In this case, it’s a Raphael Pumpelly (1837-1923), geology professor, archeologist, explorer (China, Turkmenistan) and beard grower extraordinaire. He “summered,” as the heedless rich say, in Dublin on the northern shore of the mountain, bestirring himself in 1884 to cut his namesake trail. In his autobiography, Pumpelly comments on Dublin’s pampered children – “When not on their ponies they spend their days exploring the mysteries of Monadnock” – and advises his Harvard-bound son to write a freshman theme about the “wild and rugged mass of Monadnock” by camping sunset to sunrise at its peak. There, counsels the old goat, “Watch the unfolding of the eternal drama that inspired religions of the ancient world,” faithfully record what you see and feel, and “don’t use similes.”
In honor of Raphael Pumpelly and his righteous beard, I pledge in this blog entry to work like a trio of Turkmen tinkerers to avoid similes. Alliteration – I make no promises.
My hiking companions are Russell, an old friend, and his girlfriend Bar. We meet at Timoleon’s “Family” Restaurant in Keene, west of Monadnock. I’d last eaten here maybe 20 years ago and the place seems frozen in time. I order two eggs over easy, home fries, toast and coffee, plus a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie for Russell. The damage – $6.10. My old favorite chicken croquettes with apple and “special” sauces is still on the menu – $5.50. On the back wall hangs an oil painting, Monadnock in Autumn by Helena N. Putnam, featuring a maple tree ablaze and Monadnock’s rocky nib in the distance.
Russell points to an autographed photo of Telly Savalas next to the pie cabinet. It’s young Telly, pre-Kojak, with no lollipop planted in his kisser, no scrawled “Who loves ya, baby?” Nearby sits a framed headshot of a guy with a fat, 1980s tie. “Who’s that?” I ask the man behind the counter who happens to be the 88-year-old owner of the restaurant, Timoleon Chakolos. “That’s Bob Clark,” he says. As in, who else would it be and were you born under a log? It seems Bob was a friend from the insurance agency down the street who came in all the time. A big eater? I ask. Long pause. “He did all right,” drawls Mr. Chakolos.
I’m impressed by their knowledge of flowers and birds – Bar, especially, who hears a ruffed grouse in the underbrush, ruffing and grousing about, and identifies a woodpecker as the fabled yellow-bellied sapsucker. I must admit to hearing no sucking of sap, nor do I spy a yellow belly on this industrious, red-masked fellow as he attacks bugs on a tree trunk, bunka, bunka, bunka, bunka. The Chirp! USA app on my iPod, however, soon confirms Bar as bird queen. About an hour in, Russell points out sheep laurel with its pendent clusters of red flowers and encapsulated fruit. Sheep laurel is especially toxic to, well, sheep, but it can also take down a human. Symptoms include headaches, diarrhea, sweating, excessive salivation, tingling skin, impaired coordination, green froth around the mouth, depression and recumbency (an inability to stand). Actually, I experience many of those conditions on a regular basis. Maybe someone is slipping sheep laurel into my salad.
On the first steep area, we encounter a trail crew of a dozen dirty, sweaty guys in their 20s and 30s, volunteering for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. With shovels and crowbars, they’re moving huge rocks to create a staircase and a water bar to ease erosion. Fixing the Pumpelly Trail, says one, should take about 15 years. Other than two hikers coming down and a gaggle of young folk scarfing Oreos just below the peak, these are the only people we meet on the way up.