Kearsarge: ‘I’d Prefer To Die Here’ (No Rush)

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I call it “Kearsarge” and it dominates the view westward through our picture window from my recliner where I’d been spending a lot of time recovering from leg surgery. It wasn’t always called that, however. An old woman who owned a property I managed way back in the 20th century called it “Pequawket Mountain,” and that was the official name for it until 1957, the year it officially became “Kearsarge North.”

Why, though? New Hampshire already had a Mount Kearsarge in Merrimack County and what was wrong with “Pequawket Mountain”? That’s what the Pequawket Indians, the local Abenaki branch living in Fryeburg and Conway, called it.

It’s one of the most prominent peaks looking west from Fryeburg and Lovell. A trail leading to the top begins in the village of Kearsarge, which is part of Conway, N.H. Perhaps the village people pressured whatever official body decided such things to rename it.

From my property, the mountain is almost due west and its profile is classic. Its southern slope is a long, straight, thirty-degree diagonal leading to the summit after which it drops off with pleasing symmetry to the north for about a third the length of the southern slope. The effect is similar to a wave.

As a child, before I ever saw Kearsarge, I drew mountains in almost exactly those relative dimensions. The profile seen from Kezar Lake five miles north of me is similar, and I have taken many photographs from both venues. When seen from Fryeburg Village, Kearsarge’s profile is quite different — more a rounded dome than a wave.

In early March, the sun sets right behind Kearsarge. I mark seasonal progress by how far north of it the sun descends each evening. By the summer solstice, sunsets will have proceeded northward past Mount Washington to the Baldfaces before turning back southward again until the winter solstice.

Often I see stunning displays of light, clouds, colors, and mists too beautiful to describe. Afternoon thunderstorms come in over those mountains too, and my favorite sunsets occur when they break up just as the sun is nearing the horizon. Its rays poke through the mists just before it drops behind again.

Never do I tire of watching all this, and it’s not just the sunsets. Our house in Lovell is perched on the side of Christian Hill, which rises to our east. I don’t see rays of sun until after they have first lit up the eastern slopes of Kearsarge and the other mountains.

It’s quite stunning after a winter storm during which snow or ice coats every branch of every tree on every mountain. The rising sun lights up each slope — first the very top and then proceeding downward to the base. On such mornings it seems our Creator is in a good mood and wants to show off.

After our house was built on what was then a fully-treed lot, it took me about ten years to open up the view. Each summer I’d cut enough for eight cords to keep the family warm over winter, then I’d twitch each tree up to the landing with an old Ford 8N farm tractor. It was a lot of work, but I saved money on oil, and there was the added benefit of seeing more mountains each succeeding year. I felt like a sculptor, and the more I did, the more our new house felt like home.

When my wife started hinting at downsizing after the kids moved out, I knew I would have a hard time ever selling this place. I’d prefer to die here.

Kearsarge is one of the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine, which are relatively young compared to the Green Mountains of Vermont further west. According to prevailing geological opinion, the two ranges were formed by different mountain-building processes.

The White Mountains were formed over 100 million years ago as subsurface magma intrusions later exposed by plate tectonics, glaciation, and other erosional processes. The Green Mountains were formed about 400 million years ago when tropical shorelines of an ancient sea were folded upward by continental drift and then also eroded by glaciers.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around such time spans but I keep trying. Four times, glaciers covered those mountains with ice over a mile thick above them, lastly only 20,000 years ago. The earliest humans we know of were in the area only 13,000 years ago.

Viewed from Lovell, Kearsarge is almost completely tree-covered except for areas recently clearcut. During winter, snow reflects sunlight back to me from those scars and it takes years for newer growth to cover them. They remind me of scars on my head when my mother exposed them using hair clippers to give me a “wiffle” after school let out for summer. By September, those scars were covered too.


Mr. McLaughlin, a former history teacher, is a columnist based in Lovell, Maine. Image: Photo by Mr. McLaughlin.

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