On A Clear Day

October 1, 2011

 On A Clear Day…

There are experiences people find universally pleasant. As the weather turns cool and autumn leaves begin to change, two immediately spring to mind. The first is staring into the flickering flames of an open fire. The second is sitting high on an open hilltop or mountain summit, surveying long views of surrounding terrain.

The flickering flames atmosphere is rekindled in countless ski lodges, restaurants and even an auto dealership waiting area. A canned fire is as soothing as watching tropical fish and creates a calming mood with less maintenance. We called a campfire our “wilderness television” while living outdoors during a college semester in the Rocky Mountains. We’d stare silently into the fire, transfixed by flames. It feels ancient.

The idea of climbing to take-in a vista is more complex but no less ancient. I wonder if all cultures crave views from mountaintops, tall trees, monuments or even skyscapers (an interesting term). People climb strenuously to reach high places and then gaze idly into the distance. Long views to distant horizons are particularly sweet in late afternoon light as lower angle sunlight casts slot shadows. The short-lived spectacle of NH hills arrayed in peak fall foliage on warm October afternoons is the finest scenery to be had - in any season.

There may be some archaic “genetic memory” of fire or views inherited from distant ancestors that remain a part of our collective consciousness. In psychology, the theory of genetic memory includes the bank of memories present at birth that exist with no prior direct experience. Common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code. Beyond the “hard evolution” adaptive response where infants exhibit a fright or alarm response at the image of a snake, could certain emotional responses become incorporated into the human genome over eons? This so-called “soft evolution” is applied to evolution of cultural beliefs and tastes.

One possible behavioral inheritance acquired from previous generations is a desire to see beyond our immediate surroundings. What lies beyond the next ridge or around the bend in the river is seeing into the future. Perhaps we climb to high places to reconnoiter the terrain or obstacles we might encounter ahead when travelling. A long view can include potential resources: food, water or shelter. High places allow us to see approaching danger whether armies of enemies or ominous signs of impending foul weather. We don’t like uncertainty. It can be comforting to know what lies ahead, unless it’s worse than where we happen to be!

Whatever the reason, we seem to universally enjoy views. Leaf-peeping foliage tourists will soon arrive in the White Mountains and then Lakes Region seeking the best views. Legions of hikers will gaze over summits and ridges that stretch to the farthest horizons. On a clear day, NH views can encompass four New England states and Upstate NY. Summit meeting banter invariably includes naming distant prominent peaks and lakes and rivers in the valleys below.

Stunning views of the autumn foliage display are available from many of the 170 permanently-protected forest reservations owned by the Forest Society. Our 1904 mission statement stated explicitly a goal to perpetuate the forests of New Hampshire through their wise use and complete reservation in places of special scenic beauty.

Here’s a suggestion: join us for a tour of the spectacular Evelyn H. & Albert D. Morse Preserve in Alton. The view is our featured destination during an upcoming October 15 guided hike from noon to 4 pm. We’ll showcase recent improvements including new trails, a hiker kiosk and former pastures now managed for wildlife and scenic views. The guided walk from Avery Hill Road will follow a 1.7 mile marked loop trail through fields and forests to the top of PineMountain. The open blueberry barrens at the summit provide spectacular views of the entire BelknapRange, including MountMajor and Lake Winnipesaukee.

If the weather is clear, we’ll take in the foliage season scenery and pass-on some new genetic memories for future generations. All are welcome.