I’m sitting at the top of Monument Mountain, the place where Herman Melville met Nathanial Hawthorne for the first time.
It’s a hot day for the Berkshires. I’m sweating in the muggy air, but a slight breeze refreshes my skin. This humidity is nothing like the pizza oven heat of Georgia.
While going up the mountain I took a picture of a log bridge–I’m a little afraid of crossing narrow bridges, even when there’s nothing but a creek below. So I took a picture to illustrate the obstacles I’m forever confronting.
So back down the mountain I went. A couple had seen my phone in the ground where it must have slipped out of my backpack (or what is more probable is that I missed the pocket completely, dropping the phone silently on the pine straw and moss covered path).
While climbing back up to where I am now, I thought I would maybe start leaving my smart phone behind when I go on these long walks. I usually put my phone in airplane mode, and I don’t check email, but I do use it to take pictures.
So here I am on the summit, thinking about Herman Melville and typing into a WordPress app. I read that the day he came here with a gathering of local literary types, it rained, and he spent a good while describing to Nathaniel Hawthorne the intricacies of manning a whaling ship.
The trail here is well maintained. The granite and schist stones form a staircase that allows the hiker to reach the top fairly easily, but I doubt the rocks were arranged so artfully when Melville walked here.
The air was the same, the flora and fauna the same, and some of the views. From where I am now, I can see Monument Mountain high school, where someone has written the name Maia in large white letters on the lawn in front of the school. Even from this height I can see the heart over the letter i in place of a dot. Someone loves Maia.
To enter the nineteenth century imagination, I think I would have to abandon iPhone technology for a while. I don’t even know how Melville would have traveled from his Arrowhead farm in Pittsfield to Monument Mountain in Great Barrington. Horse and wagon maybe? I know he liked to camp and was an avid outdoorsman.
He became depressed after Moby Dick didn’t sell, and he turned to alcohol. This is a lesson in not tying one’s ego to one’s art. I don’t blame Melville–he had to support his family, and he had wanted to do so by writing. Art and business don’t mix. Robert Graves said something to the effect : “There’s no money in poetry, and no poetry in money.”