Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
CLIMBING IRON MOUNTAIN
Some Joys of an Easy Ascent Near Jackson
The dawn lingers long in the depths of the deciduous woods that line the eastern slope of Iron Mountain. You may hear the thrushes singing matins in the green gloom after the sun has peered over Thorn and lighted the grassy levels in the hollow where Jackson wakes to the carols of field-loving birds. The veery is the bellman to this choir, ringing and singing at the same time, unseen in the shadows, the notes of bell and song mingling in his music till the two are one, the very tocsin of a spirit in the high arches of the dim woodland temple, calling all to prayer. The wood thrushes respond, serene in the knowledge of all good, voices of pure and holy calm, rapturous indeed, but only with the pure joy of worship and thoughts of things most high. So it is with the hermit thrushes that sing with them, nor shall you know the voice of the hermit from that of the wood thrush by greater purity of tone or exaltation of spirit, though perhaps it falls to the hermits to voice the more varied passages of the music. of all bird songs that of these thrushes seems to be most worshipful and to touch the purest responsive chords in the human heart. As they lead the wayfarer's spirit upward, so they seem to lead his feet toward the mountain top, the cool forest shades where they sing alternating with sunny glades as he scales the heights with the mountain road, which climbs prodigiously.
Way up the mountain the sunny glades widen in places to mountain farms, their pastures set on perilous slants, so that one wonders if the cattle do not sometimes roll down till checked by the woodland growth below, but their cultivated fields more nearly level, spots seemingly crushed out of the slopes by the weight of giant footsteps, descending. The wooded growth and ledges of the summit leap upward from the southern and western edges of these clearings, but to the north and east the glance passes into crystal mountain air and penetrates it mile on mile to the blue summits that cut the horizon in these directions. Far below lie the valleys, with the smaller hills that seem so high from the grassy plains about Jackson village smudged and flattened from crested land waves to ripples. Highest of all mountain cots is the Hayes farm-house, its well drawing ice water from frozen caverns deep in the heart of the height and its northern outlook such as should breed heroes and poets through living cheek by jowl with sublimity. Here the mighty swell of the mountain sea has sunk the rippling hills below, but the sweep of crested land waves leaps on, high above them. Looking eastward, one seems to be watching from the lift and roll of an ocean liner's prow as ,the great ship runs down a gale. Out from far beneath you and beyond roar toppling blue crests, ridge piling over ridge. Thorn Mountain, Tin and Eagle are the nearer waves, their outline rising and falling and showing beyond them Black Mountain and the two summits of Doublehead, and beyond them Shaw and Gemini and Sloop, great billows rising and rolling on. Down upon the forest foam left behind in the hollows of these rides the Carter Moriah Range, a jagged, onrushing ridge, driven by the same gale. The day may be calm to all senses but the eye, yet there is the sea beneath you and beyond, tossed mountain high by the tempest.
To turn from the tumult to things near by is to find the forests of the mountain coming down through the pastures to look in friendly fashion over the walls at the clean mowing fields. On these they do not encroach, and though they continually press in upon the pastures and narrow their boundaries they do it gently and with such patient urbanity that the open spaces hardly know when they cease to ,be and the woodland occupies them. The flowers of the pasture sunshine grow thus for years in the forest shadows before they realize that they are out of place and hasten back to seek the full sunshine, and the trillium and clintonia and a host of other shade-loving things move out into the open and mingle with the buttercups and blue violets, sure that the trees will follow them. Thus gently does nature repair the ravages that have been wrought by the hand of man. Yet all through the mountain region she moves on, and fewer farms nestle in the giants' footfall on the high ridges than were there fifty or a hundred years ago. In many cases the summer hotel or the summer residence has taken the place of the one-time farm-house, but the dwellers in these encourage the wood rather than hold it at bay. The lumbermen make sad havoc among the big trees, but the forest acreage is greater in the mountains now than it was a century ago, more than making up in breadth what it loses in height.
In this low growth of the pastures about the farms high on Iron Mountain the June sunshine seems to pass into living forms of plant and animal life. Not only do the dandelions and buttercups blossom with their gold in all the moist, rich soil, but out of the green of forest leaves and the deep shadows of the wood it flutters upon quivering wings. The yellow warblers that flit and sing vigorously among the young birches are touched with the olive of the gentler shadows, but as they sing their vigorous "Wee-chee, chee, chee, cher-wee" their plumage is as full of the sunshine gold as are the dandelion blooms, The myrtle warblers of the spiring spruces, the magnolias, Blackburnians, mourning, Canadian and Wilson's, are flecked with it, and the forest shadows that touch them too only seem to bring it out the more clearly. But these are birds of the wood or its edges. In the trees that stand clear of the forest the goldfinches sing as if they were canaries, caged within the limits of the farm, their gold the brightest of all that which the birds show, the black of their wings densest, the color of night in the bottom of the glen, under evergreens. The thrushes that sing in the deep woods far down the mountain chant prayers, even until noon, the warblers in a thousand trees twitter simple ditties that are the mother-goose melodies of the forest world, cosy, fireside refrains hummed over and over again, but the goldfinches are the choristers of the summer sunshine when it floods the open spaces. They seem to be the familiar bird spirits of summer on the little mountain farms.
As the sunshine blossoms from the mountain meadows, as it flits and sings in the forest margins and in the goldfinch-haunted trees of the open farm, so it is born even from the twigs in the deeper wood, far up above the highest farm on the way to the summit of Iron Mountain. Great yellow butterflies, tiger swallowtails, flutter in the dapple of light and shadow, their gold the sunlight that flows across them as they sail by. A few days ago not one of these soaring beauties was in all the woodland; then, of a day, the place was alive with them. Born of chrysalids that have wintered under dry bark and in the shelter of rocks and fallen leaves, passing unharmed through gales and cold that registered forty below and six feet of hardened snow? Nonsense! Watch the play of sunlight on young leaves of transparent green. See it flame with shining gold, stripe them with rippling shadows of twigs, and then see the whole quiver into free life and flutter away, a tiger swallowtail butterfly, and believe these spirits of the woodland shadows are born in any other way, if you can. Papilio turnus may come out as chrysalids in scientists' insectaries, but these woodland sprites are born of the love of sunshine for young leaves and quiver into June to be the first messengers of the full tide of summer, which neither comes up to the mountains from the south nor falls to them from the sky, but is a miracle of the same desire.
It is for such miracles that the young shoots of the forest undergrowth ask as they come forth each year with their tender leaves clasped like hands in prayer. Through May you shall see this attitude of supplication in the young growth all along the mountain-sides where the shade of the woods is deep, and it lingers with the later-growing shrubs and herbs even until this season. Most devout of these seems the ginseng, its trinity of arms coming from the mould in this prayerful attitude, and now that these have spread wide to receive the good and perfect gifts that they know are coming the trinity of leaflets at their tips are still clasped most humbly. So it is with the bellwort and the Solomon's seal and many another gentle herb of the shadows. Their leaf hands are clasped in prayer as they come forth, and their heads are bowed in humble adoration all summer long. The joy of warmth and the sweetness of summer rain are theirs already, and one might think it was for these creature comforts that the prayer had been. But it was not, It was, and is, for grace of bloom and the dear delight of ripening fruit, the one deep wish of all the world,
The very summit of Iron Mountain, 2725 feet above the sea level, is a plateau of broken rock, scattered over solid ledges which protrude through the débris. Trees and shrubs of the slopes and the lowland have climbed to this plateau, poplar and birch, bird cherry, sumac, dwarf blueberries and alder, that find a footing here and there among the crevices. Spruces, somewhat dwarfed and scattered but spiring primly, are there, too, and the whole concourse makes the bleak rock glade-like and friendly, yet do not altogether obstruct the outlook. The breath of summer has pinked the young cones on the spruce tops and robed them in the gold of pollen-bearing catkins. It has set silver reflections shimmering from the young leaves of poplar and birch, and the dwarf blueberries are pearled with white bloom. Other spirits of summer are among these; alert, frantically hasty skipper butterflies dash about among them, and a big, lank mountain variety of bumblebee drones from clump to clump, showing a broad band of deep orange across the gold and black of his back: He is a big and husky mountaineer of a bee, but buzzing with him comes a clear-wing moth, the spring form of the snowberry clearwing. Hæmorrhagia diffinis, if I am not mistaken, though I hardly expected to find this little day-flying moth at so great an elevation so far north. The very spirit of summer, the tiger-swallowtail butterfly, was there, too, hovering confidingly at the tip of my pencil as I wrote about him, and with him the black, gold-banded Eastern swallowtail, Papilio asterias, these two the largest butterflies of the summit. of all the insect life, large or small, that revelled in the vivid sunlight of the thin air of the little plateau the most numerous were the little bluebottle flies that hummed there in swarms, very busy about their business, whatever it was, filling the air with glints of the deepest, most scintillant azure.
But he who climbs Iron Mountain will not linger too long with the summer denizens of its little rocky plateau. From the cairn which mountaineers have built of its loose rocks the eye has a wide sweep of the mountain world in every direction. To the south the land fades into shadowy mountains far down the Ossipee Valley, mountains that seem to float there in a soft, violet haze as if they were but massed bloom of the Gulf Stream that flows and gives off its wondrous colors half a thousand miles farther on. East the tossing sea is dappled with green and blue as the cloud shadows follow one another over the forest growth. West the peaks against the sun loom blue-black and stern as they climb northward into the Presidential Range, lifting their summits over the rough ridge of the Montalban Range till one wonders what wildernesses lie in the shadowy ravines between the two. But whether to the east or the west the gaze still falls upon a surging sea of forest-clad granite, the very picture of tumultuous motion, till the cairn beneath the gazer takes on the semblance of a mainmast-head on which he stands, and from which the plunge of the ship may at any moment send him whirling into space.
To look northward from this main-truck is to get a further insight into the mystery of the motion. Here, as the clouds blow away from the upper slopes of the highest peak, the semblance of a tossing sea vanishes, and one seems to understand what happened here in an age long gone. Once upon a time this mountain earth must have been fluid, one thinks, and the wind have blown an antediluvian gale from the northwest. It sent great waves of earth tossing and rolling and riding southeast before it, with clouds for crests and the blue haze of distance for the scurrying spindrift. Then uprose from the depths of this awful sea Mount Washington, enthroned on the Presidential Range, "clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful," and commanded the tumult to cease. There it stands.
It stands, not only in the rock but in the imagination of the onlooker, once he has found the dignity and grandeur of the highest summit, for authority. Dignity and grandeur are the impressions which come to one from the north through the crystal clear, thin air out of the cool, snow-samite which still stands in the deep ravines even on the southerly slope of the master mountain, just as illusion and romance dwell in the violet haze which veils all the south in pleasing mystery. Here on Iron Mountain one is lifted high in air between the two and able with a turn of the head to see either, and again it should be said that to know the mountains well it is best to see them from the lesser summits of their ranges. From every one of these they stand before the onlooker in new aspects, so different each from each that they seem new peaks whose acquaintance he has not hitherto made. Only thus is their many-sided completeness revealed and their full personality brought out. Nor need the visitor be among them long before he realizes that they have personality and grow to be individual friends, as well loved and as ardently longed for when absent as any human neighbor or associate. Within them dwell a deep kindliness and a strength which goes out to those who love them, unfailing and unvarying through the years. It is no wonder that prophets seek them, and that within the sheltering arms of their ridges are cosy nooks where hermits build their hermitages and find a deep peace which the cities of the world deny them.
"From nowhere does one get a better view of Kearsarge than from this little cairn on the plateau which is the summit of Iron Mountain"
From nowhere does one get a better view of Kearsarge than from this little cairn on the plateau which is the summit of Iron Mountain. The long ridge which rises from the east branch of the Saco to Bartlett Mountain and goes on and up to make the summit of Kearsarge stands with its edge toward him and vanishes against the mountain itself, leaving its outline that of a narrow cone, rising abruptly from a plain below. There is something spectacular in its dizzy, abrupt loom into the sky, quivering in gray haze against the violet depths beyond, making of it a magic peak such as the early voyagers of legendary times saw and viewed with fear and wonder. Such a mountain as this seems was the lodestone which drew the ship of Sinbad from the sea to be wrecked on its base, and over it at any time might come flying a roc with the palace of a prince of India in its talons.
The sun that sinks to his setting behind the great ridges that wall in Crawford Notch sets their peaks in eruption, black smoke of clouds rising from them and glowing with the reflection of lakes of lava below and the flicker of long flames. The Presidential Range looms and withdraws in mighty solemnity and dignity, lost in the turbid glow of this semblance of what may have happened in æons gone, but the reflection of these fires only deepens the amethystine gray of Kearsarge and the purple gloom beyond it, while it touches the very summit with a soft rose, a flower of mystery as sweet as any that ever bloomed in legendary lore, When the watcher on the peak sees these signs, it is time to begin the descent to the deepening shadows far down the mountain, where the thrushes are singing vespers in tuneful adoration, prayerfully thankful for a holy day well spent.
Sunset over Iron Mountain and Jackson, seen from Thorn Mountain