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Good both going and coming back

  • Pack Monadnock as viewed from Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Pack Monadnock as viewed from Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Howard R. Wolf. COURTESY PHOTO



Thursday, July 26, 2018 4:22PM

Few experiences feel more expansive than going out of town on a summer vacation after a seemingly endless northern winter.

It’s particularly rejuvenating if one is visiting a new place of grandeur, a place that expands the limits of one’s imagination such as the Grand Canyon or Taj Mahal.

At the same time, a person may feel that life at home seems to be a diminished thing in the moment of heightened response to the wonders of the natural world and the great monuments of history

For an enchanted instant, we may imagine that it would make sense to start a new life at the edge of a lake that we can see glistening in a valley below the tree-line of the peak on which we are breathing air fit for the gods of Mt. Parnassus.

I recently attended a meeting of the Thornton Wilder Society in Peterborough, site of the MacDowell Artist Colony where Wilder had worked on Our Town (America’s most produced play) prior to its 1938 premiere. My presentation was on the “concept of home” in Wilder’s plays.

Wilder had set the play in a town like Peterborough, so I felt as if I were living in a real and imaginary town at the same time as I wandered through the charming New England, a rare fusion of life and literary art.

As I drove out of town, I saw a sign: Miller State Park Celebrates 100 Years – 1891-1991.

Not eager to leave the solidity and serenity of the Granite State, I turned off the road and headed up 1.3 miles to the 2,290 foot summit of Pack Monadnock whose better known Mt. Monadnock rises higher a few miles to the west.

Unprepared for it, I was stunned by the immensity of the vista: Stratton Mountain, Vermont, to the west; Contoocook River to the north; Boston to the East; Massachusetts border to the south.

Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second.”

Both came together for me on the peak of Pack Monadnock.

How could I leave this summit and return to my house and tiny deck in a Buffalo suburb from which I can see beyond a fence and over some lilac bushes only a distant neighbor’s swimming pool and my immediate neighbor’s weeping willow?

Then I thought about my small garden and a hibiscus plant, a member of the mellow mallow family, that my grandson had put in the ground [and nurtured a decade ago that bloomed magically on the day he left to return home and reminds me always of his growth.

As I gazed at the magnificent panorama and felt as if I had become Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” (Nature) in which inner and outer worlds meet on the plane of vision, I knew as well that I could see an equally stirring small one from my deck.

Home and away, infinity and the finite, Erie County and the White Mountains – each helps us appreciate our other landscape.

As Robert Frost, the voice of New England and beyond, says in “Birches”:

I’d like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over….

That would be good both going and coming back.

I learned later that General James Miller had fought in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Niagara, during the War of 1812.

So maybe there aren’t two worlds!?

Howard R. Wolf (Emeritus Professor of English, UB) is the author of Home at the End of the Day (a play) and a forthcoming volume of stories: Ends and Other Beginnings.