After Loss and Heartbreak, Author Joyce Maynard Finds Humble Solace in Hiking

The author of Labor Day and Count the Ways reflects on the emotional healing power of hiking Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire.

Peak of Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire
Photo: Getty Images

Two of the most difficult events in my life happened within a month of each other: My marriage ended, and my mother died. I knew I'd survive my losses, but at the time, in my mid-30s, I had no idea how. I did know I needed some time, some quiet, to be with myself and try to come to terms with what had happened. And so, a few days after my mother's death—the week I left the New Hampshire home I'd shared with my husband and three children—I climbed a mountain.

For any serious climber, New Hampshire's Mt. Monadnock isn't that big of a deal. It's a day hike, four hours up and three hours down at most. But for me, those hours offered a quiet space to take in what had happened, as well as time to leave it behind—on the steeper, rockier parts of a trail, all you can do is breathe hard and put one foot in front of the other.

Looking back, I think I viewed Mt. Monadnock as a symbol: If I got to the top, as I knew I could, that would be a sign I'd be OK. I did, and I am.

Every fall since that year, I've climbed Mt. Monadnock—sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone. For a few years, I made the ascent with my second husband, Jim. When he died five years ago, I marked my loss once again with a long, hard climb. A walk on the beach is easier on the knees, of course. But here's the thing about mountains: They present you with a clear and absolute destination—the top. And then another one—the bottom. For me, a mountain is where a person can bring sorrow or celebrate joy. Every time I reach the top again, I remind myself: I am a survivor.

Joyce Maynard is the author of the memoir At Home in the World and the novel Labor Day. Her new novel, Count the Ways, is out this month.

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