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Memorializing the Old Man of the Mountain

05/08/03 12:00AM By Jim Luken
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(Host) Commentator Jim Luken says that Franconia Notch won't be the same without the Old Man of the Mountains.

(Luken) I live in the Northeast kingdom, so, most of my trips south into New Hampshire take me through Franconia Notch. There atop the Notch, the Old Man of the Mountains had become a kind of friend, a benevolent watcher. Certainly he meant more to me than your run-of-the-mill monument or tourist site. On clear days, it seemed a good omen to look up at just the right moment, and see him there, chiseled against the blue heavens. At other times, the weathered face looked almost god-like as it swam in and out of the high clouds.

Many have described the stone visage as that of some keen and discerning philosopher, one who seemed to grasp the mystery of the mountains, if not the meaning of creation itself. The Old Man's absence will weigh heavily upon the psyches of many in the Granite State, as well as of the rest of us who were his familiars. What are we to make of the fact that, someone, so sculpted into our consciousness, is suddenly-and perhaps permanently- gone? As in the death of a great, great grandparent, a family patriarch, something very special has been taken from us. In our need for permanence, for stability, even for that which genuinely inspires us, the loss of this majestic symbol does not come easily.

Everyone who visited the "Old Man Museum" at the base of Cannon Mountain knew that the health of the beloved icon was fragile. There in the museum, large photos illustrate the various projects undertaken over the years to stabilize his condition. For decades engineers and experts have scaled the mountain to shore up the stoic old man who came to represent the character of a proud state. Huge pinions and cables strained to hold that splendid profile in place. Fortunately, this cranial surgery was invisible from ground level. But we knew it was there, and we trusted it, the way we trust technology to step in sometime soon and save the global ecosphere from its juggernaut toward destruction. We made the mistake of thinking that human ingenuity could keep the Old Man intact indefinitely, if not forever.

How wrong we were. Mother Nature, naturally, had her way. Newtonian physics prevailed. Like human destiny, gravity ruled the day. The governor of New Hampshire has already stated that he wants to reconstruct this philosopher stone, in its perch high above Profile Lake in Franconia Notch. Many will support his effort. To me, such a gesture seems inadequate, even silly; perhaps somewhat sacrilegious. This was not Mt. Rushmore. Forces other than human shaped that magnificent icon and gave it to us for a time.

I hope there are others who will object if all the king's horses and all the king's men try to put the Old Man together again. As scripture says, even the stones would cry out. Let the Old Man lie there on the mountainside. We can still look up and remember him.

This is Jim Luken of Sheffield.

Jim Luken is a writer and manages a senior living facility.
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