The green flash

We all knew my mother’s illness had gotten to the point where she had only a couple more years to live. So I decided to go on a ten day hiking trip.

I really wanted to take an entire month and hike the Long Trail in Vermont. I had left one job in June and was about to start another job in August, which meant I had a month to spare. But what if my mother should get suddenly worse while I was on the trail? This was before cell phones, and you couldn’t count on a pager receiving a message in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Finally Carol told me what I already knew: I could not take a whole month to go hiking. I settled on ten days hiking the Long Trail in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Carol drove me up U.S. 4 to where it intersected the Long Trail, and I started hiking south. It had taken a good three hours for Carol to drive me from our group house to the trailhead, so I only got a half day’s hiking in. I stopped about an hour before sunset to spend the night at Pico Camp, a bunkhouse near Pico Peak. One more hiker showed up to spend the night, a fellow a few years younger than I; he was headed north, through-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The other hiker suggested we climb up the lookout tower on Pico Peak to watch the sunset. We hiked the steep little half mile trail to the summit of the mountain, and climbed up the old fire tower.

Aviators talk about unlimited visibility. That’s what we had. We could see the Taconic Range in New York straight ahead, the White Mountains in New Hampshire fading into dusk behind us, and the broad ridge of the Green Mountains heading south towards Massachusetts on one side of us, and north towards Quebec on the other side. We didn’t say much, but just looked and looked, amazed at the view.

The sun began to set behind the distant mountains of New York. We watched it touch the horizon and slowly disappear. Just as it disappeared, there was a flash of green light.

“Did you see that?” we said to each other. We had just seen the legendary green flash. It’s a rare sight at sea, and rarer still on land. Just by chance, the two of us had happened to wind up at Pico Camp on a day with unlimited visibility; we just happened to have time to climb the old fire tower right at sunset. We looked at each other, and back at the waning light from the sun.

“I’ve been hiking since February, and this is the best view I’ve gotten, and you get it on your first night out,” said the other fellow, without rancor.

We stayed up in the fire tower another fifteen minutes. But it was getting cold and dark and late, and we both had a long day of hiking ahead of us the next day. We climbed down the rickety steps of the tower, hiked down the spur trail to Pico Camp, and went to bed. The other hiker headed north to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, and I headed south to Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. Of course I never saw that other hiker again; I’m told that the rickety old fire tower is gone from Pico Peak; and I’ve never seen the green flash again.

One thought on “The green flash”

  1. Dan, Your story reminds me of my Green Flash experience. Several years after your mother died I went on a spiritual retreat to Star Island with a group from First Parish. One of the participants suggested getting up to watch the sun rise the next morning. Several of us gathered on the lawn where there was a unobstructed view to the east out over the ocean. We were told to watch closely just before the sun poked above the horizon. To my surprise, we saw the Green Flash just before the sun appeared. It was an experience I will never forget. Star Island is an ideal location for occasionally seeing the Green Flash, although I must admit that I have only seen it that one time.

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