The formative parts of my childhood were spent in the Monadnock region of southern New Hampshire, where my mother’s family has held onto a lakeside cottage in the town of Rindge for several generations. Here there are covered bridges and town greens and all the other trappings of rural New England life, but what lends a sense of solidity to the region is the hulking mountain at its center. Mount Monadnock stands at a modest 3,165 feet, but is approached in height by nothing else on the horizon.
It is easy to know, at all times, where you are in relation to the mountain. You set your compass by it, consciously or not, whenever it heaves into view over a hilltop, ridge, or steeple, a big granite beacon erupting from the woods. During the summers, starting from the time I was eight or nine, I would wander the area constantly on foot, boat, and bicycle for as long as daylight would allow. I climbed the mountain literally hundreds of times, along every trail and stream and across every section of its forested flanks.
The woods on and around the mountain become more mysterious, not less, the more I leave and return to them. The forests of central New England were completely stripped two centuries ago, but in sheepish contrition we have since allowed them to grow back up, chaotic and twisted and thick, caked with layers of pine needles and dirty leaves, and strewn with hunks of granite. The landscape itself is gnarled and knotted, the paths of its roads winding and unpredictable. The big mountain’s undulating foothills catch fog in their gullies and block the noises of the road from obscuring those of the water moving down their sides.
The job I have now requires that I travel a lot, and I don’t live near the mountain anymore, but I realized recently that I still retain a sense of where Monadnock’s granite dome stands relative to where I do, even when that may be thousands of miles away. Pitched on the sea of a geographically destabilized lifestyle, I’m often struck by how immeasurably important it is to be able to hold oneself in constant reference to something as faithful and unchanging as a mass of unshakable, unmovable rock.