met Smiley at Chet’s Place, in Lincoln, NH July of 2012. He was from Ireland and was hiking with his friend Party Animal and a lady named Day Hiker and they were pretty inseparable.
When Smiley opened his mouth, you got this blinding white flash from his teeth, and his face was always agrin. He had been in the US working as a carpenter, doing hand-worked furniture when (as the story goes) he was told by INS he could go play tourist for a few months, called his buddy from home and said “Hey, how do you feel about hiking this?”. So they did.
Today’s moment comes from Dana Hill, mile 464.3 (southbound), where we stopped early in the third week of August of 2012 to watch the stars.
The actual reason we stopped wasn’t to watch stars – it was to be the first people at the pie shop just down the road. On The Edge Farm sits about 200 feet from the trail and has fresh pies every morning when they open, but they go so quickly that we were told by nobos to get there as early as possible. So we decided to camp just a few miles short of the farm, get up and be there first thing in the morning. Little did we know that because of this plan, we’d get the best stargazing we’d ever seen.
We hiked up extra water to this hill and decided to have a campfire (there was already a ring, someone else had the same idea) and stay up a little later – since we only had to go a mile and a half the next morning. The sun started setting, but it wasn’t a sunset that was particularly amazing – amusing to say now that I’m back in suburbia, where I ache for EVERY sunset.
Then the stars appeared.
We were sitting with an unopposed horizon, and you could see the inky blackness creep across the sky. No clouds, no light pollution, no distant glow from a city or any other lights. Just a tiny sliver of moon that came up later.
All we had above were shattered diamonds flung into the heavens to reassure us that we weren’t alone.
There are moments you remember forever. This is one of those for me. Looking up and seeing the arms of the Milky Way, reaching out to envelope my body as I stood against the sky – feeling as if I was the most insignificant thing in the world, but also as if I could touch the lights that were shining onto me.
The air went from the oppressive humid heat to the chill crispness of the north, reminding us that very soon there would be cold, bringing us the smells of the far north, the mountains we had just left. You could taste the pines on the wind, feel the shivers of the trees as the wind coursed through them, bending them to it’s will.
We stood upon a hill in the night, in the blackness and stared at the sky. Smiley spoke in the darkness, something I will never forget.
“You can see to eternity here, it looks like a thing of beauty.”
There are moments you associate people with, memories you’ll never forget. For Smiley, anytime I see his picture or talk to him from a thousand miles away, I’ll have that moment of his voice in the dark – reminding me that there are beautiful things far greater than myself. All I have to do is look up.