Dear Mary Altz-Smith of Birmingham, AL,
Recently, The Union Leader published your letter to the editor expressing your disappointment in the conditions of our White Mountain trails. Respectfully, many of us who actually live here actually got quite a kick out of your complaints, including this incredible group of girls we have the pleasure of hiking with each summer. So, Mary, I hope my letter reaches you, but if it doesn’t, I’m pretty sure one of the letters our girls are in the process of writing will pass your eyes at some point this summer. They have each chosen a newspaper to which they will send individual response letters about what your letter was missing about our White Mountains. These young women, along with the mountains they hike, are beautiful, complex, and individually rugged, no doubt. Today, I read aloud to them from Women on High, a book by Rebecca Brown, about the pioneer women from the 1800’s who chose to defy all that was easy and ladylike and “take it to the woods” as we like to say. We wrote in our journals about why we love to climb even when it’s hard.
“But why would we want to hike something that was easy? Where is the challenge in that?” they asked. These are not all young women who identify as athletes; rather, most of them just like to be outside. Sure, some are goal driven and incredibly focused on reaching the peak, but that too prepares them for the hurdles they will face in the work force along with balancing careers with families if that is what they choose.
As realistic teachers, we don’t honestly believe that everything we try to teach our students in the classroom will be remembered as they grow older. But, what happens in the woods is an an entirely different story, one I’m very grateful to be part of.
Their letters are in early draft form right now as we only have two hikes under our belts with summer vacation just two weeks in. However, even in these early forms, I can tell you that these girls are passionate about their arguments. Their only assessment is that they feel personal growth in all the ways that matter most. Your letter inspired us to respond. So thank you for providing these 18 young women ranging in age from 11-17, along with their 40-ish year old leaders something to defend in the form of persuasive writing.
And, Mary, here’s the thing; we would welcome you back to our White Mountains any time you want to have a first rate experience. Come hike with us one day, and we will show you a good time in our woods. We are proud of our back yard White Mountains. As far as negotiating boulders? The bigger the better! Don’t you wonder how they came to rest in that very place? We also adore our rocky stream beds, even if this slows us down; we are more apt to examine the moss or check out layers in the rock formations or imagine the early climbers and hikers in these very spots. We adore waterfalls, pristine views of other mountains from the tops of the ones we are standing on; we imagine the many other places we hope to travel and hike when we leave our White Mountains. We focus on the journey, and even on the toughest days when the trail is steep and unyielding or the sun glares down too hotly, or the mosquitos and black flies devour us for lunch, we arrive at the peak proud of the climb. Perhaps, like many experiences in life, Mary, you need a different perspective. We are thrilled to share our 18 with you over the course of the summer!
Steps and handholds certainly make life easier in the woods. However, our Lin-Wood Public School Girls of Summer respectfully ask that you leave those decisions up to the men and women who work for the White Mountain National Forest. They are really good at what they do; those lady pioneers who came up to the Whites in 1883 certainly had no steps or handholds, but they climbed anyway. Their efforts helped launch an entire movement getting all sorts of people in the woods, and we proudly continue those same efforts today.
Trail maintenance is a priority; many of our residents, along with hundreds of thousands visitors like you, find their way to our towns and forests each year, and most of them find their way back again. Tourists: thank you for climbing our mountains, swimming in our rivers, eating in our restaurants and contributing to our local economy while you are here. But if you find our mountains truly to be disgraceful, then I hear the Adirondacks are lovely this time of year, as are the Green Mountains of Vermont. Perhaps, you are better suited for those. As for us, here in the Whites, we are happy to remain at home to hike.
Heather Ehrman Krill of North Woodstock, NH, formerly a flatlander of Merrimack, NH