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Uphill in Fog
Maps give little idea of the elevations or depressions in the surface of a country, except as the run of the watercourses indicates the slopes. The high mountains of Northern New Hampshire are generally laid down on all maps, but few persons have any idea that in the lower part of the State there is very high land, and that to reach it from the Connecticut on the west, or the Merrimac on the east, an ascent of more than 1000, perhaps more than 1500 feet, must be accomplished. I have no means at present of ascertaining the elevation of the highest farms in such towns as Lempster, Washington, and Stoddard. Some years ago, driving over the high farm country in Stoddard, I was told that this was the highest cultivated land in the State. This may be doubtful, but it is very high, and these towns ought to be above the hay-fever line. Judging from the experience of the direct pull up from Charlestown to Lempster, we should be inclined to think the latter village several thousand feet above the Connecticut. It was a magnificent ride.
The morning was foggy. October frequently fills the Connecticut valley with fogs. This was very dense and dark. As we went out from Charlestown and began the uphill journey, we came slowly into thinner mist, and after awhile into that most weird and solemn of all lights, the golden atmosphere of the October sun in fog among autumn forests. Stopping the horses on a water-bar for a little breath, we listened to the silence. Do you know what that means? It is not listening to nothing. There are sounds and many of them; but in the stillness of a foggy morning these sounds seem to cut sharply into the silence, and thus make you aware of the excessive stillness and calm which reign around you. The fall of a single leaf, broken off by the weight of moisture on it, is distinctly audible as it flutters to the ground. The voice of a crow, far away in the fog, comes through the yellow air with a metallic ring. You start along, and the crush of the wheels in the gravel is echoed from the side of the woods across a hollow, so that you think there is a water-fall over there. You stop again, and the echo dies away with a low murmuring along the trees, and the stillness is wonderful.
Uphill and downhill, but more and more uphill, the road mounts the high land. Ahead of us there are long views between the maples and birches, the view ending in yellow mist. We think that point must be the top, but when we reach it the road swings around the side of the hill and stretches on up. We descend at length, but it is into a hollow, and it grows dark and darker in the fog as we go down, till at the bottom, where a stream crosses the road, we think it will rain in five minutes, so deep is the gloom; but we go up again into the sunny mists, and at length, on a summit, feel for the first time a breath of air coming from the southward. When the air begins to move the fog will vanish. Its vanishing now is almost instantaneous. We have scarcely time to exclaim, "See that hilltop over yonder, and that one beyond, and this one, and" — far as the eye can reach, rolling away under the rich sunlight, lie the red-and-gold hills and the highland farms of New Hampshire. Patches of fog remain here and there and in hollows under the sides of hills, but they disappear in a few minutes. The view is so sudden and so vast that even my horses stop short and look at it.
But Lempster is still ahead of us, and we have yet higher heights to overcome. It was nearly twelve o'clock when we reached this little village — only four or five houses, with a new church and an abandoned old church. We had dinner, and then went over other heights to Washington. I do not know which stands the higher, Lempster or Washington. Both are attractive places, on account not only of their elevation, but also of their splendid surroundings of scenery.
Lovel Mountain is prominent near Washington. A farmer told me the legend of the origin of the name. I heard the story fifty years ago, and then believed it, as children believe, with ready faith. We grow sceptical as we grow older. But the farmer told it as a historic verity, and it is probably about as true as nine-tenths of what we call history. He believed it, and I don't know why you should not. A settler near this mountain in early times, named Lovel, was splitting rails, when six Indians surrounded him and made him their prisoner. My informant was sure of the number — there were six. The settler agreed to go quietly with them if they would wait till he finished splitting the log he was at work on. They consented. He adjusted his wedge in the long split, and induced them to take hold of the two sides to hasten matters by pulling the log apart. Then knocking out his wedge, he caught their twelve hands tight and fast in the spring of the closing split, and applied his axe, seriatim, to the six heads. The result was six dead Indians, and the later result the name Lovel Mountain.