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

·2-min read
Peak of Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire
Peak of Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire

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.