Page 9 - Aug Sep Oct 2015
P. 9
cover story

by ChrIs heDGes The backpackers at the summit Max Weber wrote. “Precisely the But the arrival of the Europeans,
were resting, many after climbing ultimate and most sublime values driven by an avarice that blinded
The WInD on the peak up Tuckerman’s Ravine, where have retreated from public life them to all but profit, saw in the
either into the transcendental realm mountain potential riches— they
parts of the rocky ledges are at 45
of Mount Washington, N.H.— the degrees, a trek that can take five of mystic life or into the brotherli- mistook crystals in the rock forma-
East Coast’s highest point, where hours. Some had been hiking for ness of direct and personal human tions for diamonds. Darby Field, an
some of the most erratic and days or weeks. Half a dozen thru- relations.” Irishman hoping these “diamonds”
treacherous weather in the world hikers, instantly recognizable by would make him wealthy, climbed
occurs— reached 60 miles an hour their spartan backpacking gear, Hannah Arendt called our malaise the summit in 1642 despite warn-
the day I was there with my family. motley clothing, layers of dirt and “world alienation.” She warned ings from his Indian guides, who
Backpackers huddled in the biting bedraggled hair, had started in that it leads to contempt for all refused to go with him. Later,
chill next to large boulders or con- Georgia last spring at Springer forms of life. farms, homesteads and settlements
gregated in the lobby of a snack Mountain. By the time they finish sprouted. Armed Europeans—
bar and gift shop that extract this fall atop Mount Katahdin in We do not have the power to make aided by the diseases they brought,
money from the thousands of Maine, they will have walked a new world. We only have the such as smallpox, tuberculosis and
tourists who ride the cog railroad 2,181 miles at a pace of about 15 power to destroy or preserve the syphilis, as well as alcohol— oblit-
or drive up the auto road from the miles a day and largely cut them- world we inhabit. We will either erated native communities. The few
base of the mountain each summer. selves off from the outside world recover the sacred or vanish from Abenaki who remained were often
for almost half a year. They and the the Earth. Those who do not kidnapped and enslaved domesti-
This strange confluence, where other hikers watched the gaggle of respect the force of nature, who do cally or sent in chains to work in
those who hike to the peak and tourists, many of whom rushed a not intimately know and under- the sugar plantations of the West
those who ride in cars and trains few steps to the official summit of stand its power, are doomed by it. Indies. Land, timber, minerals, ani-
meet in uneasy silence, is emblem- Mount Washington to get their pic- The Native Americans got this mals and mountains—as well as
atic of the clash of cultures that tures taken, buy sweatshirts at the right. human beings—had no intrinsic
threatens to doom the planet and gift shop or eat hot dogs, chips or value to the Europeans. Nature
the human species. One group plastic-wrapped sandwiches in the The Abenaki (pronounced OBB- existed only to make money.
knows and respects the power of snack bar. uh-nan-hee and translated as “peo-
nature, is able to feel its majesty ple of the dawn”) lived for The Abenaki engaged in three
and is aware of our insignificance Those whose lives pay homage to thousands of years in the shadow armed rebellions— King Philip’s
and smallness before the cosmos. the sacred are considered by many of what we know as Mount War, Queen Anne’s War and later
The other, enamored of the in the modern world to be Washington. The tribe called the Father Rale’s War, the last named
machines that obliterate distance eccentrics and cranks. On the other mountain Agiochook, or “Home of for a French Jesuit priest, Sebastien
and effort, and that insulate us from hand, those who live disconnected the Great Spirit,” and named the Rale, who spent 30 years with the
the natural world in a technological from the sources of life, who nei- life force Manitou. The Abenaki Abenaki. The priest was murdered
bubble, is largely dead to the ther fear nor honor nor understand believed that when one violated or and scalped by the British militia in
rhythms that sustain life. the power of nature, who place desecrated the natural world, a nighttime raid on an Indian settle-
their faith in human technology and Manitou unleashed destructive ment along the Kennebec River in
The narration given during the rail human power, are celebrated and fury. Within the tribe, the mountain what is now southern Maine. The
trip up the mountain is about the rewarded with power as they pro- and the rest of the natural world attack also left 80 Indians dead,
technological glory of the rack- pel the planet and the species were infused with spirits for good many of them women and children.
and-pinion rail line, in place since toward extinction. The natural and spirits for evil. The Abenaki The attack was not part of a war. It
1868. This narrative presents the world, if we do not radically recon- knew the destructive power of hur- was, like other raids on Indian set-
weather and steep slopes as omi- figure our relationships with each ricane-force winds, subzero tem- tlements, part of a massacre. The
nous elements that human engi- other and the ecosystem, will soon peratures, floods and avalanches Massachusetts provincial assembly
neers defeated. In truth, the teach us a severe lesson about and the inevitability of death, had placed a 100-pound scalp
lacerations caused by the rail tracks unbridled hubris. which could arrive without warn- bounty on Rale’s head, along with
and the automobile road— along ing. They had the capacity for awe. bounties for any Abenaki scalps.
with the tawdry tourist attractions “The fate of our times is character- They did not venture above the tree By the Revolutionary War, there
on the summit that include a small ized by rationalization and intellec- line onto the tundra and rock near were fewer than 1,000 Abenaki
post office from which visitors can tualization, and, above all, by the the summit of Agiochook. This left. They had once numbered in
mail picture postcards— desecrate ‘disenchantment of the world,’ ” space was reserved for the gods. the tens of thousands.
the mountain.
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