On Aug. 17, I married my best friend on top of a mountain in the Adirondacks. It was a simple, intimate ceremony that came together as naturally as our love for one another, and it was inspired by our mutual affinity for a region we now call home.
I was living in Plattsburgh when I met Anna for the first time. She was living in Brooklyn and had emailed me through a dating website to ask if the area was beautiful. Anna explained that she was working as a freelance graphic designer in the city and was thinking about switching her career to speech therapy and moving to an area that would inspire her to make paintings about nature. A couple of long emails and several longer phone conversations later and we were sitting across from each other, sipping coffee at the Koffee Cat in downtown Plattsburgh.
It was Nov. 5, 2010, and we were both cautiously excited about finally meeting face-to-face. Our conversation was going well but I knew I had to relax a little, so I brought her to a comforting place just 15 miles north of Plattsburgh called Point au Roche State Park.
Anna and Shaun Kittle pose for a photo in the castle on top of Whiteface Mountain shortly after their wedding ceremony on the summit.
(Photo — Gabe Dickens)
Anna and Shaun Kittle walk on the summit of Whiteface Mountain after their wedding ceremony.
(Photo — Gabe Dickens)
Family and friends gather for the reception at the Range Hall in Wilmington.
(Photo — Gabe Dickens)
Shaun and Anna’s friends Greg Stiles, left, and Brandon Cruz of the Muprigs play at the reception.
(Photo — Gabe Dickens)
Shaun and Anna take a moment to enjoy the view as Shaun’s sister Karen Kittle snaps a photograph.
(Photo — Gabe Dickens)
Shaun says a few words during the reception.
(Photo — Gabe Dickens)
Point au Roche is a place of dynamics and quiet beauty. It is home to miles of trails that wind through meadows, forests that are perhaps decades close to old-growth status, tranquil bays and several rocky peninsulas that jut into Lake Champlain. I decided to show Anna my favorite spot there, Middle Point, and we were soon descending into a primeval forest of vine-draped white cedar. It's a magical stretch of trail where the vines hang like bloated serpents and the understory, even in the middle of summer, is almost non-existent, so when the snow finally penetrates the splayed leaves of the cedar boughs it simply turns the forest floor's summertime brown to white.
We continued on to the narrow strip of land that leads to the top of Middle Point's cliffs and I realized I had been introducing her to all of the plants and animals we came across by name. I assured her that I'd stop with the naturalist tour if she'd like, but Anna only laughed and told me to please continue.
Out on Middle Point, we watched as a pair of mallards rode the waves not 200 feet from where they were crashing on the sharp rocks below. I pointed out Crab Island, Mount Mansfield in Vermont and Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks, and told Anna she'd be seeing more mountains soon. She smiled, and that said it all.
After our walk I knew I liked Anna, so the next day I gave her a whirlwind tour of the High Peaks. We drove through Wilmington Notch and stopped to see the gushing waters of the Wilmington Flume. Next, we climbed Mount Jo with the wind whipping past us and the blowing snow all but obscuring the view of Wallface and Algonquin mountains.
After the hike, I asked Anna if she wanted to see a waterfall. She enthusiastically said yes, and we hiked by headlamp to the base of Roaring Brook Falls, where we climbed on the rocks and talked about the endless potential for adventure and peace in the Adirondacks.
By the time we were ordering dinner at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, I knew I didn't want Anna to go back to New York City. As I drove back to Plattsburgh I told her I had one more thing to show her. I pulled the car over next to a meadow on state Route 86, near the base of Whiteface Mountain, and we got out and looked at the stars. I figured she hadn't seen much of them in her 11 years living in the city, and I was right. It was then that I knew that I always wanted Anna beside me.
I sent Anna back to the city the next day with a warm hug and a tattered copy of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wasn't used to feeling such a connection with someone so quickly. As I watched her train leave the Amtrak Station in Plattsburgh, I was overtaken by a sense of certainty that we'd meet again.
I was right. Anna moved to Plattsburgh that January and we quickly began dating. On New Year's Eve in 2012 I brought Anna back to Middle Point in Point au Roche and asked her to marry me. Again we stood above the gray waters of Lake Champlain, and again we watched a pair of mallards brave the waves as we talked about climbing Whiteface together.
Anna and I finally moved to Saranac Lake last summer. We've since backpacked dozens of miles, hiked mountains, climbed slides and swam in a few choice swimming holes all while enjoying the people, music and art that are so ingrained in this exemplary mountain community.
Some things have changed, but many things haven't. I still tell Anna all about the plants and animals we encounter along our hikes. I still tell stories about why the forest looks the way it does, and I still identify distant peaks when we reach an overlook. The best part is, Anna still loves all of that. She says it has helped her get to know these forests better, and that my relationship with nature inspires her to paint.
There are not enough words to tell her how much she has inspired me, too. She makes me aware of my potential, she supports my wildest ideas with enthusiasm and she has made it so I don't always have to be alone in the forest.
My life with Anna has been simple and uncomplicated, and we wanted our wedding to be the same way. We also wanted it to emulate all of the things about this region that have surrounded us as we fell in love here. In our minds, the most important aspect of the wedding was having friends and family all in one place to celebrate our lives together, and by that I don't just mean the married life that Anna and I were beginning. In no small way, the people we love have shaped us as much as these mountains have brought Anna and I closer together.
In studying ecology, I've learned about the relationships that occur in nature. In studying journalism, I've learned to "show, don't tell." So the question became: how do we best show our loved ones how we are just another example of a relationship that has occurred in nature? It's the kind of thing that isn't taught in field ecology courses, so we decided to start the planning simply. Since we hadn't gotten around to climbing Whiteface yet, we figured it would make sense to get married on top of it. A quick phone call made us realize that our dream was not only doable, it was also extremely affordable.
Anna and I took a gondola ride up Little Whiteface and paid two visits to the main summit before we settled on the main summit and its expansive view of the surrounding lakes and mountains. The east-facing deck there provided the perfect stage for our ceremony and could easily be blocked off to keep the tourists at bay.
We wanted to keep things intimate, so we only invited about 70 of our closest friends and family. We also wanted everyone to feel like they were a part of the ceremony, so we nixed the traditional wedding party routine and let our two young nephews and niece be the ringbearers and flower girl. The ring pillows were a pair of stuffed loons purchased from the Dorsey Street Exchange in Saranac Lake and the bouquet was picked locally and accented by flowers from Scott's Florist and Greenhouse in Saranac Lake.
To provide music for the ceremony, we again decided to get some of our guests involved. One of our friends, a professional opera singer, agreed to sing "Ave Maria," while another played an instrumental version of a song he and I had written together 10 years ago called "The Constant Sound of Pouring Rain."
The night before the wedding we also had a pre-ceremony celebration and invited a group of our friends to the range hall to help decorate the room with local wildflowers, cattails and ferns and make "hiker's lunches" for our guests to enjoy after the ceremony.
Since the plan was to keep things accessible, having the reception close by was a must. Anna and I fell in love with the high ceilings, hardwood floors and Adirondack decor of the Whiteface Range Hall in Wilmington. It's located right behind the Little Grocery Store near the beginning of the Whiteface Memorial Highway, so the proximity to the ceremony was perfect, and at a mere $200 for the entire weekend, the price was perfect, too. The space was more than ample for our little party, and there was a stage for our friends' band, the Muprigs, to perform on.
Keeping with our "this is why we love it here" theme, we hired Villa Vespa Pasta and Sauce Company in Lake Placid to cater the dinner and opted for an assortment of homemade pies from the Cedar Run Bakery and Market in Keene instead of a wedding cake.
To loosen things up, we purchased wine and champagne from the extremely helpful folks at the Wine & Spirit Shoppe in Lake Placid, and we also ordered two half kegs from the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery.
To make things affordable and comfortable for our guests, we directed them to the cabins at the Wilderness Inn 2. Some of our guests roomed together and paid about $40 for two nights in an Adirondack cabin. You can't beat that.
During all of the planning and organizing, Anna and I quickly realized that the more relaxed we were, the more fun everything would be. It paid off, and the day went perfectly. The wedding ceremony took place under a blue sky heavy with large cumulus clouds that lazily drifted by.
Watching all of these people, most of whom had never been on top of a mountain before, climb on the rocks and explore the summit after the ceremony did my heart good. Some peeked cautiously over ledges while others took their shoes off and scampered about. Everyone wore a smile, and everyone seemed to get it. And in case they didn't, I decided to break the "show don't tell" rule and spell it out for them during the reception. I needed them to know how much it meant for us to have them there, and I needed Anna to know how, in no small way, she has impacted my life. Here's what I told them from the stage in the range hall, just before the dancing began:
"I'd like to thank you all for taking the time to come out here this weekend. We know it's a long drive, and it means a lot to Anna and I that all of you made it. This is a place I have felt drawn to for most of my life, and it's a place we have made a concerted effort to live in.
When I used to drive to the High Peaks for vacation every summer, it was all about the mountains and the big views. That's still there, but in living here I've realized that it's not just the open summits that have brought me to this region. It's also the way the clouds look - incredible shades of gray and orange and pink - on any given evening as the sun is setting. It's the staccato sound of raindrops as they tap against the leaves high up in the canopy. It's the way the balsam fir smells just below the alpine zone after the sun has warmed it all day, and it's the way pitcher plant flowers lazily nod above the living sphagnum mats floating atop the kettle hole bogs here. It's that five-petaled shot of pink that Spring Beauties bring to the forest as soon as the snow recedes; it's the sound of a loon warbling at Copperas Pond; it's the smell of campfire, of autumn and of earth.
It's the way it feels when you wake up on the side of a mountain, just as the sun is rising, and it's cold and damp and foggy, and it seems as if the rest of the day is going to be the same. And then the sunlight begins to filter down, through the tops of the trees, and it starts to burn its way through the water vapor, and when the light finally warms your face there is hope that the future isn't going to be so dreary after all. That's the way I felt the first time I saw Anna.
So, in asking all of you to come up here, I also wanted to share some of those moments with you. My memories with Anna are now a part of what makes this area home to me. You've passed some very special places without even realizing it. On your way from the highway, just off Exit 30, you passed Roaring Brook Falls, where I once brought Anna in the middle of the night to show her a 130-foot high Adirondack waterfall. In Keene you passed Big Crow and Little Crow mountains, where we first went on a winter hike and I introduced Anna to the beauty, and the quiet, of the forest in winter. As you left Cascade Pass you neared Mount Jo, the first place I brought Anna after we met to show her the High Peaks and make her fall in love with the Adirondacks, if not with me. It turns out, I got both. And if you make a right out of this driveway, you'll soon pass a meadow where there is a view of Whiteface Mountain. That is the spot I pulled over to show Anna the stars, something she hadn't seen much of in the city. It was at that moment that I first realized I always wanted to be with her, to laugh with her, to always look upon the stars with her.
Asking all of you to come up here was more than just about good views, good friends and great music. It was a way to share these moments with you and make you all a part of them. And now, you are. Thanks again for being here, and please come back to visit."