In early August I went with Ali’s family to Acadia National Park, Maine. Acadia is an important place for her family: they’ve visited it every year for close to a decade, and have gotten to know its nooks and crannies. Ali was excited to show me her favorite walks and hikes, the best little shops and restaurants, and so on. I was a bit distracted because of the engagement ring I had stashed away in my luggage.
Don’t get me wrong: I was excited to be going, and all that. I felt a bit honored, in fact, to be invited along on the family vacation. And Ali already knew all about the ring, and had a hand in choosing the maker, design, and so on (though she hadn’t yet seen it). But still… having something that small and that precious on your person… it tends to concentrate the mind.
So at the earliest opportunity, I decided to divest myself of it. On the morning of the second day, as Ali and I prepared to a hike by ourselves up Mt. Acadia itself, I stashed the ring in my pocket.
The climb wasn’t long or arduous, but I was still recovering from breaking my foot back in February, and was glad to take a bit of a slower pace. The morning was bright and clear and cool, and the mountain slopes were decked with pine and oak and beech, and the trail was littered with great stones carelessly dropped by the glaciers during their hasty exit twenty thousand years earlier. There were no bugs, which made me wonder if we were really in New England, or in some liminal Platonic New England shorn of its earthly imperfections.
At one point the path clambered right up a wall of rock — not too bad, but steep enough to require care. As we approached the top I heard some kind of animal thumping and crashing below us. I turned and looked down, and saw nothing; but the sunlight was bright enough, and the dappled shadows dark enough, that anything could have been hiding down there. Something in the back of my brain whispered bear. It had been a noise characteristic of them. But supposedly the bears avoid Acadia during the summer, because it is so crowded.
In any case we climbed on up, and as we neared the top the beeches disappeared, leaving evergreens and stunted oaks that looked more like bushes. The ground was a mix of bare granite and pine needles. At last we rounded a bend and could look out over the Somes Sound (which has been called the only fjord in America), and see Mt. Acadia’s neighbors: Mt. Saint Sauveur, Mt. Beech, Mt. Norumbega… We could even see Northeast Harbor, the Cranberry Islands, and glimpse the sea. The sun was shining like a thousand prides of lions.
So I turned to Alison and tore my heart out and handed it to her, and I said a few words that didn’t make much sense, and cried some; and she was very gracious about it and even cried a little too (to save me from embarrassment, I’m sure). And when she’d (amazingly) agreed to be my wife, I said “I got you a little something,” and reached in my pocket, and the ring was thankfully still there, and I handed it to her, and it was beautiful, like a waterfall in the mountains, like a ship on the ocean, like her.