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A “perfect storm” of life events March 31, 2015

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Life experience, Lifestyle, memoir, White Mountains.
Tags: , , , , ,
View from my deck.

View from my deck.

Within the past 10 days, these things happened:

1. My landlord told me he is going to sell the house. He’d mentioned the possibility a while back, but now I need to be out in June.

2. A short way into a hike to the Lester Prong headwaters to commemorate my mentor, Charlie Klabunde, my knee gave out (again) and I had to turn back.

3. I had a serious disagreement with a director of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and resigned my position as newsletter editor.

4. My sister in Massachusetts, who is battling mental illness, had a crisis and went into a group home for a “respite,” as they call it.

The upshot: I have decided to return to New England, where I can be closer to my sister and try to help her out.

My living room.

My living room.

Last week was pretty terrible, the nights worse than the days: insomniac hours, waking up with a sudden jolt of anxiety. But I have come through the worst of it, and now I have moved into a new phase of this transition. My insomnia now takes the form of sudden bouts of feverish planning at 3:00 in the morning.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I decided I will move to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. But let’s back up for a moment.

1.  The house. This is a beautiful place that overlooks the Tuckasegee River in Sylva, NC. The person who built it, back in the 70s, was a carpenter with a creative spirit. It has all kinds of nice touches, like the real Portuguese tiles in the kitchen and the railings upstairs fashioned from twisting branches. It does have its problems, such as the steep narrow driveway. And after all those years, it needs repairs. But I am fond of it.

It’s not easy to find good house rentals in the Sylva area—this house is kind of a fluke. I’m renting rather than buying because I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I might need to move back to New England on short notice. Sylva’s a small town, and most of the rentals are mobile homes. Well, I could move to Waynesville or Asheville. Nope, don’t want to do that. As far as Asheville’s concerned, “been there, done that.”

House as seen from the driveway.

House as seen from the driveway.

2.  The knee. I’ve had this problem of a dislocation of the joint for quite a while now. It flared up three years ago, got better for a while, and then went down the tubes this year. Looks like surgery is needed. I will need someone to help me in the recovery period. The treatment consists of placing a pin in the joint, and the leg is immobilized for several weeks in a cast. I have an old friend in Vermont who can help me.

3. The SMHC dispute. Ever since I took over the newsletter editor duty (after Charlie became too ill to do it), I’ve also been the resident curmudgeon (Charlie had played that role as well). I’ve advocated for preserving the traditional ways of the club—especially maintaining a program of challenging off-trail hikes. But the trend has been toward making everything easier, more accessible. The issue extends beyond the hikes themselves to things like whether we wait for latecomers at the carpool spot.  My opinion is, we never used to. Why should we now?

I need more space to explain my seemingly unfriendly position. I’ll follow up in my next blog post.

4. I would truly like to give my sister more support.

She lives in Northampton, Mass. Nice town. People in western North Carolina could think of it as “the Asheville of central Massachusetts.” It’s one of those places known for its tolerant attitudes, its restaurants of locally-sourced produce and happy free-range chickens. Inhabited by health-minded, environmentally correct souls. (Note: I more or less agree with most of those ideas, but that won’t stop me from making fun of them.)

But I don’t want to live in Northampton. It’s cluttered, it’s busy. I’ve gotten used to listening to the sound of the river running over the rapids. Noho’s too urban for me. Also probably too expensive for me to buy a house, which I want to do when I’m back in the area.

I thought of the I-91 corridor, which hits the Connecticut River Valley in Hartford, Connecticut, and follows it on up through Springfield Mass., Northampton Mass., Brattleboro Vermont, and up as far as St. Johnsbury Vermont, not all that far from the river’s  headwaters. There the highway diverges and runs toward Sherbrook, Quebec.

First I considered moving to Brattleboro, or possibly west of there in the Mount Snow area, located on an interesting high plateau of central southern Vermont (A.T. hikers know it for Glastonbury and Stratton Bald). But that area can get pretty expensive, too, and nothing about it pulls me there.

Then I started homing in on St. Johnsbury. It’s the biggest town in what’s known as Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. That consists of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans Counties.

Location of St. Johnsbury.

Location of St. Johnsbury.

It has odd parallels with Sylva. Populations in both run only around 7,000, but both are the largest town in their county. And both are located near major mountain ranges. Sylva is close to the Smokies. St. Johnsbury is not all that far from the White Mountains, in particular the Presidential Range that includes Mt. Washington.

You may be thinking, “But Vermont means Green Mountains, not White Mountains.” Bear in mind that St. Johnsbury is in the eastern part of the state, just across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire. Within Vermont, it is close to the incredible Lake Willoughby, a narrow glacial lake 320′ deep that is framed by the dramatic slopes of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor. I’ve been there many times.

Yesterday, gripped by the idea of St. Johnsbury, I researched the cost of housing. Looks like the area is in something of a real estate slump. The average price has been dropping, and houses have been on the market for long periods. Good news for buyers! I could purchase a nice little well-kept up Cape on a 0.76 acre lot for $70,000.

St. Johnsbury is too far north to be part of the trendy, touristy parts of Vermont invaded by leaf-peepers wanting to stay in quaint B & Bs, buy maple syrup, and look at covered bridges. Oh, it does get tourists, but nothing like the numbers that seasonally migrate to Manchester or Bennington.

Plus, it has the Athenaeum and the historic St. Johns Academy. The Athenaeum contains major paintings of the Hudson River School, a legacy of the local Fairbanks family. They made their money from inventing and manufacturing the world’s first platform scale in the mid-1800s.

The Athenaeum.

The Athenaeum.

It will be a straight shot down I-91 to visit my sister, a drive of 2.5 hours. North of White River Junction, the drive is on nearly empty highway. I could easily get to Northampton and back in a day, or go down for a weekend. I could stay there for an extended period.

I know some people might think, “Two and a half hours? That’s too far.” I can only say that this is the place that inspires me, and I badly need inspiration. I am giving up the Smokies. I can’t even afford to dwell on the loss these days.

Instead, I will have the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington. And big forests full of moose, and ponds with loons, and glacial ravines.

Tuckerman Ravine as seen from Boott Spur Link.

Tuckerman Ravine as seen from Boott Spur Link.


1. mtaggartwriter - March 31, 2015

I know the 1-91 corridor well. Good luck with all you have happening.

Jenny - March 31, 2015

Thanks for the good wishes. Yes, I know you are very familiar with that area where I-91 and the Connecticut River run through southern VT/NH and northern Mass.!

2. adambealm - March 31, 2015

Jenny I am sorry to hear about all of this going on right now. I am glad for your sister she is lucky to have you. I think you have my email if there is any way I can help you let me know. The picture of Tuckerman Ravine is incredible I look forward to seeing blogs of your adventures in that area.

Jenny - March 31, 2015

Thanks, Adam. Maybe I can talk you and other Smokies enthusiasts into visiting for a hike in the White Mountains!

3. Amanda Beal - March 31, 2015

Oh Jenny, when it rains it pours doesn’t it? Sounds like you’ve had a rough time, but have managed to find an upside. Sorry to hear you won’t be around the Smokies anymore. I always enjoy your posts on ambitious off-trails, but maybe now I’ll get to read about places I’m less familiar with. Good luck with all your changes, and I hope your sister (and your knee) feels better soon.

Jenny - March 31, 2015

Amanda, it’s always great to hear from you and Adam. I appreciate your sympathy, and what I said in my reply to Adam goes to you to, about visiting!

4. Al - March 31, 2015

even though you are leaving for the right reasons we are saddened beyond words….Come back to us when you can
Al and Evelyn

Jenny - March 31, 2015

I am very sad, too, about the loss of contact with old friends like you. You can continue to follow my hiking adventures in this blog—it’s just that it’ll be the northern New England mountains instead of the Smokies. I’ve appreciated all your comments here about aspects of my adventures.

5. Kent Hackendy - March 31, 2015

I’m sorry you have to endure all you have to endure, lately, Jenny. The friendship that has developed between us in the past year is very valuable thing to me. Your blog has lifted my spirits on some very dark days.

Talk to you soon!

6. elaine carlton - March 31, 2015

After following your blog and finally having the chance to meet you at one of your readings at the Franklin library, I am saddened to hear of your departure from WNC. You have such determination and resilience and I know that your well thought plans will bring you more great adventures!

Jenny - March 31, 2015

So nice to hear from you. I truly appreciate your thoughtful comment.

7. Dana Bee - March 31, 2015

So sorry for the spate of difficulties in your life. I certainly understand rough patches. I wish you all the best.

Jenny - March 31, 2015

Dana! I will miss you. I thought of you today when I saw wildflowers on an easy hike. Your flower pix are always so nice!

8. kaslkaos - March 31, 2015

Wow! So sorry. A time of upheaval. You will pull through. All things change. May your change bring great adventures for you.

Jenny - March 31, 2015

I am glad to hear from you and flattered that you still look at my blog. Thank you for your good wishes!

9. Jeff G. - March 31, 2015

I wish you all the best, Jenny. About a year ago, we met up because of your blog and hiked up to Mt. Cammerer via one of the manways. We had a great time, and I will always remember that. Thanks for showing us around, and I look forward to following your new adventures!

Jenny - March 31, 2015

Thanks so much, Jeff! I really enjoyed showing the two of you the Groundhog route up Cammerer.

10. patholscher - March 31, 2015

Oh my, what a series of bad blows. I have to admire how well you seem to be doing, and I wish you the very best.

Jenny - April 1, 2015

Thank you, Pat.

11. norman medford - April 1, 2015

Jenny, sorry to read about all your troubles! Loved your view from the deck. Hope you and your sister get better. God bless you.

Jenny - April 1, 2015

Thank you, Norman. Yes, I love that view too—I’m looking at it right now on a bright spring day. But New England has views, as well!

12. steve george - April 1, 2015

Sorry to hear this my friend. I will miss your GSM adventures. My best to you and have big fun.

Jenny - April 2, 2015

Thank you, Steve. If you continue to follow this blog, you’ll find explorations of another interesting area. It is inferior to the Smokies in its more limited diversity of plants but superior in the presence of true ponds and lakes (as opposed to reservoirs) and in the big areas above treeline with the Lapland-equivalent plant life.

13. Peter Bennett - April 2, 2015

I’m glad you had a chance to return to the Smokies to live, climb and explore to your heart’s content. What a wonderful experience to have been able to immerse yourself in both ends of the Appalachian Mountains. You have enriched our lives with your many stories of your adventures. You are the most passionate off trail hiker I know.

Jenny - April 2, 2015

Well, Peter, your early explorings in Montana were part of my inspiration. What was it… a 10,000 footer each month of the year… something like that.

14. Brian Reed - April 3, 2015

I am bummed out to read this. My favorite place in the world is the jungly recesses of the Smokies. I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been the past few years to vicariously trek there with you. Nothing can replace your writing for those of us who love the obscure off the beaten path places there. On the other hand I look forward to hearing about new adventures in the North. I love backpacking in beautiful snowy weather and have enjoyed several winter trips in the Whites and Canada.

Best of luck with that knee. My wife is another avid hiker struggling with knee issues. I rigged up a sort of rickshaw to haul her around on our favorite trails in Florida.

Jenny - April 4, 2015

Brian, I appreciate your comments about my Smokies writings. Back in 2009 when I was deciding to go the opposite direction—New England to the Smokies—it was your thoughts expressed on the Griztrax forum, and those of other people there, that helped me to take the plunge. Incidentally (kind of a side issue), I still feel the loss of that forum. But I don’t blame Dave, given that he was having trouble with hackers on that site, and it must have taken a lot of time and energy to keep that site going. The loss of these kinds of forums seems to be a widespread phenomenon. Last night I checked the Mt. Washington Observatory website, which used to have a set of forums regarding hiking experiences, photography, and weather information. I was looking for something that would help pull me back to northern New England. Well, it looks like those forums have been discontinued (at least, I spent a lot of time hunting around the redesigned website, and couldn’t find them). The last time I checked in, there was some discussion about how the forums weren’t very active any more—the thinking was that Facebook had replaced that function. I think that is very sad. I will never join Facebook, due to privacy concerns and also due to my strong conviction that I will never make my personal social interactions subject to a profit-making corporation. These now-defunct forums did not require that you have to “friend” other people (horrible “verbing” of the noun “friend”), you just showed up on the site and said what you wanted to say. There is something deeper here about our society that I haven’t quite figured out.

15. Jim Cornelius - April 4, 2015

Jenny — Words of encouragement in the face of shitstorms like these seem feeble. Please just know that you and your work are inspiring and valuable. Thank you for your writings — and I wish you all the best in adapting and overcoming.

Jenny - April 5, 2015

Thank you, Jim. I truly appreciate what you say.

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