Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 74 - OPEN AIR

We were always outdoors, as Kitty’s cousin, Ruthie Grout, pointed out much later. The principal, if not the only, venues for our socializing were in the outdoor parts of family compounds, and on the banks of ponds, and outside the cabins, especially one on a breezy hilltop, that the older people maintained for each new young generation – once even on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school, St Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, that I knew from my very different life in the winter, the place to which I had traveled with hope and fear from my own boarding school in the lake country for dances. I had gotten deeply involved there with an actual girlfriend – but it was closed for the summer, and anyway I could not see how these two worlds would ever mix.

The family compounds. These were not the 700-year-old family seat places I had seen in Europe, but for this context they had felt just as old. And anyway most houses up here were of wood or, like White Pines, partially of wood – and wood could not withstand the wear of centuries.

History was not long up here. This part of the north country had been too wild for Indians. It had not had permanent human life in it before the mountain passes, called notches here, were breached by white men, allowing settlement beginning only at the mid-point of the 18th century – which was like yesterday the way the old summer people talked up here, and also like forever. It was as if these Anglo imitation families and their houses had been here not from the most ancient of days but rather from the time in history that really counted. These big wooden houses framing history that counted.

In the years since my young days in New Hampshire I had been in wildly scenic places on most continents, electric green rice fields, wide jungle rivers, rippling deserts. But I had not in the seemingly eventual years between way back then in the White Mountains and now in the mountains again as a kind of secret agent, I had not in the time in between been so aware of everything in the natural world as I was right now.

This light that did not exist any place else. The constantly changing mountains, soft comforting at one moment, then at another moment black, hovering entities that blocked out the sun like dark giants who were always watching.

In this place where mysteriously in one-o’-cat baseball I could actually hit the ball, something that did not happened at school, hit it farther than anyone else. And on our hikes I was always out in front except when I ran to the back of the line to see one of my friends, or give someone encouragement, and then ran to the front again – for the first time in my life feeling like a leader, not a straggler.

One morning at the tennis courts at the Profile Club I leapt out of the car that brought me there and rushed over to the Mallory clan, which had just arrived for the summer from Philadelphia. Old Otto Mallory and old Mrs. Mallory in floppy but sturdy sun hats they wore for golf, their witty son David and his retiring wife, their wise little grandson, like my brother named Peter, and their granddaughter little Joan Mallory looking almost a woman in this new summer season. I stretched out my hand to each of them. And my unhappy young boy cousin Robin, who was always watching everything with sadness and anger, said why is you are the one who is always out in front? Could it be that Robin had not noticed that until this summer of my sudden adolescent popularity it had been my brother the good twin Peter who wowed everyone with what his maternal grandmother called his cute sayings.

When a group picture of all of us from all these families was taken one morning before we climbed Lafayette together I was in the center and Peter – I thought trying to be funny but I was not sure – held a straw hat over his face to hide from the camera.

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