Monadnock Mountain

Me and My Mountain

I have a consistent tendency toward developing an affinity to certain trees and rocks, certain fountains, parks, and structures. I feel a certain primal kinship, to varying degrees, with all mountains and rivers – and, particularly, the Atlantic Ocean. There are, naturally, specific hills, certain patches of forest, particular stretches of beach, and, indeed, singular mountains with which I feel a special, much stronger and more palpable bond.

Such is the case with the Grand Monadnock. Even in adolescence I could feel the mountain’s power, the call of its mystery, the promise of its romance, occasionally even hear the song it sings from its ancient bosom. My ample experiences on and with the mountain have rarely, if ever, been typical. Some have even been life-changing (see below). For the last decade, even when not actively climbing or even thinking about The Mountain, I have lived in its shadow. Even before that, even before I was much aware of it, I was never very far. The truth, clichéd though it may sound, is that I did not so much choose this mountain as it chose me.

It wasn’t until September of 2015 (just prior to writing this passage), when I accidentally stumbled upon the only comprehensive modern-day chronicle of the mountain that I realized how many other people have felt this call. Craig Brandon’s wonderful Monadnock: More than a Mountain makes clear how large the company is, how large the coterie of others over the centuries who seem to have observed the mountain to have the exact same, almost undeniably supernatural, characteristics as I have. Brandon gives us the scientific term “Monadnophiles,” including himself in this classification, but he frequently uses the simpler, and more correct term: pilgrims. He writes:

“During its 300 years of recorded history, Monadnock has called out to New England and its pilgrims have answered….The true pilgrims speak the mountain’s name in hushed tones. Henry David Thoreau called it a ‘temple,’ and poet Edna Dean Proctor expanded that to ‘a mighty temple builded to the Lord.’ Painter Abbott Thayer called the mountain his ‘totem,’ and composer Alan Hovhannes listed it among his ‘magic mountains.’

Hundreds of painters, poets, writers, composers, choreographers, and photographers have responded to the call to transform Monadnock into art….When you ask these creative people to explain what inspired such an outpouring of homage to their common motif, they say that Monadnock touched something deep inside of them that awakened a need to create art in its name….So many poets found inspiration in Monadnock during the nineteenth century that observers seriously thought that there must be something about the mountain itself was literary, as if mere rocks could somehow compose verses.

[…]

Scientists have attempted to explain the mountain’s mysteries by delving into its ancient origins, explaining how the mountain was formed at the bottom of an ancient ocean and thrust up by the collision of tectonic plates, then transformed by the scratching and pressing of glaciers a half mile thick. Then the rocky pinnacle was fractured and worn by millennia of erosion.”

Apparently, according to Brandon, the American Society of Dowsers has identified the mountain’s summit as a “power point” where four and a half 12-foot “ley lines” cross.

Don’t ask me how a half of a line can cross on top of a mountain. And I can’t claim with any certainty that ley lines are a real thing. All I can report is that we’re talking about a mysteriously powerful and divine place, I’ve always known it, and now I’m realizing a shitton of other people have felt and continue to feel the exact same thing. I’m not willing to hedge on this subject, either. If you find notions of sacred places and holy mountains impossible to swallow, there’s likely not much on this site that’s to your taste.

If you find notions of sacred places and holy mountains impossible to swallow, there’s likely not much on this site that’s to your taste.

In our first three years, I never spent nearly enough time talking about the mountain itself, despite the ample evidence suggesting that such exploration does and will continue to pay off. As we continue on this journey together, I am committed to a greater focus on this mountain I love so dearly and with which I seem conjoined at some key point on the body of my soul.

For now, however, I present you with a mystical journey from the Summer Solstice of 2013 – a mountain adventure (of misadventure) that changed my life completely in ways I have not even fully begun to understand.

A Midsummer’s Night Monadnock Adventure

(Originally posted 6/27/13)

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I.

As is only fitting for 2013’s Day of Longest Light, and in keeping with my general tendencies toward wildness and not thinking things through, on the evening of June 21, I set out to climb my beloved mountain. This is a chronicle of that fateful and life-changing trek into the heights of divine communion and down again into the darkness – as, indeed, we are all about to do via the procession of the remainder of this calendar year.

3

Fortunately, I was not alone, just as I am not alone on my walk through life. This evening, I was accompanied by my lovely queen, my favorite sister, and my favorite comrade of 20 years.

“Welcome to the mountain,” said the little waterfall brimming over the little old stone dam. “Happy Midsummer’s Day.”

Habibti and I, despite the obvious (to us) sacred nature of the holiday, had to work all day, so we set out from the office just after 5 to meet our companions at the base of the mountain.

2We took our first steps on that trail at about ten minutes to six. “But that’s too late in the day to start climbing Monadnock,” you may find yourself wanting to protest. Well, you may be right.

1Trailhead to the Parker, highway to the high ways. Ain’t no grackles in these here woods.

4“Welcome to the mountain,” said the little waterfall brimming over the little old stone dam. “Happy Midsummer’s Day.”

5The trees of the new old forest do not waste time mourning the declining light of their old father the sun. No, the trees of the new old forest bask in it, they soak it in, they bend their limbs towards it, tilt their leaves to best capture its most and best and even its last. The trees, in this not-so-final estimation, hum its praises as we pause in almost-recognition before continuing along our merry magic way.

II.

6As we embark upon the heart of the beginning stage of this archetypal trip, what I lack in breath and physical condition I am able to compensate for with joy. This right here, my friends, is joyous. Every last bit of it dripping with its glow, even in black and white.

For just as some wizened ones have termed it a Box of Rain, what else could the great green up-thrust of the pinnacle of year’s life be but a basket of glowing curious joy?

7For just as some wizened ones have termed it a Box of Rain, what else could the great green up-thrust of the pinnacle of year’s life be but a basket of glowing curious joy – joy curious not because we are beset with it from all around but because it springs up and out from inside of us, rushing forward like magnetic water to join the matching scene outside and fly with the robins and the crows of this forest?

9Where is the farm? 

The farm is lost.
Before us here, that farm’s walled border
Melds seamlessly with regular special path-rocks.
The forest taketh away – 
But she leaveth us reminders.

10Melding together, bending and twisting and flowing and pooling and basking: the activity of all this life in all the mighty mountain wood.

11The rocks themselves, that stone we falsely believe “inanimate,” the stone we falsely believe to be stationary, they too flow, flow in and out of the green apparent flora, just as they flow seamlessly between the worlds of our experience and those at the edge of our perception. Are these then the rocks of America or those of Arnor?

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My joy, it yet overfloweth as that light above and around still blazeth down – but as the body prepares begrudgingly to shut down from overexertion, our maternal Lost Farm Trail ends our wooded gestation and births us into a nativity of cliff and open air.

My joy, it yet overfloweth as that light above and around still blazeth down – but as the body prepares begrudgingly to shut down from overexertion, our maternal Lost Farm Trail ends our wooded gestation and births us into a nativity of cliff and open air. Humble, naked, small, we are presented before the light, before that which is behind the light, that divine current into which we yearn to plug ourselves far more often than we are able and yet still not as often as we should.

III.

13Ascent – on this mountain, at least, as with the mountain of our year and the mountain of our mortal lives – inevitably leads to clarity. Just a little, at first…just a taste…

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If we could only see that this is the rock that’s always with us, granite and limestone, crystalline quartz, not dead and not standing still but alive and well and moving.

The trail yields to the next. ‘Twas but a mile and a fraction, but a lifetime to my lungs and muscles and certain sides of my spirit – marking most definitively the conclusion of our preliminary climb.

15It is now, rising ever higher, that our ordinary flora come to yield to the underlying bed of rock – and if we could only see that this is the rock that’s always with us, granite and limestone, crystalline quartz, not dead and not standing still but alive and well and moving.

16Seeking to talk with us, dialog with us just as it spends each day in friendly banter with the skies and the gassy air the skies claim as their own.

18It is the air now, sweeping in, whose arguments swirl to merge and harmonize and playfully counter that of the stone.

What wondrous a rock is this
Certified organic spaceship hurtling through the skies.
Through the wild and whisping and whispering air before me,
Two tiny humps to be seen on the far part of the space rock’s sphere curve,
Two little bookends with a crazy little land in between.
It’s Old Man Watatic on the left, with all his Rosicrucian mystery,
The other Old Man is Wachusett, Wachusett of tradition and continuity
And prosperity under the sun.
Two little bookends with a crazy little land in between,
A land of cities and towns,
The land of commerce and concern and commuting and committees,
But you can’t see anything but trees from up here.
Just trees on a rock in space, trees between two Old Men bookends – 
But that’s the crazy little land of my own genesis, 
A nothing patch of green covering all the imperfections of man beneath,
Yet the nothing patch that holds the greatest fondness of my heart.

19It’s barely visible now, barely poking through between the hardy and rough-scrabble pines of these intermediate heights – the pinnacle, our goal, our achievable paradise. We’ve arrived at my favorite waystation, a stone outcrop unknown to all but a few, a place of meditation and smoking and smiles.

21And of love.

20We, or perhaps just I, just Mad I, christen this place the Wizard’s Nest. [Note: I cannot yet to be certain, but this location may actually be called Ainsworth’s Seat, named after the first minister of Jaffrey. – Ed/Wiz, 9/2015) The Wizard of Monadnock should have an on-location headquarters with office hours a handful of times through the year – and why shouldn’t every wizard have a nest, anyhow?

A place of meditation and smoking and smiles. And of love.

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IV.

The territory is being ceded by the power of day to the powers of the night. We feel no fear for this, nor do we feel regret.

“What says the Wizard regarding this solstice?”

That is the question I am asked, as we begin to climb onward. We know by now that there is little time for extraneous pauses.

23And as we march onward, the moon, faintly visible above, has begun its rise in the east even as our beloved solstice sun – earlier standing still at the pinnacle of the sky – now accelerates its descent towards the ultimate setting. The territory is being ceded by the power of day to the powers of the night. We feel no fear for this, nor do we feel regret. Even if it may prove true that we’ve allowed ourselves to remain on this mountain far too late for safety’s sake, we feel only peace amidst surging energy and gratitude and common cause.

“So the message I’m hearing, here,” my questioner interjects, “is ‘bank light.’ Is that it? Bank the light?”

Yes, that’s it.

24I attempt to explain – explain the celebration of light’s fullest manifestation, the honor of the ancestors, the cosmic pause to check reality and understand not merely our relationship with nature, but our nature itself, the need to carry onward this light with which we’ve been lucky enough to get so far —

“So the message I’m hearing, here,” my questioner interjects, “is ‘bank light.’ Is that it? Bank the light?”

Yes, that’s it.

Yes – it’s better than I could have (or did) put it myself.

We must bank this light in order to keep it with us as we climb on ahead into inevitable darkness.

25Climb on, we climb on. Always upward, always towards that summit – and all the while knowing we’ve only to go back down in the end.

What will befall us now? What joys and what terrors? What is to become of us as we take a mortally dangerous straying turn from the path as darkness rapidly falls and panic sets in?

Will we win? What do we get if we make it?

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V.

Well, there are no cliffhangers on the mountain, unless you’re literally hanging from a cliff. The trail marches on.

Monadnock’s final stretch, when you’re mostly above the artificial treeline, is a place where you think you’re there already but there’s at least a half hour to go and you’re very, very tired and kind of staggering along.

26The moon, technically still a waxing gibbous (but we’re going to call it full), had already begun to rise as the sun was well on its way to its setting. The hour was late, but the hour was beautiful, the hour was magical.

“You know I love you,” the moon says to the sun, “but your time was technically over several hours ago. You’ve had a good run, but you know you gotta let me take over.”
“Yes,” replies the sun with a knowing smile. “…but I’m not quite done yet.”

27Interesting and perhaps even appropriate, isn’t it, that our attentions were so naturally drawn towards the moon, a living symbol in the sky and out in space for the realm and experience of the night? 29How impudent the moon, who refuses to wait, on Midsummer’s Day, for the sun to finish its grand cycle on its greatest day, before riding forth with authority and gall to claim the sky.

“You know I love you,” the moon says to the sun, “but your time was technically over several hours ago. You’ve had a good run, but you know you gotta let me take over.”

28“Yes,” replies the sun with a knowing smile.

34“…but I’m not quite done yet.”

35“You’re well within your rights and I respect your spirit,” the moon replied. “I can wait. I’ve got all the time in the world now. And I can’t even really do my thing until you’re around the corner – until we turn ourselves in space to orient away from you. By all means.”

30And as this conversation gets played out, the same conversation that’s been had annually for a couple billion or so trips around the star, the arrow from those who blazed the trails before us, in concert with the soul of the mountain itself – my friend Monadnock – compels us forward yet a little further.

VI.

33A little bit higher yet to climb. Just a little bit.

But by this time, I’m starting to understand why we need a cycle and not a stasis – why the light must not only grow, but fade away again. The light is the light-giver, the light is the source of all energy in our little corner of the universe, and yet all work must give way to rest. All incessant climbing of mountains, all participation in the games and the structures of the world we must navigate below (a world that seems quite incomprehensible at this altitude), must cease and give way to recharging and repose. All hikes must give way to pizza and beer and music and, eventually, contented and well-deserved sleep.

All hikes must give way to pizza and beer and music and, eventually, contented and well-deserved sleep.

34Without the sleep, we can’t wake up. Without the death, we can’t be alive. Without the darkness, we can’t have the light.

And oh, what a wonderful light it is, here and now.

I don’t personally like to sleep, but how wonderful is it to dream, and then to awaken once more?

36Rest now, in fact, just briefly, just for a moment, just to gather the walks to leg up that last little bit.

Last little bit of mountain…

37…last bit of sun. Last bit of Midsummer’s Day.

The hawks are with gladness,
When summer’s solstice comes;
Its light pours fiery fevered pulse into every and all,
And they say it kisses the earth with its final glimmer over the edge,
Kissing us goodbye as we turn away and towards the night,
Not just Big Brother Moon but all our old friends:
The stars.
Don’t be sad.
Summer’s just beginning, really  –
Though light now draws to advance’s end –
We’ll greet the champion Orion soon enough,
And the light the sky no longer harbors
Lives along instead within ourselves, within our cores.
And all the cores are one and the same.
We’re all in this together –
Rocks included. 

But pause no more in bittersweet reverie:
The heavens are on schedule, but we are not,
We’ve many more miles to cover before pillows we shall meet.

VII.

The mountaintop is where you go to chill with the divine. Mount Monadnock, and mountains in general, aren’t the only place to do this, of course – under the right conditions, it can be done anywhere.

But, hell, this is the best place around here to get close to heaven.

38Naught but the tiniest most insignificant little stretch remains between our bodied souls and the mystic omnipresent summit, and there is only exhilaration, only enthusiasm. Not an empty, overflowing sort, but the kind of spirit that comes of all ordeals, fasting, purification by fire or water – or in this case, just exertion.

Make no mistake, a climb is not just a climb. With currency of steps and breaths and calorie and muscle, we have purchased our ritual purification, a bizarro kind of holiday tradition we just lack collectively, without our own initiative as four seekers, four wanderers, four adventurers on Midsummer’s Day.

By making it this far, we’ve atoned for all of that. The divisions break down.

There are troubles, and complications, and less than ideal things. But this, up here, is more like what the real reality is like. It’s quieter. It’s higher. Much clearer.

39That joy erupts forth once more, not just in victory, and not merely this time through the symbolic communion of the forests or the rocks, but because the mountaintop is where you go to chill with the Divine.

42Mountains aren’t the only place to do this, of course – under the right conditions, it can be done anywhere.

But, hell, this is the best place around here to get close to heaven.

41It’s always when close to it that I see so clearly that I’m never far away from it.

Even literally – this mountain looms ever over me whether I sleep or I work and I delight in it throughout each day – and I still don’t get it like I do right now.

There are troubles, and complications, and less than ideal things. But this, up here, is more like what the real reality is like. It’s quieter. It’s higher. Much clearer.

VIII.

43The miracle is Now: while the sun yet lives, while we yet live, we are at once connected and freed, we are the mountain – our bones and its stones part of the same grand mechanism. We stand proud not atop the mountain but as the mountain. Now.

44We turn into the mountain imps we really are, distant cousins of the legendary pine monkeys.

45We relish this life and this day and this love and this holiday.

56We think about it.

51We think about it some more.

46Just look at it. The paint on the rocks doesn’t say “TAO” – but it should.

55We dance little mountain moon-sun jigs.

49Damn.

52We go off and look and wonder, gazing across all the land below.

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This is the center,
Not just of our souls but of this land.
To our east, the waters flow into the Merrimack,
Out to the Atlantic by the shores of sage Plum Island.
To our west, the waters flow into the Connecticut,
They flow away down, down, down to Long Island Sound.

This is the center,
Not “this” but “we”.
We are not from her,
She does not belong to us.
But not only do we belong to her,
YEA, WE ARE NEW ENGLAND!
We sit upon her crown,
We marvel at her blessed rolling hills,
This earth around us from whence we came
And to where we go,
And beneath which the sun goes now.

The sun goes now.

IX.

The moon, indeed, is our friend, for without that light we will surely be lost as the darkness comes on. The sun will live on in its reflection, will guide us down to our cars and our home paths.

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Midsummer is no more. In its wake is left only a powerful canvas of color.

61And now, coming into its own over the towns as they glimmer on with their artificial firefly lights, is our patient friend the moon. The moon, indeed, is our friend, for without that light we will surely be lost as the darkness comes on. The sun will live on in its reflection, will guide us down to our cars and our home paths.

65Transformation of the world all over again. Rebirth of a different kind.

66Here, our blessings – the markings of our forebears in monumental manifestation, and the only light available in this sea of deepening vivid gray.

We have a long way to go – a long way to go in the dark. It’s true enough as a metaphor, but I’m not sure I wish to speak in terms of higher meaning at this point. The mood is getting a little skittish.

67But then I decide incorrectly that we’re going the wrong way, and we leave the trail just as darkness races across the sky like steroided horses in Kentucky in May.

68It’s pretty, but where are we going, and will we get there?

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This bog, as we called it, is where angels come to hang out when nobody is around. This is pretty much all the time, because it’s not on the path and so smart people don’t go here.

We have a long way to go – a long way to go in the dark. It’s true enough as a metaphor, but I’m not sure I wish to speak in terms of higher meaning at this point. The mood is getting a little skittish.

70This bog, as we called it, is where angels come to hang out when nobody is around. This is pretty much all the time, because it’s not on the path and so smart people don’t go here. Since we were here, the angels left, and only a mighty bullfrog remained to play reluctant host to intruder adventurers wandering dangerously off the path at night.

71Wrong way, we must yet adventure on. ‘Tis the way of things.

72Still not going the right way. Getting darker.

78But since we’re here, interesting factoid – that’s Keene nestled snugly in its evil little black hole of a valley down there!

Faith told me the machinations of the universe didn’t include an end to our collective (or individual) stories on this magical night, but reality, or my deterministic side, told me that this was it – it was all Now. Do Now or Do Never, so Now you must Do.

So we did.

79But now we’re really in for it. This is a dead end. We’ll scale over the corner in this picture, climb down and down…nothing but 100-foot drops to one side, precariously small two-food ledges our only saving grace, and it’s a dead end. Just like life. But, also like life, since we lowered ourselves so many times, we now have to climb back up – with those same drops looming.

80The obstacles were thick and everyone was getting scared. At heart, I understood that the problem was not physical or safety-related but existential: faith told me the machinations of the universe didn’t include an end to our collective (or individual) stories on this magical night, but reality, or my deterministic side, told me that this was it – it was all Now. Do Now or Do Never, so Now you must Do.

82So we did. With praises to the divine for grace and mercy, my sister found a cairn. We were back on the White Dot Trail, where we should never have left in the first place. It was my fault…but who can apologize for adventure? It was my fault…but who can apologize for adventure?

83Light, o light of the world – be with us as we descend into the darkness, into the humble forest below.

84Mighty Monadnock, now behind us, remaining steadfast upon the throne, bid us farewell and the best of wishes.

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I didn’t take pictures of anything else, because there was little more than darkness. Just like what lies ahead of us. Darkness and weariness – but, spoiler alert, we made it out safely (at 11 o’clock) – and mirth and pizza and bed also lie ahead. That’s the second half of the year for you. We were blasted with light on that mountain, but everyone was blasted with light on June 21 because you can never escape the sun.

Bank it. Unlike money, you really can take it with you.

Happy Midsummer.