Sunday, December 11, 2016

An update and some late autumn hiking

I am neck deep in our neuroscience module now and have two exams on Friday, after which I will go directly to the airport and fly back to San Francisco. Where did this semester even go?

I have a few updates I'd like to mention in this post, some important and some not. This post, of course, is also to share some photos I took of a recent hike in Middlesex Fells Reservation, which I visited in the early autumn. Taking pictures of the outdoors and fiddling around on VSCO is one of my favorite hobbies nowadays.

I also realize that I've included a potentially graphic story of a surgery I saw, so be warned.

I lost my LL Bean flannel on this very hike, actually. It was a bit warm so I put it in my backpack and fell out somewhere along the way. When I realized it was gone, we had already gone seven labyrinthine miles through the park and I was certain I could not find it again. I usually take pretty good care of my things so I was very annoyed and disappointed at myself, but I eventually did repurchase the same shirt. I liked it quite a lot and have realized that there is no way I can survive a Boston winter short on long sleeves. That's how I justified it.

School is going pretty well. I realized that I never wrote a summary or reflection post about gross anatomy, which is probably one of the most unique aspects of medical school, and one of the oldest and most arcane parts of medicine. I have time during winter break and should really do that. I also recently went to two talks: one about the history of surgery as told through advances in anatomy, anesthesia, and antisepsis; the other about the ethical transgressions in medicine and anatomy during the Third Reich. I have more research to do in both those topics.

My actual research is going well. I have a plan, a good mentor, a pile of work to do, and an abstract to revise. The project is something very important to me, and is in orthopedics, a specialty that I have long wanted to enter. I have shadowed the residents on call a few times and like the culture, like the work they do, and like their perspective. Of course, the surgery itself is cool beyond my wildest dreams.

I wrote back in the springtime about being utterly starstruck and sick with dreams after attending an orthopedics conference. I felt similarly after observing a trauma case that went to the OR. Long story short, a man in his 30s presented with a proximal and open distal femur fracture, a proximal tibia fracture, and lateral compartment syndrome. I'll spare the details for another post, but I was completely absorbed into the scene, the jagged ends of the femur sticking out of his bloody thigh, bits of plastic and glass removed, the red and yawning gash in his calf from the fasciotomy, the methodical placement of all the rods and pins and spacers to externally fix the limb...if this is bread and butter orthopedic surgery, I am all in. I've retold the story a dozen times and still go over the details. It was some parts carpentry, some parts butchery, all surgery. I want to see more.

For next semester's clinical skills class, I was placed with a general surgeon at our hospital. General surgery is second on my list for specialties and I am very excited to meet my preceptor.

Last week, some friends and I won a prize in our school's gingerbread house contest. A few hours later, some of more of us began our first Dungeons & Dragons campaign of medical school. We spent the week reading the player's handbook, building our characters, and telling each other how excited we were. Having a regular board game group has been great fun, but D&D will be even better.

Lastly, good luck on exams if you are taking them, and have safe travels if you are going somewhere.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Three documentaries, two books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Now for a break from your regular Lord of Three Realms programming...a smattering of reviews of some recent brain food.

Three Documentaries

Staying Woke 101: watch a documentary and find discourse

Before the Flood - highly recommend

Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary about climate change is a sincere and ethos-laden warning siren about climate change. While Before the Flood does not cover much new ground, it brings the discussion of climate change once again to the mainstream, complete with interviews with heads of state, diplomats, scientists, and laypeople who recognize the dire consequences of the anthropocene. Indeed, it updates the narrative and turns the lens towards many aspects of the global ecological crisis, not just rising temperatures and sea levels, melting ice caps, or the ozone hole. This is a somber and comprehensive documentary with footage from Leo's UN appearance and the Paris Conference. Leo begins with a comparison to Hieronymous Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights and delivers through it a bleak message: capitalism and overconsumption will lay waste to the planet, and we must mobilize as a society to confront these systemic evils.

The True Cost - recommend

This one's been out for awhile and I feel that a lot of folks have heard of it. Fast fashion is one arm of global capitalism that has had tremendous ecological, economic, and mortal consequences. The Rana Plaza collapse, King Cotton abroad, pollution and emissions, and the ethical murkiness of sweat shop labor are all covered. I don't have much psychology or sociology book learning so some of the consumer behavior stuff was new to me, but I suppose this film will prompt many people to seriously consider their own consumption and relationship with objects. The documentary got the message out, but at times it does seem naively optimistic. I preferred Before the Flood much more.

Escape Fire - recommend

We watched this documentary for our public health class and it essentially lays out the status of health care in the United States today, and how unsustainable and costly it is. A few key points are how lack of primary care, exploitative private insurers and pharmaceutical executives, and the fee for service model is contributing to high-cost, poor-outcome care. I liked this film, though the narratives were fairly scattered and generally glossed over many structural flaws in American society that directly influence health care, but are not immediately obvious. I highly recommend this documentary as an introduction to medicine in the USA, with the caveat that there is much, much more to read and see.

Two books

All Souls - recommend; highly recommend for Bostonians and those interested in urban health, poverty and crime, and community activism

Before medical school, my knowledge of Southie predominantly came from Good Will Hunting, The Depahted, that one Anthony Bourdain episode, and Black Mass; I knew of Whitey and Billy Bulger, the desegregation riots, the Irish Mafia, etc. All Souls is one man's personal tragedy, and the community's long tragedy, that resulted from poverty and crime Bulger's drug trade. It is a story of the people of South Boston and their identity, and how it loved and feared, protected and was harmed by organized crime. All Souls is deeply moving memoir of growing up poor in South Boston, tragic and difficult to read, but an important perspective. One of the first patients I interviewed was an old lady who lived her entire life in Southie who, thinking back now, had been referencing some of the messages All Souls was trying to convey. South Boston has changed now, but All Souls was still an important read, especially for a newcomer who must learn a thing or two about Boston.

Also, our hospital features a few times in this book; if violent crime happens in Boston, chances are it will come through this trauma bay.

Hot Lights, Cold Steel - highly recommend

This is probably one of my favorite memoirs of all time. Dr. Collins write with great humor and thoughtfulness about his four years as an orthopedic surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic. From an impostor syndrome-afflicted intern to an admirable chief resident, Dr. Collins shows the highs and lows of surgery, the work ethic and discipline demanded of a resident at the Mayo at a time before the 80-hr/week cap. The graphic descriptions of surgeries are intense, gory, and left this wannabe future orthopod starry-eyed. Some cases are tremendously sad, and generally, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed reading about his life...orthopedic surgery resident, rural ER moonlighter, and father to one, then two, three, four, and more children during residency. I read this book in two sittings and didn't want it to end.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - recommend, but watch Moana or Arrival in theaters instead

This movie was a pretty indulgent visual feast with a perplexing lack of direction. I loved this movie, am confused by the direction of the Harry Potter franchise, and will probably throw money at the wizarding world for the sake of nostalgia. Eddie Redmayne plays a charmingly eccentric Newt Scamander, who I hope will star in the next movies instead of Johnny Depp. It was a fun romp through the wizarding world and roaring 20s New York, but had a loose plot with flat characters and poor sense of mood. However, I liked it quite a bit and will probably not watch the next one in theaters.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stratton Mountain, Green Mountain National Forest | Vermont

Long Trail, I'm coming back for you someday

Once upon a time in Vermont...

...a man hiked to the top of Stratton Mountain in the Green Mountains, took a look around, and figured there should be a trail connecting Massachusetts and Canada.

And so the Long Trail was constructed by the Green Mountain Club, and still today, it stretches the length of Vermont, connecting Massachusetts and Canada. And still today, the Green Mountain Club is the steward of the Long Trail.

A few years later as the Long Trail was still under construction, another main hiked to the top of Stratton Mountain, looked around, and figured there should be a trail connecting Georgia to Canada along the full length of the Appalachian Mountains.

And so the Appalachian Trail was born, and still today it connects Georgia and Canada, and merges with the Long Trail in southern Vermont.

A few weeks ago, I went with some friends to hike up Stratton Mountain for a weekend trip. This was my first time backpacking, and my first time camping in the autumn. After a lifetime of day hikes, state and national parks and forests and monuments, I figured there was no better time to level up as a self-described "outdoorsy" person than the present.

I'll put the metrics at the end, but the short of it was: ~3 miles to summit, ~3 miles to descend and reach shelter, spend the night in the woods, and ~4 miles back to the parking lot, bookened by ~3 hours in between Stratton Mountain, Vermont and Boston. This was in early November and temperatures ranged from high 20s (early morning) to 45F.

I don't have the photos to show for it, but the drive west and then north to Vermont was a blaze of autumn colors unlike any I had ever seen before. It looked as if Massachusetts were on fire and I was frantically looking everywhere so as not to miss anything. The road near Walden Pond State Reservation was especially beautiful and really tugged at my (...Transcendentalist?) heartstrings. 

By the way, I have read Henry Thoreau's Walden and found it very pretentious and overwrought in spite of many pearls about sucking the marrow out of life and romanticizing the Great Outdoors and whatnot. I said out loud, "I feel you, Henry!" but I still roll my eyes at most of Walden.

We stopped for gas and some s'mores materials in Vermont, where homes on large plots of wooded land, stone wells and walls, and dramatically cloud-shrouded hillsides made me yearn for...some mythic American Dream out in Bernieland.

The first mile was just me getting used to the weight of the pack. I left my backpacking backpack at home and made do with my school backpack, to which I secured my sleeping bag with my belt and some string. For most of the ascent I took the lead because I have a deep fear of falling behind in hikes and a strong desire to take photos at my leisure.

The first mile, too, was a slow, steady gain in altitude, which really isn't saying much. Slowly, the beeches, birches, and maples gave way to spruces, firs, and pines. We faced a few steep climbs in the first two miles, including some switchbacks that forced us to stop and rest and enjoy the trees (and let me know that my pace was unsustainable).

The mist never let up, and cast the whole place in an eerie gloom. Forget Thoreau -- the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King were inspired by the forests of New England.

The other obvious fan of New England's forests was Robert Frost, of course. These woods, indeed, were lovely, dark, and deep.

The last stretch of the ascent was quite strenuous, consisting almost entirely of steep switchbacks and muddy, icy puddles. There were few deciduous trees, plenty of conifers, and so much mist that we were certain not to have a view at the top.

With all that said, I hope the photos show that we were so completely surrounded by beautiful woods that none of that really mattered.

By the way, I clearly wore the wrong shoes for this trip. I just ordered hiking boots yesterday, but out of the three shoes I could have worn for this trip (Bean boots, Dr. Martens boots, running shoes), I picked the worst. Not even thick wool socks could have prevented my poor toes from freezing. There were too many slushy, icy, muddy puddles on the trail for me to have kept dry.

Just when it seemed as if we were on an endless rocky green staircase up the mountain, we reached the summit at 3940 ft, having gained 1758 ft in a bit over 3 miles (if you're thinking of hiking this, keep in mind that most of the elevation is gained in the latter half). The cold caught up to us at the top and we promptly put on the layers we had shed while climbing.

Always a fire tower at the top. This one is 55 ft

One of our party estimated it was just around freezing at the summit, and indeed, the puddles were all frozen over. Whatever it actually was, the temperature differential from the bottom to the top of the fire tower felt at least ten degrees. I climbed up the tower, which was treacherously slippery, icy, and windy, determined to get a view. Of course, I could hardly see the trees below, much less the Mt. Snow or Killington.

I estimated the elapsed time using the timestamps of these photos, from the first to this one of the tower. The 3.4 mile, 1758 ft ascent took just under 2 hours.

A frigid, heart-pounding view

We rested for lunch and got the hell going. It was cold just standing around.

The next 3 miles were to get to the Stratton Mountain shelter where we would spend the night.

Some adventure!

I thought that descending would be easy going, but I was mistaken. It was muddy and icy and slippery and it took all my concentration not to step in a puddle or lose my footing, hence the lack of pictures. I assure you it was much of the same haunted conifer woods, with a progression back to broadleafs as we went down. I also promise I saw little patches of snow, but never took pictures of them.

At this point, we were tired, but in high spirits. Many of us declared over and over again how happy we were to be out in Vermont and not studying, that to seek the outdoors and tramp around the woods shivering and with numb fingers and cold toes was so restorative.

Once, a friend said that he was so tired he could just sleep in a pile of leaves. Because we had been talking about Robert Frost since lunch, I replied: "We have 3 miles to go before we sleep...and 3 miles to go before we sleep."

Stratton Pond

After about 3 miles and two river crossings, we reached Stratton Pond and took a look around. The pond is less than 1/4 mile away from the shelter, which is essentially a wooden house for hikers. Shelters of varying degrees of comfort line the AT and LT, and this one was pretty nice, with several wooden bunks and a huge loft which I could comfortably stand up in. We didn't exactly "rough it," but that's fine by me.

After dropping my stuff off at the loft in the shelter, I headed off on my own side quest to take photos of the bridge, the river, and the pond.

I came back in time to help with the fire and eat dinner. We were joined by three other hikers, some middle-aged ladies who were clearly better outdoorsmen than any of us, and well-acquainted with the Green Mountains. Earlier in the afternoon, a whole gaggle of kids took a tour of the shelter (they were part of a ski school, apparently).

It was pitch black at around 6 PM and I was too ready for sleep to study by flashlight as I had planned to. There was plenty of room for everyone in the shelter, especially in the loft. I slept poorly that night because it was so cold and the sleeping bag I rented from school just didn't cut it, and because of the wind and rain. In spite of that, I got up early and roamed around again.

The leaves look like they are levitating
The shelter

The shelters, like the rest of the trail, are maintained by the Green Mountain Club. A fee of $5 cash per hiker is required when there is a caretaker there. There was no caretaker when we had arrived, but a few hunters scoping out the area in preparation for deer season the following week.


The night's rain killed our hopes for a morning fire so we just packed up quickly and headed out. It snowed for about half an hour and the Californians (including me) got very excited and forgot about being cold for a minute. Our new friends pointed out that because of last night's rains, our original route back to the parking lot would likely be very muddy, and recommended an alternative path that they were going to take after their breakfast.

The alternate route took us over the bridge, out of the woods, and onto a mountain biking and snowmobile trail. Though it added about a mile onto our journey, it was far better than trudging through icy mud in sneakers. The rest of the way was conversation and just good times.

A very picturesque creek with a potential beaver dam?

We returned to the parking lot and I promptly changed into dry socks as we high-tailed it to a diner. The coffee was strong and the maple syrup was unreal.

I wore a t-shirt, my L.L. Bean flannel, a light fleece, hat and gloves, and leggings while hiking and brought along a sweater and cotton trousers for when we hung around the shelter. Wool socks saved my feet and I should have worn different shoes. Next time, I'll be wiser. The shirt, though, was wonderful and kept me warm.


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I ought to reflect on how good I have it. My family loves me and supports me, emotionally and financially and in every other way. I am in medical school learning medicine, training to become a doctor, which has been my dream since childhood. I had a wonderful time hiking in a beautiful forest with like-minded people with plans to see more of New England's great outdoors. I had the great privilege of learning gross anatomy by dissecting a cadaver, and am thankful for the donor and the faculty and my classmates for making it all come together.

In general, I am content with my situation in life and the direction it's taking. I am optimistic about the future and I am thankful for all that and more.

White = first day, red = second day

  • Location: Stratton Mountain, in Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, part of the Long Trail and the Appalachain Trail
  • Distance/duration: 3.8 miles to the summit, 3.7 miles to the shelter, ~4.5 miles via IP road to return; 6-7 hours of hiking over two days, though the whole thing could be done in a day
  • Elevation gain: 1758 ft
  • Difficulty: moderately strenuous thanks to rocky, muddy switchbacks up the mountain, quite steep ascent in the final mile or so
  • Points of interest: Stratton Mountain summit and fire tower, views on clear days that are apparently quite stunning, Stratton Pond, Stratton Pond shelter
  • Overall: this was the perfect beginner's backpacking trip, I thought. I was among friends, we had a good, tough little hike that I felt proud for powering through, and the forest was beautiful. I really enjoy steep steep switchbacks and would love to do this hike again.
P.S. Some other thoughts on Vermont: at the diner, I thumbed through some real estate magazines and found the best deal to be 81 acres of forest (house and creek and well included) for under $1 million. On our way back, I took in my fill of the Vermont countryside dreaming that one day I may own some of it. 80% of the state of Vermont is forest, which has had net growth since the end of WWII.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

L.L. Bean black watch scotch plaid flannel | Outfit and Review

I present the L.L. Bean black watch scotch plaid flannel, the shirt of my dreams. It is warm. It is soft. The colorway is perfect. It fits well. I love it. I went from owning one L.L. Bean item -- the very sweater I am wearing here -- to five since coming to Boston. Shipping from Freeport, Maine to Boston is quick and easy. Here is a demonstration of an outfit I was pretty pleased with including those very items, as well as my preliminary thoughts on the shirt.

Sunglasses - Ray-Ban | Fisherman sweater - thrifted (L.L. Bean) | Flannel shirt - L.L. Bean | Belt - Uniqlo | Jeans - Uniqlo | Boots - Dr. Martens

Internet reviews agree that this shirt is boxy and runs very large -- fine by me, as I was looking for a looser fit. My first order of XS completely swallowed me up so I exchanged it for a XXS. At some point, I talked to a lovely customer service representative from Maine whose son was interested in applying to my medical school.

Shipping is free, but I was charged about $7 for the exchange, which I was fine with. I bought the original on sale, and that discount was honored on the exchange. L.L. Bean has a godly warranty, and I have heard that their scotch plaid flannels are still high quality and well worth the price ($45 regular, though I got 20%).

Please do forgive the weird angles and proportions -- I am a novice at outfit photos, and fashion blogger I am not. The only decoration in my room are my maps of Boston, Massachusetts, and New England, though I may put up some postcards when I have the motivation. Also, the sunglasses are there because I prefer to go internet incognito when convenient.

For more context on the fit, I am 5' 5" and have an approximate bust and waist measurement of 32" and 25". The shirt is in the Misses' Relaxed fit, and XXS supposedly fits bust sizes 31-32" with a 29" sleeve. It feels perfect at the shoulders, but I have cuffed the sleeves once in these pictures. The actual body of the shirt angles slightly outwards, it seems, and there is generally a lot of fabric at the midsection and in the sleeves.

The flannel is 100% cotton and made in El Salvador, very heavy and soft, and almost too warm to wear indoors. I wore it layered under this sweater -- 100% cotton, wooden buttons, made in Maine -- and was toasty warm on my walk to class this morning at 39F, and overheated when walking home at 52F at lunchtime. It is quite a stiff fabric, which is especially notable at the collar, cuffs, and midline.

I like to think that this shirt is one first step towards a wardrobe that I am very, very happy with. I was uncertain about buying a flannel shirt new for $45 ($36 on sale), but I have wanted this specific one for a very long time, and know I will cherish it for many years to come. The navy fisherman's sweater has long been a California winter staple since my senior year in high school, and I am happy that it will get more use in the Massachusetts autumns to come.

P.S. These grey jeans are too small for me, I know. When I bought them, I did not even lift, and I have made leg gains since coming to Boston. Upper body gains, on the other hand...

P.P.S Here I am wearing this shirt out in the field, a preview for an imminent blog post and adventure report.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A quick costume change

This is not the first time I have decided to go for fairy wings as a low-effort Halloween costume. However, this costume quickly became medium-effort when I found that there is a huge floral supply warehouse just a five minute walk from campus.

In ninth grade, I was a fairy in our school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream; subsequently, I have been drawn to fairies in art, literature, and design. If it isn't clear from this blog, I like plants and want to be surrounded by them. The florist supplier was a wonderland of silk flowers and foliage and ribbons -- my favorite part of any arts and crafts store, but at an unreal scale.

If/when I enter private/group practice, I will decorate my clinic to my heart's desire.

I still do want to revisit my autumnal fairy costume from two years ago (sparkly orange wings with foliage) and make a crown and wand. Maybe I can alternate Halloweens with these fairy costumes. Anyhow, I don't have a good name for this dark fairy costume. I place curses and may cause disease (congenital birth defects of the thorax, abdomen, or pelvis...exam tomorrow).

I'll keep the wings, crown, and wand for future Halloweens or costume-required events. They're props and don't take up much space, and will save me the trouble of hunting down costume items in the future. The wings were bought new, and the big blue flower, the blueberry pick, and the black leaves came from the aforementioned florist supplier. I used a friend's black electrical tape and the whole effort looks kind of cool.

I haven't decided if I'll be going to the exam tomorrow in costume. I'll bring it with me to school just in case.


And to follow, I have a more reflective post coming up, mostly about gross anatomy and my career goals and about Boston. As spoilers: it's fun/sadly almost over/lots of Latin, surgery, cold and historical. I'm possibly going backpacking in New Hampshire or Vermont this coming weekend, but I'm not sure about that yet.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A/W 2016 | Wardrobe Planning

Alternative title: Winter Is Coming

1.5 weeks ago, a perplexing heat wave swept Boston and I wondered when summer would end. Well, the weather changed precisely around the autumn equinox and yesterday was rainy and mid-50s F. Over the past few weeks, I've been collecting cold weather advice from classmates, and it looks like I actually really do need to plan my purchases this time around. Early childhood in Chicago notwithstanding, this is my first real winter.

Coat and shirt from L. L. Bean, denim jacket and jeans from Levi's

  1. L. L. Bean Winter Warmer Coat - this coat is rated +15 F/-35 F light/moderate activity, which means almost nothing to me because I have no concept of what +15 F, much less -35 F feels like. What I do know is that this temperature rating more or less covers what I can expect of a typical Boston winter. It is down-filled, is long, and has a hood. I showed this coat to a friend born and raised in Boston and she gave her stamp of approval
  2. Levi's trucker jacket - last week, I rooted around an army/navy surplus near Boston Common looking for socks, and found a huge selection of jackets instead. I'm looking for something for another jacket to tide me over to parka weather. The men's Levi's jackets I found, some sherpa-lined and some not, seem like ideal candidates. They're pricey, but maybe I can find one secondhand. The women's cut is too high at the waist, of course, and the men's XS seems a good size on me
  3. L. L. Bean scotch plaid flannel shirt, blackwatch - I have wanted this exact shirt for months now. I have about three total long-sleeved shirts, which does not seem like enough for the impending cold weather. Although I am sure I could find many other flannels like it in thrift stores, this may be one that I buy new to get the exact color and size
  4. Levi's jeans - I have jeans, but I want more. Specifically, I'm looking for a looser fit, and something that I can wear a base layer underneath if it gets cold. I don't care for the skinny fit anymore, and given my recent squat and deadlift gains, my jeans are even skinnier. In all likelihood, I will buy a new pair of jeans during Black Friday and flip a coin about black or blue
  5. All the other things - a hat, a scarf, wool socks, mittens if my gloves prove insufficiently warm, a little black dress for when I need to clean up nice
It's been a damn long time since my last post. Medical school has been great. Gross anatomy is everything I have dreamed of and more. I found friends and have been catching up with old ones as well. I jumped onto an orthopedic surgery research project as a code monkey. I still want to be an orthopedic surgeon, but general surgery and trauma surgery and EM all look cool. Boston is changing colors, but right now it's just grey and rainy. That's the story thus far.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

From North Pack Monadnock to Pack Monadnock | New Hampshire

Back in August before our first day of real classes, I went on a hike in New Hampshire with our school's outdoors club. It was my first time seeing the great outdoors of New England, which is basically a jumble of granite, deciduous trees, and Algonquin place names.

Looking out over New Hampshire

This is New Hampshire from the summit of a monadnock, an isolated rock/hill/mountain common around these parts. They come to be when a harder rock endures erosion around it; because this is New Hampshire, these monadnocks are made of granite.

By the way, New Hampshire is called "The Granite State." It also has the most intense state motto ever: "Live Free or Die."

Entering Wapack National Wildlife Reserve

The drive up from Boston was only about an hour, and it amused me to think how quickly we crossed a state line. Because there were so many of us, we got there via yellow school bus, which are required by law to stop and open their doors at every railroad crossing. Incidentally, New Hampshire is full of railroad crossings, and charming images of saltbox houses and meadows and farms right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

We started at the head of Ted's Trail on Old Mountain Road at around 1300 ft above sea level and had a pretty easy stroll through private woods (presumably Ted's) to Wapack National Wildlife Refuge.

These low stone walls are a common sight in New England, and we encountered many during the hike. As I learned in my American Environmental and Cultural History class last year, these stones were uncovered not in the colonial times, but in the 1800s after a period of great deforestation and farm-raising. Previously buried stones surfaced and were made into useful little walls. Read more about them here.

Left: gaining a little altitude
Right: lots of rocks

I tried to identify the trees that I saw, but of course, many of them were unfamiliar to me. There was spruce, hemlock, and pine, but the majority of the trees we saw were deciduous: more birches than I'd ever seen before, and chestnut, ash, elm, and aspen. If some astute New Englander wants to nitpick, then I apologize. I'm from California and am new to this place and your trees.

Oh yes, and huge granite boulders everywhere.

The view from North Pack Monadnock

The trek up North Pack Monadnock was a good one; not strenuous, but enough to work up a sweat. I'll take a moment to brag that I was in the small group that led the pack and was completely stunned by the wide expanse of blue. The visibility was incredible, and the landscape filled with such an impossible variety of green and blue.

We ate lunch at the summit at 2278 ft and welcomed the light drizzle. I had this great buzz of excitement in the back of my head from this scenery: the rolling lowlands, the lush greens and blues, and the great clouds that seemed to pull the landscape ever faster to the horizon.

More landscape

We continued hiking on the Cliffs Trail, which essentially circled around to different vista points before merging with the Wapack Trail. Every turn was a new view, with ominous clouds casting intense shadows on the bucolic New Hampshire countryside, with the occasional white or red barn cutting through the green.

The first of many cairns, but the only one I took a photo of

We encountered some friendly hikers on the trail, reinforcing my impression of New Englanders as being an active, outdoorsy bunch. While I certainly don't think this compares to the truly wild beauty of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe, I needed this hike, and want to see much more of this part of the country.

LL, cairn, clouds, New Hampshire

With all these greens and blues, I do wonder what this place looks like in the autumn. I interviewed in Boston last September before most of the leaves started changing colors, and have yet to see what autumn really looks like around here.

Lots of granite everywhere

The next portion of our hike was on the Wapack Trail in the wildlife reserve. At about this time, I broke off with a few others and charged ahead to leave behind the pack. It sounds harsh, but a large, noisy group is difficult to enjoy the great outdoors with. That's juts my opinion.

One thing that I found interesting was that our hike bounced from private to public, briefly back to private, and then public land. It's a well-traveled route, but still seems unfamiliar. Most of the hiking I've done in California was completely contained on public land.

More walls
Not many photos at all of the hike between the mountains, but it was much the same. I wish I'd taken more photos, but I suppose I just forgot. The weather was pretty fickle, but fortunately not terribly hot. Thankfully, I got at least one spooky forest photo.

Blueberries, road into the state park, shrubbery, and granite

The final ascent up Pack Monadnock was harder than the first peak, and hot and sunny up at the top. Pack Monadnock, at 2290 ft, is at the northern edge of Miller State Park. It amused me that all the hiking we did took us through private property, a reserve, and barely into an official park. Anyhow, there was water at the top, as well as a weather station and fire lookout tower.

The weather station and fire tower

This was the hottest and sunniest part of the day. I had some energy left and went up the tower and around the summit looking for photo-ops (and fires). It looks like rain somewhere in Massachusetts.

The view from the fire tower on Pack Monadnock

Apparently, Boston is visible from here. I'm not too sure about that, but this is indeed looking south.

I forgot to mention that the trail is teeming with wild blueberry bushes. Many families park their cars at the summit of Pack Monadnock and go around with buckets to pick them. They were small, pretty sweet, but I didn't want too eat too many.

My favorite photo of the day. I'm 70% sure this is Mt. Monadnock (a bigger monadnock than either of that day's monadnocks)

I had some great conversation with my classmates on this hike, and am more excited than ever to hike and explore New England. I don't really know what I thought about New Hampshire before this trip, but I do hope to see more of it over the next four years.

Our route
In total, 5 miles and 1500 ft altitude gain (up a peak, back down, and up another). We embarrassingly got lost and looped back to our starting point in the first 1.5 hours of the hike so I'm not too sure about time, but we got in at around 10 AM and left before 4 PM IIRC. The end going up Pack Monadnock is fairly steep, but does not require scrambling.