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My Mountain

09/12/08 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) When toiling along in the valleys of life turns her world blue, commentator Deborah Luskin seeks out the 'altitude cure'

(LUSKIN) I get restless as summer ends, tired of the garden, oppressed by the harvest, discouraged by what I didn't get done and burdened by what's still left to do. I lose perspective in the regular round of routine chores. And then, a high pressure day blows in bright and breezy. It's a day that's still summer, but hints at fall, and the blue sky and fresh air remind me that the best cure for my end of summer blues is to climb a mountain.
    
Since these days always take me by surprise, I never have time to plan an expedition to one of the big mountains further north, so I climb Stratton, the mountain in my back yard. It's only thirty miles from home, and I can be at the trailhead within the hour, and at the summit an hour and half after that.
   
Stratton is Vermont's eighth highest peak, and is reputed to be the birthplace, first of The Long Trail, which runs from Massachusetts to Canada, and then of The Appalacian Trail, the footpath that extends from Georgia to Maine. This is heady history for a mountain that doesn't quite reach 4,000 feet.
   
History aside, I climb Stratton for the long view - and on a clear day, there's a fabulous one from the top of the fire tower. The current tower, built in 1934, was in use until 1980, when Vermont switched to airplane surveillance when the fire index is high. The tower is now on the historic register, along with the snug caretaker's cabin. But what's really unique about Stratton, is that the current caretakers used to be the fire wardens. So, over the years, climbing Stratton has also been about paying a visit to Jeanne and Hugh.
   
Jeanne and Hugh Joudry kept fire watch from 1968 to 1979, moving into the 10x12 cabin every May and checking for fires till late October. They held other jobs during the off-season: Jeanne is an artist and Hugh a mathematician.
   
When the airplanes took over, the Joudrys went to live in what Jeanne calls "that other wilderness" - New York City. But when they were offered the chance to return as summer caretakers in 1996, they took it, and they've been at the top of Stratton, maintaining the trail and greeting hikers ever since.
   
The living conditions are primitive. The 120 square foot cabin, which serves as both living quarters and office, has no electricity or plumbing, and everything except rainwater has to be carried in.  The Joudrys like the simplicity. Jeanne says, "It's not hard to live up here. It's easy, because you don't have all the conveniences."
   
After clearing my lungs with mountain air and visiting with Jeanne and Hugh, my head and heart feel healed. I'm ready to descend back into the valley where I live, restored in spirit, ready to finish out the summer and welcome the transition to fall.
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