Wednesday, August 16, 2006


In Which Readers Enjoy A Bit of Cliffhanger Revenge...

My GOD, but I'm homesick.

I haven't felt such yearning for New Hampshire in years. I think the kids--Thomas especially--are compounding it. Every night before bed we've been telling "membawhen" stories, going over our recent adventures in the woods of the place where I'm from.

Her Lovely Self gets sick of hearing the same stories after a while, but this is a time-honored tradition in my own family. Readers here have often paid me the compliment of telling me what a good memory I have, but the truth is, I remember so much of my childhood and the life of my family because I grew up hearing the stories told and re-told until they became embedded in my brain, probably intertwined in my very DNA. It pleases me that Thomas wants to recount his adventures in NH again and again. He clearly wants to remember, to relive, to preserve those memories forever.

Last night, Thomas and I recounted his last and greatest adventure in New Hampshire. The one involving first Bear Cave and, later, the Wolf's Den.

As the grand finale of our visit, we spent our last full day up in Franconia Notch in the White Mountains. I know most people who visit this part of the country end up here and parts of it are touristy and tatty beyond belief. But the White Mountains are special to my family nonetheless.

My mom's parents--this would be Grandma and Papa Jim who just died in January--got married in July of 1943. My grandfather was on furlough from the Army, having finished some pretty exhaustive training in Colorado with the 10th Mountain Division, and was due to ship out to Italy soon. So they got married but had no real money for a honeymoon. My grandparents had both worked at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Boston, though, and their old boss knew the manager of a hotel up in the White Mountains. Through him, as a wedding present, they got four days in one of the charming old tourist cabins that still exist up there.

On their drive up, they would have passed through towns like Canaan and Woodstock. And that means they would have driven right by this house.


It's even possible they would have driven right by a woman sitting out in the yard, rocking a newborn while her two older children swung on the tire swing nearby. That newborn was this guy:


Back then, my Dad would have been all of a month old. The family were renting that white house in Canaan until my other grandfather could finish the house he was working on, not far from the family Homestead that they would eventually come to own.

My maternal grandparents had a lovely honeymoon and enjoyed their stay so much that for years after, my mom's family spent every summer in New Hampshire, and my mom herself would eventually quit college and get a job as a chambermaid at one of the hotels up there, just so she could stay in the state full time. She loved the country. She felt she belonged there. My grandparents were slightly appalled by this and chided her for years about it, feeling that she'd gone from being a refined city girl to a degenerate from Cow Hampshire.

But in truth, my grandparents have no one to blame but themselves.

See, my Mom was born in March, 1944.

You do the math.

Incidentally, Her Lovely Self spent her first night in New Hampshire in the very same hotel where my grandparents honeymooned, although we stayed in a different cabin (I hope, otherwise, that would be just too weird).


We had just started dating and in July of 1992, I proposed we go on a driving tour of New England. Aside from a few work-related conferences in New York City and Washington, D.C., Her Lovely Self had never been any further east than Pittsburgh and had never been to New England at all. So we spent 10 amazing days, hitting every state and sampling all that my part of the country had to offer. But of everything we did, Her Lovely Self still remembers our stay in the White Mountains as one of the best times of her life.

Aside from enjoying ourselves in the scrotum-shrivelingly cold water


and on the warm, sunbathing-friendly rocks


and in that cozy little cabin, we also spent a good chunk of time in one of our favorite places, the Flume, an amazing testament to the power of nature and the beauty it wrought. I love walking on the slightly rickety, slightly slippery walkway up to the top of the gorge. I love the sound of the water rushing down. I love resting in the shade of 25,000-year-old boulders, listening to the water and, somewhere above it, the wind in the pines.

Naturally, Thomas was agog. He practically ran the 2-mile stretch up to the top.


He loved the cascading water, the seeping walls, the cool spray. "It's like the best water park ever!" he exclaimed. "Who built it?"

"Why, God did," my father said, winking.


Granted, unlike a water park, you don't really get in the water. The park is at pains to remind you to stay on the path. And yet there are still some exciting places to venture, such as the infamous Bear Cave at the top of the gorge. I call it infamous because it was just one of many places my brother and I were forbidden to explore as children.

My mom, sad to say, was a bit of an alarmist. Still is. She can imagine all sorts of disasters befalling her children and grandchildren. As a kid I wasn't allowed to camp out in my best friend's back yard because Mom thought I'd get pneumonia from sleeping on the cold ground (and of course, years later, when I actually got pneumonia, I delighted in pointing out to my mom that it happened while I was in hot, sunny Florida).

We couldn't climb trees and we most certainly couldn't have a tree house because we would fall and break our necks. And that was just daily mundane disasters. Take her to the White Mountains and she could imagine rock slides and flash floods and one of us slipping and drowning in a puddle of water (that's all it would take, you know). The Bear Cave, naturally, was completely off limits. After all, those rocks that formed the cave could shift at any time, never mind that they'd been in that same spot since the last Ice Age. In truth, all the Bear Cave is is a deep, wet crevasse at the top of the gorge. It's pretty dark in there and a little slippery. But there are most certainly no bears occupying it, nor are there open chasms and cracks in the earth through which I could fall and be killed, just to mention one of my mom's disaster scenarios.

I know all this because when I finally caught up to Thomas, he was three steps into the Bear Cave. "C'mon, Dad!" he yelled. And of course I followed.

A hundred feet behind us, slowly chugging up the steep walkway, my mom's head spontaneously exploded.

At first, there was nothing but darkness in the cave, just like this:


But then, as our eyes adjusted to the dim light, at the back of the cave, Thomas noticed there were several rocks you could climb up to a small ledge, thus elevating you about 20 feet so you could see the whole cave from on high. And then, about five feet above that ledge was an opening in the rock, through which daylight was plainly visible.

I don't know where or how Thomas found a handhold there in the dark, but before I could say anything, he was already clambering up the rock and through the hole. And there he got stuck.


I don’t mean he became wedged. I mean he reached a point where he was trying to crawl over a large boulder that had no handholds or purchase that his young arms could reach. To compound things, his feet were now dangling in mid-air, far from any ledge or foot-hold.

And then Thomas began to slip backwards on the rock, back towards me, into the dark of the cave. I could catch him, but it was a narrow ledge and if he fell just right, we'd both topple off.

"Dad!" he cried once, controlling his panic. "Where can I step? I need to push myself up!"

Well, parents, you know there was only one place Thomas could step. I hopped up on the ledge, wedged my knee into a crack in the rock for leverage and applied both hands to the soles of my son's shoes. With one final push that left my arms trembling, I got Thomas up far enough that he was able to wedge a knee up on the wall opposite the boulder and roll himself onto the ground atop the cave.

"I did it!" he yelled, and I heard a muffled voice congratulate him and tell him how surprised he was to see someone so young actually make it up through the hole in the roof of the cave.

"My dad's coming next!" he shouted, then leaned over the hole and yelled. "Come on Dad!"

Oh fuck.


Well, he was only a few feet from me and hell, if he could do it, so could I. So I took a deep breath, crouched down on the ledge and sprang upwards.

First, I wedged my elbows on the sides of the walls, but that wasn't working.


I quickly shifted both hand to the round boulder in front of me and tried to scramble up over it. I managed instead to simply hang there on the very middle of the boulder. That's when I realized that the handholds on this boulder weren't too far for Thomas's shorter arms to reach.

There were, in fact, no handholds.

I know that Hotshot Rock Climbers tell you that every rock has something to grab, and to illustrate the point might compare a sheer smooth rock to, say, a stick of butter with some salt crystals on it. But I'm here to tell you there were NO salt crystals to grab on this stick of butter. It was just butter. And I was toast.

I hugged the rock with my arms, which were still trembling from the effort of shoving a 60-pound kid 10 feet straight up in the air. I tried to look over the top of the rock for any kind of handhold to lunge for. But even if there was a handhold, how was I going to lunge? My feet were dangling in mid-air back down in the cave (actually, to be perfectly honest, they were pedaling wildly in the void), and there was no Dad below to grab my feet and push me over the top (my Dad was still down below in the Flume, guiding my mother up, what with her exploded head and all). And even if my Dad had been there, with his arm still in a sling from his rotator cuff injury, there was no way he could help me.

There was no way anyone could help me. I couldn't climb up over the rock. I couldn't slide back down into the cave, not without knowing where to step. Without a guiding hand, I'd just fall and dash my brains out on the rocky floor. That would be bad enough, but on top of that, my mom would be totally vindicated in her long-standing fears about such places. And trust me, being around a vindicated mother is a fate worse than death, because she will not let anyone forget it ever.

I called to Her Lovely Self, but she and the Brownie had already taken the path up around the Bear Cave, and were going to meet us at the scenic overlook at the top. After snapping a couple of photos, Thomas and whoever he was talking to were gone also, probably off to the overlook where everyone else was.

Jesus Christ, I thought, splayed on the boulder I am stuck in an actual, honest-to-God cliffhanger.

Which I'm sure many of you would consider poetic justice, after all the blog cliffhangers I've subjected you to.

Such as this one, for example...

hahaha, you bastard :D

Coincidentally, I just received and watched my copy of Subject Line Here, so I got the Rock Climber joke without need of the link!
Every single rock has something to grab on.

Maybe your FINGERS were more like the butter. Cause as every hot shot rock climber knows...butter on butter means DEATH.

And high cholesterol.
Well, I assume you survived without breaking anything, although you have been known to surprise me. When I lived in NH, I managed to fracture one of my fingers hiking when I slipped, and then fracture my hip skiing that winter. But I still enjoyed my time there. And I did visit the Flume.
For me, the real cliffhanger here is not, "How's he gonna get out of that spider-hole?": It's "What is HLS gonna do to him when she sees that he's gone and posted ANOTHER bikini shot?!?"
The white mountains are amazing...Hopefully you didn't type all that one handed because you had to self-amputate the other one like that guy out in the rockies did a year or so ago...
Yeah I was wondering kind of the same thing Jack you get HLS's permission before posting bikini shots or is it just a surprise to her when she sees them? I'm assuming she reads your blog. She looks great, so it probably doesn't bother her!
And yeah, the cliffhanger thing is poetic justice!
I love it! Justice for you and justice for us, your readers!

Growing up in Massachusetts, I've been up to the Flume many times, but never up to Bear Cave. Sounds like we'll be headed there on our next trip north.

Thanks for the fabulous writing, by the way.
Oh, The Flume is such a marvelous wonder of nature.

I last went there with MY WIFE about five years ago. Climbed into some cave or another (maybe the same one?) along with another 40-something guy, while both of our wives stood outside telling us that we were going to kill ourselves. We both made it out alive, none the worse for wear, and I don't know about him, but that gave me immunity from questioning my manhood for the rest of the week. Anytime I wanted to do something guy-goofy (I think I just coined a groovy new term!) and MY WIFE said, "Oh, don't do that, Jim. You'll hurt yourself.", I just said, "Hey, that's what you said at The Flume..."

Of course, I then proceeded to kill myself many times.
1. HLS is a hottie, and did she pre-approve posting that shot?

2. do you have a animal paw tattoo on your hand? how festive!
Is that a bear stamp on your hand? Did you go to Clark's Trained Bears? They give you a bear stamp when you go in.

Just curious. I'm surprised you didn't mention it before. Would love to know if you did and how the Brownie faced her fear (isn't bears the one thing she's scared of?)
Never a dull moment, is there?
Have you given HLS premature gray hairs yet with your exploits? I can only imagine what she thought when she saw you for the first time after the incredible journey to save Blaze and now you're literally dangling off cliff with a rocky oubliette beneath you. :)
now that cmhl has said that HLS is a hottie, I have to add that MM is pretty hot himself.
But then, so is Mr Gator.
What I want to know is who took those pictures.
Fourth graf from the bottom:

"After snapping a couple of photos, Thomas and whoever he was talking to were gone also, probably off to the overlook where everyone else was."

I took the pics inside the cave, then tossed the camera bag up to him when he reached the top of the cave.

As for the other pictures, well, you know I took the bikini one and most of the others. No idea who took the one of baby Papa, though...

Oh, and whoever guessed the origin of the hand stamp--yep, it's from Clark's, but our visit there is for another post. Full marks for keen observation, though!
From one wife to another, HLS you're a hottie!! I can't believe you posted a pic of your wife in a bikini...again!!

Glad you're back home :)
Hmm, something about this reminds me of Winnie the Pooh... :)
forgive me, mm, but... BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! *gasp, snort* hahahahaha.

there's another fine mess you've gotten yourself into. at least you don't appear to have injured yourself shoving thomas through the hole. although, you appear to be standing on something in that picture, not hanging off a rock. :-P

safe landings, mm.
The pic of you in the water makes you look so young, almost like a teenager. Those waters must be healing.

While I anxiously await the outcome of the spelunking spectacular, I'm mostly enamored with the idea that both sets of grandparents would have literally crossed paths, especially at that moment in time. Very moving.
Ericka is right. In the first picture, I am standing on the ledge. In the second, my elbows are out on either side like a human piton or crampon or whatever the hell it is hotshot rock climbers use. Elbows were not meant to bear the weight of a 174-pound dumb-ass. That's why I switched to hugging the boulder in front of me a second later.

And Stu, I hoped someone would comment on my not-hard-to-imagine moment of my future grandparents passing within feet of each other. It's stuff like that that keeps my brains turning. And makes me wish they'd hurry up and invent time travel so I could see for myself if it happened.
Imagine your Mom's dad stopping for directions and seeing your Dad's mom sitting on the porch, asked her about the hotel, and maybe if there was good food to be found nearby. Hmmm...
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