Saturday, December 1, 2007

Wildcat wedding

We’ve always done most of our walking in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire. There, as in the rest of the northeast, a mountain over 4,000 ft. (1,219 m.) is big. There are 48 of them in New Hampshire, known simply as the New Hampshire 4,000-footers (there are others in Maine, Vermont, and New York). As with Munros in Scotland, it is a goal of many to have climbed all of them, and you can get a badge and certificate. I had a friend, a legend, who climbed them all. In winter. From each of the cardinal points of the compass. A true hard man, and a man so proud of his Scottish heritage that he invariably wore a Tam O’Shanter in the mountains, and carried it off with aplomb. Although I summited my first 4,000 in 1966, I’m only a little past half-way through the list. Of course, it doesn’t help that I like some of them enough to climb them over and over. Lafayette, I am here!

A few years ago, though, our daughter, her fiancé (now husband) and I embarked on a project that had more to do with trying to spend some outdoor time together than with finishing off all our 4,000s, but that used the list as an organizing principle. Looking at some pix to illustrate this post about what I think of as my home mountains, I was reminded of the story of one of these walks. The photo is of the two younger members of our expedition posing across Pinkham Notch from Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the Northeast at 6,288 ft. (1,917 m.).

They are standing near the end of our day on a platform near a peak called “Wildcat D,” which is near the south end of a rugged, wooded ridge graced also by the summits of Wildcats A-E. We had come south from A, which like D qualifies as a 4,000-footer. The platform is perhaps 200 yards away from, slightly above, and out of sight of the gondola station at (naturally) Wildcat ski area. The gondola runs all summer, and tourists can ride up the mountain for some cool breezes and a great view.

We were deeply involved in the usual rest-stop fiddling about when a kind of calliope-style organ began playing Here Comes the Bride over the ski area’s big PA system, and what has become one of my fondest, if weirdest, mountain memories began to take shape. It had everything: the gondola, the calliope, the giant commercial PA, and a schizophrenic combo of 1970 hippie and 1930 Methodist, including a poem and a kind of prescriptive essay (“In marriage, each must care more about the other than about one’s self…”), both of which must have been clipped from some ancient, yellowing ladies’ magazine. At one point somebody recited the Boy Scout Law (“A Scout is brave, clean, Republican,” and so on).* All this while hikers and tourists stood agape (or whatever the aural version of agape is). Once we got down to the lift, we averted our eyes and passed reverently by on our descent toward the notch, leaving behind our very best wishes for long and happy years together perusing Readers’ Digest while listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played on a Hammond organ set to “chimes” mode. And as we gradually moved out of range, we knew we would never forget the girl group offering its utterly white-bread rendition of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Right across the valley from Mount Washington. Wonderfully, superbly, delightfully surreal.

* I love the Scouts. I was a Scout. Scouts got me started in the out-of-doors. Some of my best friends were Scouts. Some of my best friends still are Scouts (you might just be able to see that one of the shirts in the photo above is a Scout T). It’s just that the National BSA needs to adjust its compass a little to the west.

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