St. Regis oranges
Driving has made me quite anxious since getting lost in the dark corners of northern Pennsylvania. I’d been halfway through my migration to Saranac Lake, caught at a truck stop in the rain. I’d been stopped at every other gas station, breathing and trying to channel energy from the 1987 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship Open. I’d been sitting in a massage chair that for $1 will vibrate your spine for three minutes.
My father used to make the trip between Fort Bragg and our house in Virginia often — he’d advocate a squeeze of hand sanitizer in the eye corners, hot A/C and cold wind to make it home. But the tiredness, the shakes and shivers — I’m the kind of person to try and chase it away with a sip of something. I think it’s different because my father was always heading home, and I was heading away from it.
You can get where you need to go, affordably, with Five Hour Energy flavors like citrus lime and orange. You have to drink three, because they are tiny and you are big, because becoming more alert is the kind of goal where each step forward is its own victory. Never blinking again, trying to catch the moon moving, that’s another victory. And I made it across the border to New York to start as a reporter for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
I’d been unable to do anything but pull off to the side of your New York texting areas and watch other people sleep while I chewed anti-diarrheal tablets. This is a habit I have continued, before any professional appointment or workday, to swallow one of those green peas to stop myself up good. Just in fear that the ghosts I swallowed will one day find their way out. I’m unsure what the long-term health consequences are — but in the short-term, I will not poop my pants. For that I’ll trade any unknown. I have been here for three weeks.
So I drove to St. Regis Mountain on Saturday with some residual anxiety to take hopeful and pretty pictures.
The first people I see are leaving. They’ve got the polearms in their hands, dressed in high-tech polyester sweat-wicking fabric, stabbing and high-stepping. What a fool am I, to feel under-dressed taking a walk in the woods. It takes about five minutes to forget yourself, alone on a trail, I believe. And as genial as interactions with other hikers can be, we’ve all got to be just a little upset that we’re seeing each other.
I stop to stare at an oak burl as an older couple dressed in shades of blue pass by. They’re giggling, they love the air. A beautiful weekend, isn’t it? One falls down. This seems to delight the couple more — to have the opportunity to help the other up.
About a mile in there’s a clump of pines where the roots run shallow and thick. It makes your feet sound like you’re walking on something enormous and hollow. Orange peels have been dropped at irregular intervals on the trail, shreds, like someone held the fruit in their hand but was in no hurry to eat it. A citrusy Hansel and Gretel passed this way, and I’m staring into everyone’s hands that I pass. I try to gauge how many oranges their backpacks could possibly hold.
Past the pines, back into the hardwoods, there’s often a branch of yellowing leaves hanging from what is for the most part, greenery. The air is crisp and breathing through the mouth can leave your throat pleasantly sore. But there’s nothing too daring in the canopy’s palette, yet. All the reds are on the ground, or have halfway fallen, trapped in pine boughs.
It’s 1:52 p.m. on a muddy escarpment, on the last leg of the hike. Runoff soaks the steep and final incline, makes it muddy. A group in their early 20s — two boys, two girls — is coming down fast and playful. A girl in a hoody and yoga pants, clutching only a water bottle, loses traction and slides down the slope.
“Oh my god. Again?”
“Dig your heels in, flat foot.”
“Do you need a walking stick?”
“And what if I grabbed like, a huge log?”
“What, like the one in the pants?”
The two boys hop to and yank over a sapling, stomping at the base and twisting. One boy stands back to admire his companion, letting out that kind of guttural moan that young dudes do when they’re watching something impressive in progress, like a kickflip, an airflare, a crazy riff. Yes. Break it, bro.
“Oh my god, you killed it.”
There’s no oranges in their hands, though.
Around 2:20 I make the summit. There are many scattered orange peels. Then, there are Cheez-Its. I take pictures of them with my camera, and I count them. Eighteen pieces of peel, one cast-off intact orange and five Cheez-Its. If you know the perpetrator, please contact me at email@example.com.
I think the lakes look like Haribo gummy worms, all funny and stuck together in glittering masses. The sweeping foliage color from mountain to mountain varies like broccoli heads. A button here will be brighter, more attractive to the eyeballs. The Post-it yellows give way to brilliance as the sun starts to cast long shadows on the mountainsides. Where there is a red tree, it’s visible from miles out, glowing urgently.
There’s a pattern. I’d been sitting on a rock, hoping to see a squirrel. Where are the New York squirrels? I’d seen one chipmunk. People would make the summit, take a slow turn, deep breaths, look for a while, then wonder what else there is to do. This is where the desire to share comes in. To pass on something that affects you, that you’ve worked for, like an autumn mountain view or a littered trail of orange peelings. In the moment, the human impulse to share happens like this: A young man in a camouflage backpack video calls his friend.
“What’s up, where are you at?”
“Look.” He turns his phone around to treat his friend to, what had to be, a grainy, low-pixel vista. They chatter about an event called brewfest, where his friend apparently is.
After him, a young woman video calls her partner.
“Hi. Just thought I’d Facetime. We’re on-the-top-of-a-moun-tain.” She kind of sings every syllable. “Okay. Love you. Bye.”
And that’s really all there is to say — look where I am, it’s gorgeous, isn’t it? I wish you were here. But I’m also glad that you’re not. This way, I have someone to show off to.