Kirsten White, Catherine Gordon, and Kristin Stelmok carried the stones and the stories of SGT Nicholas Robertson, and SGT Christopher Wilson up two mountains in Maine over the summer of 2015. They were honored to share these stories and ensure that Maine Heroes are NOT Forgotten.
I had the honor of taking SGT Nicholas Robertson’s stone on two beautiful sunrise hikes in Maine and New Hampshire on August 31 and September 1, 2015. At 2:30 am on August 31, my friend Cathy Gordon and I hit the trail head at the base of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, with the goal of summiting in time to watch the sun rise. Cathy carried the stone of SGT Christopher Wilson, whose stone I have hiked previously, and whose grave I have visited at Arlington National Cemetery, not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. I had begun to think of Nicholas and Christopher as the “Brothers” since I picked up their stones in Portland a few days earlier. I placed them in the passenger seat of my rental car as I road-tripped across Maine – my true home. They were my companions on this adventure, and together we crisscrossed the state, visiting friends and family, and honoring Maine’s fallen at memorials and in the homes of Gold Star families who have become dear friends.
Cathy and I wore head lamps and reflective gear in preparation for ascending Cadillac in the dark, but a spectacular full moon lit our way and, once we were above the tree line, we no longer needed artificial light, as the moonlight reflecting off the exposed granite and the ocean below guided us to the summit. There are few things as quiet as the Maine woods, especially in the middle of the night and, and as we climbed, I reflected on SGT Robertson’s life. He was a determined young man – not the type to take the easy path to any destination. Despite being qualified to enter the military as an officer, SGT Robertson instead chose to take the enlisted route and work his way up through the ranks. I thought often during my four days with his stone that making this decision was the mark of a true leader – a man who valued being a peer before being a commander.
The stone in my pack bearing SGT Robertson’s initials was retrieved from a beach on Mt. Desert Island, not far from where our carefully-placed footsteps brought us closer to where we could look out over the area that he loved so much. During his deployment, Nick told his parents that he couldn’t wait to get back to Mt. Desert so he could rock climb there again, his favorite activity in his favorite spot. I felt honored to carry his stone to that sacred location, to in some way return him back to the place he craved, and to watch the sunrise with his stone over the rocks he couldn’t wait to come home to.
The following day I was back in the car with the Brothers on our way to the next adventure. Shortly after finishing up the Cadillac hike, I drove to New Hampshire to meet my high school friend Kristin Stelmok to hike the stones in the White Mountains. We chose a short but steep climb to the summit of South Moat Mountain, again taking off at 2:00 am. And again, the bright moon guided us. Kristin and I had lots to catch up on, and we chatted for most of the ascent. With Christopher’s stone in her pack, she shared with me what she had learned about him, and I learned new things about him that I hadn’t discovered prior to my own hikes with his stone. It struck me that with each person entrusted with a single stone, a little portion of the hero’s life is remembered and retold, but that collectively, we can learn and retell an entire lifetime of memories.
I shared Nick’s story with Kristin, who has been my best friend since we were kids growing up in the Dover-Foxcroft area. We both love the outdoors and, while Maine winters can be long and grueling, we love snow and have spent many winter days skiing and snowboarding in Maine and New Hampshire. Kristin listened with rapt attention as I talked about Nick, especially the joy he found in simple things like snow. As we climbed, I pictured him delighting in the first snow of every winter, running outside and throwing his arms wide, tilting his head back, and feeling the cold flakes on his face, just as his family describes him doing. Even if Afghanistan, he loved the snow because it reminded him of home. Later, when we reached the summit of South Moat, and the first rays of sun splashed across the Whites, I also widened my arms in the wind, tilted my head back, and smiled. It felt so good to be home. Kristin, the Brothers and I had the peaceful summit sunrise all to ourselves.
Before long, the wind died down and, with the newly-risen sun on our right, and the full moon to our left, we felt reenergized and decided to complete the traverse, summiting Middle Moat and North Moat Mountains before descending. We had the entire ridge to ourselves for the duration of our hike. At the top of each peak we pulled out the stones and sunned ourselves, tilting our heads back, as Nick did, feeling the warmth on our faces. In those moments, I was inspired by Nick’s selflessness and his sense of service-over-self. I hope a little of that spirit rubbed off on me during my adventures with his stone, a four-day road trip with a truly inspiring pair of companions.
To SGT Robertson’s family, thank you for sharing the memory of this amazing young man with all of us. I have thought of him every day since returning his tribute stone in Portland. He inspires me to be patient and to delight in the simple things, and I treasure our shared love of home. I hope it brings you some comfort to know that he continues to lead even those he did not know in life.
Cathy Gordon –
My name is Catherine Gordon and I carried Christopher’s stone on a nighttime hike up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.
Early Monday morning at 2:30 AM, my friend Kirsten and I began our climb, where the nearly full moon lit our path better than any flashlight could have and the weather couldn’t have been better. With me leading the way, we started the hike. Kirsten was carrying SGT Robertson’s stone and I was carrying Chris’ stone, a stone that Kirsten herself had carried on a previous hike. As we hiked we talked about Chris and I learned some wonderful things about him. I learned that he had been a culinary student here in Bangor where I teach. I learned how he always tried to see the good in every situation – like how even in war torn Afghanistan, he thought the country had a rugged beauty. I learned he had a young daughter and wanted nothing more than to make it home to her. But instead, he was killed on March 29th in Afghanistan from wounds sustained from a rocket-propelled grenade explosion at just 24 years old……
As Kirsten and I had hoped, we made the summit in time to see the sunrise. We placed our soldiers stones so that they would have the perfect view. What a stunningly beautiful moment it was. It was a moment where thankfulness washed over me that I was there able to take it all in, but also sadness that Chris wasn’t there to see it….. although I think maybe he was in a way….
I am so sorry for your loss. I hope that I can live a life worthy of Christopher’s sacrifice. I may have only carried his stone for a day, but I will carry his story in my heart forever. Maine heroes are not forgotten.
Kristin Stelmok –
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion
One week ago today I woke up at 2:00 AM to catch the sunrise on a ten-mile traverse of the Moat Mountains of New Hampshire. This hike was special for two reasons: it was my first Summit Project hike, and my hiking partner was one of my oldest and dearest friends (and Summit Project board member) Kirsten White.
The hike itself was beautiful – the sky was clear, the breeze was warm, and the White Mountains spread out endlessly in front of us. What made the day most meaningful, though, were the stories we told each other. We tried, in ten hours, to fill each other in on the past twenty years of our lives. We also talked a great deal about the lives of “our” soldiers (Sgt. Christopher Wilson and Sgt. Nicholas Robertson), their sacrifices, and those they left behind.
As a teacher and scholar of literature, I look to books and to stories to help make sense of the world. Stories help us understand people whose experience of life may seem vastly different from our own. Stories help us make connections across time and great distances. Stories are how we share our lives, and telling stories is what makes us human.
Sgt. Wilson’s stone is a metaphor for the gravity of his sacrifice, and holding it felt solemn and humbling. But the stories I read about Sgt. Wilson made his life, and thus his sacrifice, even more real to me. I learned that Chris Wilson had a strong bond with his sister. I learned that he loved his daughter and worried about not being there for her as she grew up. I learned that he loved cooking and that he was a fiercely loyal friend. Hundreds of people left messages on his legacy page, and I read all of them. Chris Wilson had a relatively short life, but he made a great impact on those who knew and loved him.
Carrying Sgt. Wilson’s stone was an honor and a deeply meaningful experience. I hope to carry his stone again and to have the chance to tell more people about the Summit Project and its mission. I won’t forget Chris Wilson, and I’ll keep telling his story.