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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Take a deep breath at the mountaintop

The view from the top of Sargent Mountain,

The view from the top of Sargent Mountain, in Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo Credit: Newsday / Michael Dobie

I was hiking recently in Acadia National Park in Maine. It's the kind of place that makes you want to ease up a little and take things slowly. But not everybody is getting the message.

Acadia is a beautiful place, full of lakes and meadows and granite mountains rising out of rolling forests, the whole spectacle perched on Maine's rugged coast.

My wife and I spent several days doing shorter hikes -- getting our legs beneath us, so to speak -- in preparation for the trek we really had our eyes on: Sargent Mountain.

By the standards of the Rockies, Sargent is a minor mountain. At its peak it is 1,373 feet tall. But that makes it the second-highest in Acadia and, in point of trivial fact, the second-highest point on the Atlantic Ocean north of Rio de Janeiro. The route we chose left almost from sea level and took us up and over two other mountains before the final ascent up Sargent.

The attraction was the summit, a broad granite top with views in all directions, one of those rare 360-degree panoramas. It presented a nice challenge for both of us.

We set out shortly after 8 a.m., and it was indeed a terrific hike. And when we reached the top, we reveled -- in the views, in the cooling breeze, in the cold water we gulped and the trail mix we devoured, in the satisfaction of knowing the payoff was worth the effort.

As we sat on a ledge close by the summit's marker, we watched our fellow hikers as they arrived at the top. They came from different directions on different trails up Sargent's flanks. Some bounded, some lagged behind eager pacesetters. But no matter how they got there, I was struck by how quickly many of them moved on. They stopped by the marker, perhaps took an obligatory photo, and left -- mission accomplished and on to the next.

That got me thinking about success and how we react to it, on the trail and off. And I wonder. Do we take enough time to savor our achievements? Why are we always in such a rush to move on to the next thing? Is our world so dog-eat-dog that we're afraid to slow down?

I'm not making some kind of anti-striver argument or saying we should stand in place forever once we've accomplished something. Too many high school heroes prove the danger of that. And, yes, you could argue it's narcissistic to wallow in one's own feats.

I'd say it's healthy to give yourself a job-well-done. What's wrong with enjoying the moment? Why are we often so darn restless?

We live in a time whose tempo is increasingly 24/7. Multi-tasking is how we live. We overschedule our kids as we push them from one thing to another. And the most important conquest is not the one just achieved, but the one that comes next.

We all need to relax and enjoy our successes, and remember that what happens along the way matters, too.

For a hiker, it's the grin that greets the gentle gurgling of a mountain brook, and the thrill of watching turkey vultures soar above the ridgeline. It's the steep climb up endless jumbles of rock that leaves you sweating and gasping for breath, and the shade that restores you as you drop back into the forest. It's foraging for wild blueberries along the path, and delighting in the manic movements of a red squirrel.

I don't pretend to know everyone's story up on Sargent Mountain that day. Maybe they had lunch reservations, maybe a long drive home, maybe they were trying to catch up to their teenage children.

I hope they stopped long enough to realize the air on the top of a mountain is delicious.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.


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