When I hike with my nephews I teach them three things. How to use a compass, how to read a map and how to make stream water safe to drink.
My youngest nephew Matt was my hiking partner this trip. We hiked into the Johns Brook Lodge, spent the night and then hiked to Basin Mountain and Saddleback Mountain the next morning.
The day of our hike is clear, dry and little too hot. We start after breakfast and walk past Bushnell Falls and Slant Rock before climbing to the Range Trail.
From there we turn left and ascend Basin Mountain before continuing along the trail to Saddleback Mountain and the cliffs that lead to its summit.
The route to the top is marked by yellow paint. It is steeper than most scrambles and a bit intimidating. We take it slow, planning our route one step and one hand-hold at a time. We finish the climb by wedging our feet in a large crevice before walking around a narrow ledge to the summit.
We eat some sandwiches, take some pictures and return to the lodge by way of the Ore Bed Trail.
During our hike I teach Matt the same lessons I have taught his brothers and cousin before him. We stop from time to time and I ask him to use the map and compass to tell me “where are we and where are we going?” He learns quickly and soon is able to use trail junctions, stream crossings and contour lines to provide the answer to my questions. I ask Matt to locate the last place where stream water can be found and when we get there I show him how to make it safe to drink.
At mountaintops the question is slightly different. “What is the name of that peak over there?” As I point, Matt orients the map and uses a compass bearing to provide the answer.
My brother hoped that Matt and I would talk about college choices during this trip. Matt is starting his senior year at the high school in the small town where I grew up. His parents worry, as do all, that he is not focusing enough on the deadlines that are before him.
We pass many hiking groups along the way. We always hear them before we see them as they talk loudly to each other, just as if they were sharing a coffee or at a work meeting. Our hike is different. For long stretches we do not speak at all, choosing to experience the nature around us without commentary or interpretation. When we do speak, it is not about college or the future. It is about mountain peaks and snakes and bobcats and bears.
When we returned from our trip my brother asked if I had spoken to Matt about college. Here is the answer I gave him:
I went on a hike with my youngest nephew. We climbed a cliff to a mountaintop, slept in a bunk-room without electricity and read books until the daylight faded. We did not discuss college or the future. I have no idea what Matt will do in the years ahead, but when he decides what he wants, he will figure out how to get there.
And he won’t need a compass or a map.