The Monadnock Roar
Eliot was the one who brought up the idea of climbing Mt. Monadnock. Everyone was extremely excited about climbing a mountain, especially since only a few of them had ever done so before. Four of them, including Eliot, had never even been out of the Boston area. I agreed to the trip, but pointed out that because of their medications and their physical conditions we would only be climbing up part of the mountain, halfway at best.
Their spirits were momentarily dampened, but I assured them that I knew a secret and special trail that provided some of the best views the mountain had to offer. And so, on the following Sunday, a beautifully crisp fall day, we crammed ourselves into two cars and journeyed north to the great outdoors.
I suppose in the back of my mind I knew it was going to be difficult. I had accepted and prepared myself for the inevitable: a lot of wheezing and stumbling, even more complaining, probably a few scrapes, and maybe even a bee sting or two. I was praying that no one would sprain an ankle, get lost, or worst of all, tumble off the mountain’s side. But with the help of an old friend who had recently hiked the Appalachian Trail, I felt that most, if not all, catastrophes could be avoided.
What I hadn’t counted on was the full extent of catastrophic possibilities that Eliot brought along with him. It was the darndest thing: If Eliot stumbled forward, his brain reacted as if he had stumbled backward, and vice versa; that old brain of his would just push him even farther in the wrong direction.
My friend and I finally solved the problem by walking directly in front of and in back of him. I was in back and would shout if he started stumbling forward, whereby my friend would stop and brace himself, letting Eliot land on him. If Eliot started stumbling backwards, I was right there to catch him. I don’t have to tell you which way Eliot and his brain chose to stumble the most. By the time we reached the halfway point, my arms were aching, my lip was swollen, and I had a mouse under my left eye.
But it was worth it. Everyone was bubbling with exhilaration as they gazed below to the trees and farms highlighted by a patchwork of shining waters. We sat on the rocks, staring at our accomplishment and sharing the bread, cheese, and cider we had carried up with us. We stayed past noon. The conversations and laughter were unlike any we had previously experienced. Being on Mt. Monadnock had changed a handful of lives.
It was time to descend. At least that was what half of us were feeling. The other half of us, because they were rested, wanted more. You couldn’t blame them. Nor could you dissuade them. But I sure tried.
It wasn’t the shouting that did it. It was the tears. Eliot’s tears. They began just as he was reaching the crescendo of his speech.
He said he’d never dreamed he’d have the chance to stand atop a mountain, that there would be no way possible that I could ever deny him. Of course, he was right. How could anyone stop a man who had been waiting 48 years to finally reach the summit from which he could spread his wings and begin to fly?
My friend agreed to take half of the group back down to the car and wait. The other half, including my nine-year-old son and myself, continued to ascend. Eliot led the way.