Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Riding Around New England Crawford Notch
In New Hampshire, we have notches. Notches between the mountains. This is Crawford Notch. Along time ago, when I was a small girl who read a lot of books, I read Nathaniel Hawthorne. I loved his stories. The Great Stone Face. The House of Seven Gables. And the short story, The Ambitious Guest. This story intrigued me, way down to my inner core. It was based on a true story. I never dreamed, that small girl on the west coast, that I would ever get to New Hampshire and find Crawford Notch. As far as the east is from the west.
So life goes, and one day I found myself living in New Hampshire. Raising a family and becoming a real "Live free or Die" girl. Still, down in the southern part of the state, the White Mountains were as far as the north is from the south. It was many years before I finally got there.
So, all those years I wondered. Why? What would make a man take his family to such a place? Far from friends and neighbors. Only wilderness. Mountains and rocks and trees and wild rivers and wild animals. Why did Samuel Willey go there in that spring of 1825? His wife? Did she like this adventure? Or was she afraid and lonely? His five children? Yes. They must have loved the wild freedom of this place. The two hired men? I guess they needed a job!
When I finally got to Crawford Notch, though, then I knew. I knew exactly why he went there. I sit there now, on the foundation stones of that little house, and I know. The mountains are a presence. You can feel them. Down in the notch you can feel the great height. You can hear the great echoing silence. If you were blind, you would know that you were small and insignificant. That you were surrounded by something mighty.
Here the Saco River is small and it curls around the boulders and runs chuckling over the rocks. Waterfalls roar down the steep mountain and crash and roar into the little river. I know. Further down the Saco widens out and deepens and is a mighty river. Here it is gentle and lovely. On that night of August 28, 1826 they say the river rose twenty feet. I try to picture it, but it's impossible.
You can see where there have been recent landslides. Where the rocks and earth have slid down the mountain leaving great, bare gashes. I've tried to imagine what it sounded like that rainy summer night. The Willey family snug and cozy in their little house. Reading in the fire light. They say the Bible was left open to the 18th Psalm. That Psalm, that speaks about thunder and lightning and shaking the foundations of the earth. I picture Samuel reading those words to his family. Reading them while the rain poured and the river rose. " Thou hast given me the shield of Thy salvation; Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great."
They had seen many slides. Samuel had built a cave as a safe place for his family to go to if one came near the little house. This night when the earth shook and the mountain roared, they tried to go to their safe place. But the big rock behind the house parted the land slide. It divided and made two slides. One on either side. And the little house stood. All calm and serene and safe in that sea of rocks and trees and mud. And they were all crushed and gone. When searchers came to find how the Willeys had fared, the fire still smoldered in the hearth. The table and chairs sat empty, The dog whimpered in the stillness.
"All things comes to him what waits" said my old friend Pete, when I told him that I had finally found Crawford Notch. I have been there now many times. In the summer when it is crowded with tourists. In the fall, when the mountains are misty and half hidden in the clouds. When the leaves are umber, and mahogany and gold. When the snow is high and the mountains are white. In the spring, when the water rushes and the wind blows cold. Always I sit on the wooden steps of the forest service building and drink my cup of hot black coffee. And I listen. I listen to the silence and the majesty. I listen to the shrouded past. I feel the smallness of life. I leave refreshed. "Thou hast enlarged my feet under me, that they will not slip."