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Rest In Peace: The story of my recent hike up Black Mountain and the adventures I had there.
Posted by Douglas, May 12, 2008. 3096 views. ID = 1289

Rest In Peace

Posted by Douglas, May 12, 2008. 3096 views. ID = 1289
This post was written in 0 minutes.
The beginning of this story is true, but then my imagination takes over. I took most of the morning working on it, and it's quite long. I hope, if you take the time to read it, that you will enjoy it!
This post has been awarded 31 stars by 7 readers.
This post is Part 4 of a writing series titled Stories and Poems About Mountains.

When springtime comes I rejoice, for my forced confinement through months of cold and snowy winter at last is over. The sight of the mountains with their fresh bloomed flowers and rocky peaks is like a siren call, luring me out into the grand outdoors. My first expedition each year is on a known trail: a short but steep hike to the summit of Streaked Mountain. From the peak I see nearby Singepole Mountain, tiny ribbons of road below, and the far ranges of New Hampshire's White Mountains. But I also see a cluttered array of radio towers, satellite dishes, wires and maintenance sheds - all the grotesque works of man imposing themselves on the beauty of this place. Each year the peak seems more and more obscured by technology, and I find myself longing for untouched and unspoiled destinations.

As spring gives way to summer and the temperatures rise, so my ambitions rise, and I leave behind the comfort of trails I know for the mystery of mountains I've never climbed and views I've never seen. My preparations are simple but effective: some bottled water, a camera, a flashlight (in case I don't return before nightfall), bug spray, some snacks and a lunch; these are all loosely dumped into my backpack and tossed into my car. Thus my expedition begins.

It seems like just yesterday I was packing my supplies for my first real adventure of the year - a hike up Black Mountain in nearby Sumner and Peru. With a name as sinister and foreboding as Black Mountain, I expected to be inundated with stories of strange mysteries and Bermuda Triangle disappearances. But the only warning I received was a friendly caution: "As you hike, you'll come upon a place where loggers have been stripping out the forest near the base. It'll take you about twenty minutes to get through that. Then you can just follow the cairns to the peak."

Cairns? As I hiked, I kept watching for those carefully stacked piles of rock that would guide me through the prickly underbrush. I quickly realized, however, that any cairns on this mountain had been toppled long ago by the heavy-handed labors of the loggers who trampled the trail with their trucks and skidders. Despite the promise that I would get through the logging area after twenty minutes, I spent nearly an hour climbing over stumps, fallen trees, and half-rotted underbrush littering the trail like driftwood on the beach. I deduced then that my friend who cautioned me about logging had not been on this mountain for several years; the logging was far more extensive than I had imagined. In fact, the entire slope was one vast maze of criss-crossing skidder trails that obliterated the path entirely.

As I pressed forward, I kept watching for a footpath to snake its way upward and away from the main logging road. Remembering that famous old quote: "broad is the way that leads to destruction," I was eager to leave behind the well traveled roads of skidders and logging trucks. But each time I branched out from the broad path, I could not hike more than ten minutes before I reached an impassable barrier and an end to the trail.

At the end of my third detour I stumbled across a rocky stream bed with a trickle of water making its way down the mountain toward the logging road. From the amount of sunlight streaming through the trees above me I sensed that I was not far from the peak, but I could see no trail ahead of me. Stubbornly refusing to turn back, I decided to follow the shallow stream. I reasoned that it would be impossible to get lost if I kept the stream in sight. So I pressed onward with grim determination, ignoring the scratch and scrape of thorn bushes and rocks against my legs.

As the minutes passed and the incline grew steeper, it became clear that there had never been a trail here; no one in their right mind would pass this way. I sat on a dead tree that stretched horizontally across the stream, and turned to face back the way I had come. As I rested and considered whether I should press forward or turn back, I was startled - almost to the point of falling into the water - to hear a voice behind me, speaking in a low, amused tone.

"You look as though you might be lost, son."

I stared at the man who stood behind me, dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt, and rugged hiking boots. His hair was gray and tied back in a long ponytail, and his beard, grizzled and scraggly, hung to the middle of his abdomen. His smile was toothless, and his eyes twinkled. I knew he was laughing at my predicament. It seemed he had deliberately crept up behind me, yet I sensed that he held no ill will toward me, and intended no harm.

"Just trying to find the summit," I said, returning his smile.

"Well, the summit is where I came from," he said, "and I can take you there if you like."

"You know where the trail is?" I said.

"Trails? Trails are for pansies and wusses. Just follow me!"

It was extraordinary to watch this odd toothless man make his way up the mountain between trees and over rocks, without even a moment's hesitation to get his bearings. I followed as best as I could, but where he passed over and around obstacles as easily as if there was a well groomed trail, by the time I arrived there was no visible path, and every foot I advanced introduced another scratch on my bare legs.

"Come," he would exclaim, or, "Hurry, hurry, son!" as he kept barely within my line of sight.

Finally I broke out into an open space and saw I was at the peak. My guide was sitting on a ledge facing southeast; I sat beside him. It took several minutes to catch my breath, and during this time he simply stared out into the distance and said not a word.

"What's your name?" I finally asked.

"Warden," he said.

That struck me as an odd sort of name, and I told him so.

"Fire warden," he explained. "Been up here so long I hardly remember my real name." He laughed at himself and his forgetfulness, but I thought there was loneliness in his laugh as well.

"So, is there a fire tower up here?" I asked. I didn't remember hearing about a tower on Black Mountain.

"Sure is, son. Right behind you."

I turned and looked. To my surprise, I saw that I was sitting practically at the base of the tower; I must have walked right by it without noticing it. The metal frame was rusted, and the wooden cabin at the top was dilapidated from age and neglect. A set of stairs led from the ground to the high cabin. "You must be able to see everything from there," I said, hoping he would invite me to climb up.

"I'll show you," was all he said as he got up from the ledge and scrambled up the steep stairs like an energetic monkey. I followed more slowly.

The cabin had just one room; there was a rumpled cot in one corner, a sink in another, along with a small refrigerator (I wondered how it was powered), and a table in the center of the room. The table was cluttered with dirty dishes and weeks of grime, but one corner of the table had been cleared to make room for a half-finished card game.

"Solitaire?" I asked.

"Naw," Warden replied. "Crazy Eights. Started the game awhile back, last time someone stopped by to visit. I've been continuing the game by myself since, but I have to wait a day between turns. That helps me forget what I've got in my other hand." He laughed again, and now I was sure I could hear loneliness in that deprecating sound.

"Want me to play a few hands?" I asked, plopping down in a scarred and battered wooden chair.

Delighted, the old man flashed a toothless grin at me and dropped into a chair opposite. He picked up one fan of cards and - after a brief but considered hesitation - handed them to me and picked up the other set. I had forgotten the rules of Crazy Eights long ago, but Warden was happy to remind me. Occasionally he would peek over my shoulder to point out plays I could make. With much laughter we passed a good portion of the day, there in the fire tower at Black Mountain's peak.

I shared my lunch with Warden, and he shared with me a bottle of green soda from his refrigerator. Even as we ate and drank and played, a strange thought kept nagging at the back of my mind: I was sure that I had never heard of a fire tower at the summit. Every time I remembered to ask him about it, Warden would make a series of deft plays, and noticing his diminishing hand, I would be distracted from my inquiry.

As the morning sun gave way to afternoon, and light began streaming in through the western window, I began to feel drowsy. Warden, also, began yawning. Then, as though we had come to an unspoken agreement, I let my head drop into the cradle of my arms on the grimy table, Warden moved to his rumpled bed, and we both dozed off to sleep.

When I awoke, the sunlight was coming from lower in the sky, and I knew I needed to leave quickly or I would lose the last of the sun before I reached my car. I looked to see if Warden was still sleeping. The rumpled bed was not just empty, it was entirely missing, and Warden was nowhere to be seen. Amazed, I looked around the cabin and saw that everything - from the kitchen sink to the rustic table and chairs - was gone. I had, apparently, slept in a deserted cabin on a rough hewn wooden floor that was covered with layer upon layer of dust.

Had the entire encounter been a dream? Had I imagined my guide altogether?

Perplexed, and somewhat fearful for my sanity, I stood up, feeling the creak of every stiff muscle and joint. Slowly and carefully I climbed down from the tower. What I saw then brought my fears into even sharper focus: all around me the summit of the mountain was covered with paved streets, steel skyscrapers, and unending rows of identical brick houses.

A solitary man, walking from one house to another, glanced in my direction, then did a double-take. "Hey, there," he called, "I'd get out from under that old tower if I were you. It's likely to crumble to pieces right over your head any moment. City council's been saying they'll get it torn down, but I think they're figuring to save money by letting it fall on its own." Completely dumbstruck, I neither moved nor acknowledged the man's statement. He squinted at me and said, "Hey, you all right there, old timer?"

Old Timer? Bewildered, I reached up to rub an itch on my chin and was horrified to discover not a five-o'clock shadow, but a full length beard. I grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled at it, staring in shock at the long, gray tangled mass of growth coming from my chin. A strange suspicion began gnawing at my mind.

"Whu..." was all I managed to say.

Sensing my distress, the man approached me cautiously, took my by the arm and led me toward one of the houses, murmuring soft words all the while, as though he was speaking to a colicky infant. In my state of confusion I couldn't have resisted even if I'd wanted, and right now I didn't want anything but a place to sit, and time to think, so I could understand what I was seeing.

As Horace (this was the man's name, I later discovered) led me into his home, I saw a calendar hanging in the entryway, and the fear that had been pestering me became reality: I had slept for exactly one hundred years, alone in a deserted fire tower at the summit of Black Mountain. Over the course of the next month, Horace and his wife Helen nursed me back to both physical and mental health. They were gracious to me, but every time I spoke of my strange adventures and my century-long nap, their pleasant, friendly smiles turned quite nervous. After a while I understood that they feared for my sanity, so I stopped speaking of years long past.

Eventually, as I felt energy returning to my ancient body, I suggested that it might be good for me to "get out and go for a stroll." I expected my hosts to resist, saying that I wasn't ready yet. Instead, I received a strange and perplexed one-word answer.

"Why?" Horace asked.

"The outdoors," I said. "The mountain air and the views from the ledges will do me good." Horace seemed confused by this, but agreed to my notion of an aimless stroll in the great outdoors. Helen said, "Have fun," but the tone of her voice and the shrug of her shoulders plainly said that she couldn't imagine how such a thing would be "fun."

As Horace and I walked toward the ledges I was disappointed to discover that the pavement of Black City led right to the edge. There were no flowers, no shrubs, nothing. The ledge itself - where a century earlier Warden and I had enjoyed the mountain views - was blocked by an enormous brick wall.

"What's this?" I demanded.

"There's a ledge on the other side of that wall," Horace explained. "Long time ago a little girl slipped off the edge. So we put the wall up."

"How do you see the other mountains?" I demanded.

His reply was a repetition of his previous one-word question: "Why?" Eventually he persuaded me that there was neither a method nor a reason for looking over the wall; all the other mountain peaks looked just like this one.

Yesterday I walked down the street to the Black City Florist and purchased a bouquet of plastic, scented flowers. Alone at the base of the broken-down old tower I laid the flowers on the only remaining patch of grass, and spoke a few words of sad memorial for the dead mountain. "Ironic," I said to Horace, who stood nervously nearby, watching and listening, yet understanding nothing, "in my day we feared ice ages and global warming, hurricanes, tornadoes, and dire global catastrophes that would make it impossible for us to safely step outside our front door. We couldn't live with those fears, so instead we have simply ensured that there is no longer any reason to step outside."

Horace nodded politely and then, taking me gently by the arm, he led me back to his comfortable brick house.

Copyright 2008 Douglas. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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This post has been awarded 31 stars by 7 readers.
This post is Part 4 of a writing series titled Stories and Poems About Mountains. The next part of this series can be found here: Avery Peak.
This post is part of a writing prompt: Famous Tales Revisited
This is a revised version of a post. Click here to view the original version


May 12, 2008
The title, "Rest In Peace" is actually a double play on words. "Rest In Peace" because of the long sleep, because of the death of the mountain, and because this is my re-imagining of the story of RIP van Winkle.
   ~Posted by Douglas, May 12, 2008

May 12, 2008
Hmmm, and you don't look a day over 39. ;-)

This is a really good piece. I like the fact that while you can tell it's Rip Van Winkle re-told, it's still so unique. It puts an interesting perspective on things. :-)
   ~Posted by Katie, May 12, 2008

Josiah T.
May 12, 2008
Nicely done! :-)
   ~Posted by Josiah T., May 12, 2008

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