April 6, 2020 shona

Grass Mountain Day: A Senior’s Reflection

Although the sky is foggy and the air is crisp, perspiration beads on my forehead and my heart pounds against my chest. I started this hike nearly an hour ago, and it’s only getting harder.

Grass Mountain Day is an annual rite of passage for the students of Midland School. Every year we fill our water bottles, lace up our hiking boots, and challenge our bodies as we scale Grass Mountain.

Students face away from the camera, surrounded by green hills with Grass Mountain ahead of them. Wildflowers are everywhere.

Students climb Grass Mountain through the wildflower fields (2019)

This is my first time partaking in the tradition. The formidable route over creeks and fallen trees is unfamiliar to me, but the lazy oaks and sea of green grasses beckon. Other juniors bound past me, having done this trek twice before. As the mud slips under my hiking boots, I remember spraining my ankle on the first day of school. I think, can I do this? Do I belong here, among these students who seem to have been born outdoors on a hiking trail? Would I be happier living at home, still ensconced in my warm and cozy bed at 7 am, comforted by the light of my phone?

I’ve climbed nearly two thousand feet over the last few miles. My muscles ache and my lungs burn. I look at the remaining climb before me: orange poppies and purple lupins blanket the precarious incline. The senior class is sprinkled across the path at various rest stops, perched on boulders and in tree branches. They remind us to apply sunscreen and hydrate.

It’s easy for me to stick to things I’m good at. Tasks that seem impossible or mundane to others, such as solving algebraic functions or reading a 480-page book in a week, come naturally to me. But I haven’t always welcomed physical challenges. Because of my lack of depth perception (I’m blind in one eye), I’m not the most coordinated. Sometimes I allow my clumsiness to keep me on the sidelines. Today, though, I battle on and begin to count my steps. I’m almost there. I’m almost there.

At the beginning of the hike, I was embarrassed to be slow. Now I move at my own pace, enjoying the beauty around me. On my left, button sage stalks grow out of rocky outcrops, and on my right, clumps of bunchgrass line the faint trail, worn into the mountainside by decades of boots. I focus on putting one foot in front of the other. With everyone up ahead, my heavy breathing fills the silence. Thoughts of giving up vanish. I will make it. I will make it.

Midland’s campus community poses atop Grass Mountain (2019), celebrating their achievement

As I round the last switchback, I hear the senior girls shouting words of encouragement. I smile. At the summit, friends and food welcome me, and my self-consciousness melts away. I sit down and take in the view I worked so hard to see. Green hills carpeted with orange wildflowers frame the valley. My rustic little school sits in the center, its tiny red roofs visible despite the distance. I did it. I climbed Grass Mountain!

One year later, my prefectees and I perch on our large backpacks with our sleeping bags draped around us under a black sky dotted with infinite stars. This time, the trip is my idea: I planned it and led it. Hiking up mountains with a loaded pack still isn’t my favorite activity, but I love being out in nature, and I look forward to this outing with the junior girls. We leave school after dinner and hike a few miles to a rock-strewn creek. Ava, new to Midland, struggles through the hike. We let her take her time. After, as we sit chatting, we share stories with Ava about our rocky first attempts at Grass Mountain. I know she’ll make it. She will make it! Exhausted and anticipating tomorrow’s hike back down, we fall asleep looking at the stars.

By Madeline ’20