One Last Look

Of A Life-time Ago


Lowell L. Getz


"Old Man of the Mountain Ahead." The sign that so many years ago evoked a sense of excitement in the minds of a 22 year-old Second Lieutenant and his 20 year-old bride of three months. "Old Man of the Mountain", the name given to a series of granite ledges near, the peak of Cannon Mountain in the New Hampshire White Mountains. When viewed from a specific place, the ledges formed the profile of a man's face. For a century and a half the Old Man of the Mountain had been an icon of the region and was the main character of Nathanial Hawthorne's classic story, "The Great Stone Face." This story was one of the most memorable narratives in our grade school English studies, as we grew up in the plains of central Illinois. It was with anticipation that we walked the path down to the edge of Profile Lake, from which we finally were able to view the "Great Stone Face", in person. Because of the newness of our marriage, visiting sites we knew so much about, but only from reading, especially the Old Man of the Mountain, in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, generated memories that became a major foundation of our lives together. Over the next few years, as we served out our Army tour in Massachusetts and later spent time on the faculty of the University of Connecticut, we made a point to visit the Old Man of the Mountain on our frequent trips to northern New Hampshire. It is again with excited anticipation that we approach Profile Lake and a renewal of that first view of the "The Great Stone Face."

That first view of the Old Man of the Mountain was 59 years ago. On the weekend of the peak of "color" that first year we lived in New England, we drove up into the White Mountains. This was our first view of New England autumn colors and our first acquaintance with so many of the historic man-made and natural landmarks--the quaint towns of Plymouth, Campton, Woodstock, North Woodstock, Twin Mountain, North Conway, Conway, Bretton Woods (the site of the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference), the White Mountains, Mt. Mossilake, Mt. Washington, Franconia Notch, Crawford Notch, The Basin, The Flume, and the most memorable of all, the Old Man of the Mountain.

Today, the Second Lieutenant, eventually Colonel, is 81, his "bride" 79. We moved back to central Illinois years ago and have not visited the White Mountains or the Old Man of the Mountain for over four decades. With age rapidly taking its toll, this will be the last autumn we can make a trip back to New England. While we can, we are taking one last look at what was so much a part of what we were and what we have become. On that first trip, we had no inkling of where our lives would take us. It was enough of a thrill finally to see these sights for real. We simply were taking in the quaint "Historic Americana" that we had read so much about during our growing up in the distant Midwest. The future was not a part of this exploration. Now, as we look back, we see that the sense of these mountains and villages, the mental images of the fall colors, the terrain features, and most of all, the Old Man of The Mountain, is what we remember most regarding the beginning of our lives together. It evokes a nostalgic awareness to view once again these sights, knowing what we could not have known then. Those sights and feelings have been a part of us all these years. Now, we will visit them for the last time.

At the peak of the autumn colors, we flew into Manchester, rented a car and began our nostalgia trip to view those places and things we first saw 59 years ago. Not unexpectedly, we found that many of the sites no longer matched the mental images of our past. True, some are essentially the same-The Flume, The Basin, the colorful panoramic views of the mountains. Bretton Woods still looks the same, though now with a different name, "Omni Mount Washington Hotel." But, changes are everywhere. The once quiet winding road up and around the White Mountains is lined with motels, tourist attractions and restaurants. Sleepy Plymouth is a bustling small city. Other small towns are cluttered with tourist facilities. Conway, North Conway and the road in between are a mass of strip malls, factory outlets, gaudy tourist attractions, motels, restaurants, and traffic jams.

These changes bring home to us how many years have passed since we first traveled these roads and visited these towns. We understand the reason for the changes and try not to let the present-day conditions interfere with our mental images we have harbored all the years. Those past images remain the primary images of our life together. Instead of the now not so small quaint towns, which no longer exist other than in our memories, we focus on the natural features that have not changed. Water still gushes down the narrow crevasse in the rocks at The Flume. Water still falls in a circular motion into The Basin, which over the centuries has carved out the large round pool. The red, orange and yellow colors of the deciduous trees, high-lighted by the dark green evergreens, still paint the mountains as they did so long ago.

We make several winding traverses around and through the mountains over the course of six days, stopping for long views of the colorful mountainsides and other natural sites, revisiting some of the old tourist establishments we remembered from that first trip and poking around in a few of the new tourist attractions, as well as overnight stays in quaint bed and breakfast facilities. Eventually we have to say goodbye to our past. We return to Manchester, turn in our rental car and head back home. As our US Airways Embraer E-170/175 jet lifts off the runway, we know we will not return. Even if we could, we would not want to revisit the scenes of our younger days. The changes have been too many. We do not wish to dispel those early images, those mental impressions that for so long have been a part of our lives. We have had our one last look.

The Old Man of the Mountain? Nine years ago the rock ledges forming the profile of a face simply fell away. All that is left is a flat rocky outcrop at the peak of Mt. Cannon and the memories of a Second Lieutenant and his young bride, memories that so long as we live will never fall away.

Figure legends:

Fig. 1. Old Man of the Mountain, at the top of Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire.

Old Man of the Mountain, at the top of Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire

Fig. 2. Peak of Cannon Mountain, after Old Man of the Mountain had fallen away.

Peak of Cannon Mountain, after Old Man of the Mountain had fallen away