Today’s story is both hard and good, both terrifying and beautiful. It’s about what we did last Sunday, after blueberry pancakes at Jeannie’s in Bar Harbor, when we visited Acadia National Park, hiking and climbing and struggling; and it’s about what we didn’t do, never reaching Thunder Hole, which we’d come to see. It even includes two recipes at the end.
I feel grateful to be able to tell it, and grateful that you are reading, and, mostly, grateful it didn’t become the last thing I lived to do. Things started off well: After breakfast, we’d driven to the park and stopped at an overlook to take photos of the European-like landscape of hills and water and unique houses, at which I said, Isn’t this beautiful? Look at the views! I love nature!, and then continued to the visitors’ center to pick up a map.
At that same visitors’ center, I pointed out a sign that warned most injuries have occurred from falling off steep cliffs while hiking or biking, and we both shrugged it off, not planning to head towards any steep cliffs, just hike a little through the forest, and, though a little hot, wasn’t this a beautiful day?
On our way to Thunder Hole, a popular site for watching powerful waves that we’d had recommended to us, a forest ranger stopped traffic, one car at a time, to divert us to another path; Thunder Hole was closed because of a rescue mission (which I’d later learn related to a tragedy involving the death of a seven-year-old girl).
So we started instead near a place called Bubble Pond, taking a path that hugged the water, smelling fresh air and hearing the wind rustle through the trees, crunching on a leaf-strewn, muddy path. I remember feeling so happy right there, enjoying the natural beauty of Maine, not just the commercialization or the businesses or the flashy attractions, but the pure honesty of what has been preserved, and I said something about the trees growing on the mountain across the water: Crazy that no one waters them, right? And Adam said, Just God, and I said, Yeah.
We linked up with what’s called a carriage trail, designed for horses and bikers to go through, wide and cleared and lined with forests. It had rained earlier, I guess, because there were puddles here and there, some with colorful autumn-like leaves that reminded me of October and I had to take pictures of, for being as quick to embrace fall as I am.
And then something changed: we hooked back up with the hiking trail, one that would loop around back to the parking lot we’d come from and, which, according to the map, would take us by a mountain. As soon as we joined it, the landscape switched from paved paths and surrounding forests to smooth stones leading to a series of small blue markers and uniquely arranged rocks. I still had my camera in my hand, and I said something about the forest doing such a good job of creating a path on the mountain! It was almost like they’d made steps out of trees and rocks!
And that’s when things really changed. I will spare you an hour’s worth of hands gripping jagged rocks and legs scraping against sharp stones, in which I said, more than once, I really don’t think I can do this, but I knew I had no choice, and tell you that we made it to the top — or what seemed like the top but was really a large plateau with open views, very near the top — of the mountain. By this point, my camera was tucked into Adam’s bag as I’d needed both hands to hoist myself onto boulders and snake through crevices, and we were both dripping with sweat, breathing heavily, and I had streams of blood dripping down my left leg.
A very sweet lady who looked to be in her sixties or seventies popped up from a different path at this plateau, accompanied by a friend with a cane and a small dog (!), all smiling and friendly, offering to take our photo before we had time to process what we were seeing. I told her, Wow, this was a workout! And she said, You’re not to the top yet! and continued along with her company like they were skipping down a sidewalk in the middle of a town.
Despite how it may seem in the picture she took, it’s hard to explain to you how I felt then, how completely and deeply terrified and, well, spent — thirst and heat (and an already small fear of heights) compounded by the unknowns of getting back down the mountain. I knew there was no one I could call to rescue me, no backup plan for an emergency exit.
I was going to have to get back down, likely along a steep, rock-shaped path like the one we’d climbed, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing it. My brother told me we’d just follow the same blue markers that had led us up, and I tried to follow him, quiet the way I am when I am really scared, thinking one foot at a time, but just steps from the top, I slipped on a damp space, falling for the fourth or fifth time, and cut open my left hand.
That’s when I started crying. Adam laughed (I do, too, looking back, although not at all at the time) to try and calm me down, and I took off my top tank top to tie around my hand and stop its bleeding.
One step in front of another, just one at a time, I started saying this out loud, which also made Adam laugh, and, slowly, very slowly, we descended back to ground level. In so many ways, the story of me and this mountain is an easy metaphor for the rest of life, and I don’t just mean that there are highs and lows, or that there are difficulties, or that sometimes you can do things you never thought possible.
I do mean all those things, because they’re true, and they raced through my mind, several times mid-mountain, as I was grabbing onto a rock with bleeding hands or hoisting myself down a crevice I thought impassable (you know, whenever I wasn’t praying, Please, God, let me see normal ground again). But I don’t mean only those things.
There’s something about coming face to face with an enormous mountain, one that no human created, filled with trees that no people water, surrounded by wildlife that survives through summer heat and rainy days and long winters that is good. It humbles you as it terrifies you, reminding you of how incredibly small you are, even compared to just one mountain in one park in one state that is just part of one nation in one planet in a universe.
I’ve been thinking about it in the days since I got home again, realizing Maine — and that mountain — are still going on without me, that someone’s climbing right now, gripping those same rocks, looking at the same incredible views; that other travelers are staying at our inns and eating at our restaurants, and that millions of people, that you, are living lives irrespective of mine, which seems so small. It’s awe-inspiring.
It’s also freeing, to see that you could have died, easily, but didn’t. And it’s something I’ll be thinking (and probably talking) about for a long time; I’m thankful I can.
And in the spirit of embracing that which is foreign and frightening: I have learned to fry things only recently, and now there is no turning back. It started with fried [red] tomatoes, then moved to fried zucchini based on a favorite appetizer at Maggiano’s, then culminated in homemade corn fritters after I’d spent an afternoon in the country and brought six cobs back to my kitchen.
I’ve been meaning to give you these recipes anyway, and I can’t think of a better time than now.
I should tell you that I love (LOVE) fried zucchini, and this recipe makes a version as good as the kind we ordered for dinner on my birthday Tuesday night. This is the best way to eat zucchini, trust me, and it’s really simple, once you tell yourself frying is no big deal (and it isn’t!).
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups corn starch
2 1/2 cups soda water
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 2 t. dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Wash and remove stems of zucchini. Cut zucchini into thin, round pieces.
Make batter: measure soda water in bowl; combine dry ingredients and add them to the soda water, mixing with whisk. Should be like thin pancake batter.
Dip each zucchini slice in batter and allow to drip off slice. Dip zucchini into breadcrumbs, pressing crumbs to coat well.
Carefully place these on tray to wait for frying. Do not overlap.
Fry breaded strips in 350 degree oil until crisp and golden; drain on napkin lined with paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.
Serve with Citrus Sauce: To make citrus sauce: Combine all ingredients but olive oil and whisk together; let chill for about an hour. Add olive oil to thin as needed.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.