In that crazed time in 1970 when in such a peculiar way I was finishing the book that I thought would change my life, working on it in just a few months in London and Gran Carnaria, and Frankfurt and Malta and Zermatt – the most crazed part being this stretch now in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Some days in this time I would walk up Three-Mile Hill on the old, pre-Interstate route through Franconia notch that began just past the gleaming white buildings of Lovett's. I would stop in at the base station of the aerial tramway for a hamburger and then, even more profoundly alone, walk back.
Across from Lovett’s was something that felt awful, but I could not explain why. Lovett's – this too fancy place where I was staying during the week trying to bring the book in on time – I felt that at almost 36 I was running out of time – driving myself crazy with a typewriter in a motel-like cabin, with dinner at a table for one in a pretentious, formal dining room where I sat uncomfortable in a sport jacket and people of the past kept appearing. Across from this place Lovett’s was the road leading to the intentionally shabby Profile Golf Club where old men from the summer families, old men with green isinglass sun shades and liver spots on their old bald heads, golfed some days with their women, who in the heat of summer wore shapeless woolen sweaters with their long white golfing skirts, did not sweat, had perfect posture, and whose golf clubs in the bags the caddies lugged had their heads covered with fitted wool caps that made the golf clubs seem more stylish than the golfers. At the point where the old road started its climb into the mountain pass called Franconia Notch, across from Lovett’s where this road met the Profile road, there was a swampy triangle in which there was a stream that led in and out of a small muddy pond beside a very small building with rotten shingles and cobwebs, the place looking like it has been deserted since maybe way back when I was a child. Unwanted feelings swept over me – this place, for reasons I could not tap into, seemed so awful – here in this most wonderful part of the world where I had started out, this part of the world that was, I still told myself with weak conviction, right up there with all the best things I had known on other continents. But here were these awful feelings, as if death were very near, feelings I shoved back because I did not want them 1970 – but sought them out in 1986, when I was moving fast in my time machine/Mustang trying to find out what it had really been about, this perfect-place White Mountains thing that by 1986 was tied to so much destitution and death.
Sometimes when I took a walk from Lovett’s I would turn off on a dirt road from Three-mile Hill at a sign that said “Horse and Hound," which was a small, dark inn and drinking place that was near a swimming hole in what looked like a quarry, a swimming hole I frequented from early in childhood until the summer I was turning 14 and began to flirt there with Esther, who did not seem so brittle in a bathing suit and with a tan. We decided to write each other all winter from our boarding schools. Mud and gravel finished off that particular swimming hole and the next summer we all gathered, instead, off to the side of the Profile golf course where we took over another, bigger swimming place, where there was a dam and a sluice way and our summer gang, so different it seemed, from anything imagined by the old guard, came into being with a vengeance – and where I met Ellie – so different from the others here and prettier too – Ellie who felt like someone out of dreams and whom I did write every day, or close to it, in the next winter.
All these places, so full of memories The notch, the aerial tramway, these magical places, Echo Lake and the Flume and profile lake beneath the Old Man of the Mountains, that stern stone face rock formation that was plastered on everything the otherwise laissez-faire New Hampshire government ignored – the harsh face of the old man on the license plates and the old tourist cabin signs, and the signs leading to still more commercial mountain attractions, the caves of Lost River, and at the southern end of the notch, past the Indian Head rock formation, which was a lesser version that we did not recognize of the old Man, the creepy Clark’s Trading Post, still there from my childhood, still staging sled races with mangy dogs on straw, down beneath three high towers up which they drove sad, angry old black bears.
It was clear what was wrong with the bear-baiting attraction. But everywhere I went in this out of context time I kept telling myself all this has to be so much better than it feels.