We weren't even out of Massachusetts when the traffic jam hit. It was Saturday morning, summertime, and the populace was hell bent on recreating itself. We certainly were, DK and I, headed toward the White Mountains. As I gazed morosely out of the window, I wondered whether a black plume of smoke up ahead had anything to do with the current unpleasantness.
It did. The fact that a gaggle of policemen was standing nearby and calmly watching the conflagration reassured me that there were probably no people being incinerated, nonetheless it was horrible.
So I pulled out my camera.
After the blaze, the traffic eased and we resumed our northward trajectory. The next thing that caught my undercaffeinated attention was a castle-like building on a low, green hill. I sighed: it was Danvers' infamous House on the Hill, a decommissioned State Mental Hospital.
The signs, so far, were not propitious.
Perhaps lunch would help. We followed a New Hampshirian Highway Icon consisting of a plate and cutlery off the highway. We found ourselves on a dull stretch of road peppered with corrugated metal buildings. After a few miles we encountered a "Chinese Buffet." I had an instant flashback to a "Chinese Buffet" I had once experienced, the only one in fact, somewhere in the midwest.
"Oh, no you don't," I said to DK who was pulling into a depressing and nearly empty parking lot behind the restaurant, "no Chinese Buffet ! No way !"
I remembered a vast, seemingly endless room, and a labyrinth of steam tables through which silent crowds of enormous hungry ghosts were drifting with heaping, mountainously overfilled plates. The horror, the All-U-Can-Eat horror.
He reasoned with me. We were hungry. It wouldn't be so bad.
I sent him ahead. A scout. He came back and reassured me: this was a small scale operation. I could handle it.
He was right, dear DK, the guy who makes this scary awful modern world livable for me. So we had lunch.
We were still miles from the mountains. There was a tarp-covered mound outside the Chinese Buffet to whet our appetite for mountains, but still miles of ghastly Live-Free-Or-Die, a-toll-booth-every-2-miles fueled traffic between us and our destination.
We eventually arrived in North Conway. This would be my first Sunday away from church in years. I'd informed the priest, and the Altar Guild crew reassured me all would be well, everything was under control.
There would be churches in New Hampshire, if I cared to partake --
even, ecumenically, an establishment that sold "OTF knives, fairies, dragons, gargoyles, e-cigs and Buddhas,"
and even a branch of TEC, barely recognizable except for its red door,
a few blocks from the local headquarters of the Ursine TreeMasons.
But I was vacationing with my personal good shepherd, who tolerates my churchgoing with not a little irony and bemusement, and we only had two days in which to see the mountains. So I decided I would not insist on Mass.
You can pray in the bathroom, he commented.
Given my ongoing existential emergency, I decided that a quick check of the Motel bedside drawer for the Gideon Bible would be the extent of my devotions for the weekend. I held my breath and opened the drawer. At the last Motel where we stayed there had been no Gideon Bible. It was unsettling. Had someone taken it ? Or had the Gideons simply -- forgot ? Who were these Gideons, anyway ? Some subspecies of book-doling angel ? Please let there be a Gideon Bible in here, I thought. I looked down. There it was, neatly pushed into he corner of the otherwise empty drawer. I relaxed, irrationally reassured. Amen.
The next morning, adequately forewarned about the wildlife, we set out for the Kankamangus. My heart sank as DK pulled into the LL Bean parking lot. When I mentioned our trip to North Conway at work, the first response was -- Oh, so you will be shopping at the Outlet Stores !
I do not do recreational shopping. They know that. I am a freak-of-nature. Sometimes I don't even do utilitarian shopping.
So, of course, I objected. I had my reputation as an anti-commerce radical to uphold. How could he !
It would be a quick trip, said good shepherd. He was after some shorts he couldn't find online.
I sighed and followed him into the store. I tried and failed to tune out the screaming baby and the floral shirts in unnatural colors. And the kayaks. And the khaki.
Well, we did, finally, see the mountains. And the rivers.
And our fellow humans recreating themselves,
including my dear good shepherd at whose behest
I photographed this big rock.
I did, albeit briefly, lift my eyes unto the hills,
into the altitudes that absolutely transcend existential emergency. From whence cometh my help ? Hills, good shepherds, minor orders of angels, books hidden in drawers ?