Top of the Hill

On Christmas Eve my son and I continued our holiday tradition of hiking to the top of a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhill situated between my home and brother Pete’s farm. The wind was cold in our faces; the snow brightened the landscape as we climbed the steep trail to the field and forest edge where Peter would be waiting, sheltering in the lee of a wind-bent maple. We’d been meeting near this point on Christmas Eve for many years, pausing there each time for the traditional refreshment before descending to a family dinner and gift exchange.

DSCN2853The climb to the hilltop brought a measured draw and exhalation of breath. Inhale, exhale, in… Like music gathering force and then relaxing the muscles. Later, I would be reminded of an old song, “Top of the Hill” by the British prog group known as Family, the “best rock band you’ve probably never heard of.”

But if you’re looking for time/ You’ll be looking until/ There ain’t no crying/ At the top of the hill… [from “Bandstand,” 1972]. One You Tube comment for the song says, “Amazing track live. Soothes and gathers, then blasts into a full experience at the top of the crescendo… blew Hendrix off the stage at Hyde Park.”

The summit wind was sharp on exposed skin. In a tougher gale, it might have blown usDSCN2791 off the hill’s rough stage. But there we saw a few running deer, survivors of the recent hunting season, and a young golden eagle in black and white plumage sailing against the wind…

For a moment the eagle seemed to be the Bird of Time, Omar Khayyam’s spirit bird whose flight is short and, yes, already in motion… No way to get a photo of the golden in flight; no way to stop time, even if possible, until remembering a different eagle…  A week before, I’d seen and photographed a bald eagle feeding on the frozen carcass of a deer. I got that eagle image in my head again, and poof!  There it was… as close as I’d ever could get to “stopping time” while staying on my feet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“…If you’re looking for time, you’ll be looking until/ Your head stops/ And your body is still….”

Another year had come and gone. By December’s end, it’s normal to think of time and its effect upon us individually and collectively. A bittersweet affair. My age tells me not to go there, but the spirit says, screw it! Lest auld acquaintance be dissolved….

The hilltop is a perch, of sorts, to look back on the peaks and valleys of the year, but the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsnow was in my eyes. The straining orbs were mostly glued to the present. My nose was running and needed a wipe. My companions didn’t look a whole lot prettier in the frosted view. A voice from elsewhere said, “Take care of the minutes, and the hours will shape up by themselves.”

In field and forest, tasting of beer and whiskey, we surrendered to the freedom of falling snow. It was good to be reminded that humanity invented the concept of time for those who (sadly) were enslaved. Somewhere in the folds of winter clouds surrounding us, the sun would make a brief appearance.

DSCN2777Later, while listening to the acoustic intro of “My Friend the Sun” (again on Family’s Bandstand), I thought about our ramble and surmised that 40 years of hearing this music was as young now as it ever was…

Although there’s been rain and it’s coming again/ Change has to be here, obviously./ Though my friend the sun looks well on the run/ He’s there in the distance, if you care to see….DSCN2851

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to Top of the Hill

  1. A very nice reflection on a wonderful tradition. It’s great that you and your brother live within hiking distance.

  2. Thank you Jim. That spatial proximity is partly by design and part serendipity, enjoyable either way.

  3. LQN says:

    Walt you live in such a beautiful area, that’s a great tradition as well.

  4. Thanks for reading, Long. The rivertops, being relatively remote, tend to breed their own traditions, some of them involving outdoor recreation.

  5. Ken G says:

    I did a wander through the woods just yesterday. No goal in mind though other than to wander. It’s nice to be able to do that and not come out sweating, bleeding and covered in mosquito bites.
    That is an awfully nice place to have just outside your door.
    A band I never heard of, I may have to go do some research…

  6. Ken, I never look forward to winter wood walks, but when the season is here I often enjoy the neat, clean lines of the experience. As for Family, I’ve added a link to my blog roll where one can read reviews of this excellent and under-rated band by someone who knows music and how to write of it. As always, thanks for dropping in!

  7. Junior says:

    That’s a nice reflection on another quality Christmas Eve hike. I noticed that you used the tags “eagles” and “Family (band)”. That’s not to be confused with the family listening to The Eagles (band).

  8. OMG Junior, let us not confuse the issue for those who wonder. This family would never listen seriously to that band with an avian moniker (except possibly if stuck in the Hotel Cal.). Even the Byrds were probably never taken seriously. Which reminds me, “Have you heard about the …” Never mind. Incidently, Family was named for the 3-piece Mafia-style suits that the early band wore, ca. 1966.

  9. Alan says:

    Nice little tradition there Walt.
    Your choice of wine looks delicious.

  10. Thanks Alan. Yeah the Dancing Trout wine is delicious, product of friend D. Houseknecht, from Mountaintop, PA.

  11. Kenov says:

    Pretty great.

  12. Thanks for the read and dropping in!

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