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Pack Monadnock and Me

Source: Personal experience

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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My relationship with this little mountain has changed dramatically over the years.

I first discovered Pack Monadnock in the mid-1990s. I was working as a contractor for a software company in Binghamton, New York. I would typically spend about a week in Binghamton each month, and work at home the rest of the time. Many Sunday afternoons, I drove from Nashua west across New Hampshire and Vermont and past Albany, New York, before turning southwest to Binghamton. Then, on Friday night, I'd reverse the trip. Along the way, I noticed Miller State Park at the eastern edge of Peterborough, not far west of Nashua.

Intrigued, I set out to learn more.

I learned that Miller State Park was the oldest state park in New Hampshire and was named for General James Miller, a hero of the War of 1812 who was born in Peterborough. I learned that Pack Monadnock was one of several mountains in southwestern New Hampshire with "monadnock" in their names. I learned that "monadnock" was an Abenaki word for a mountain that stands alone, and that it has become a generic geological term for mountains that formed by the erosion of a highland leaving isolated mountains behind, the way that Mount Monadnock had formed. I learned that "Pack Monadnock" derives from an Abenaki phrase meaning "Little Monadnock."

Still, I must admit, I regarded Pack Monadnock with something like disdain. It was too small to be a "real" mountain. It was just a large hill, covered with trees up to its summit. It was too close to civilization to be a wilderness. There was a paved road leading to the top, for crying out loud! And the vicinity of the peak looked like a shopping center with cars parked all around, gawking tourists and shrieking kids everywhere, and a small cluster of buildings.

Yes, a small cluster of small buildings. It wasn't quite a shopping center, I supposed, but it was no Mount Jackson.

Nevertheless, it was a somewhat natural place, and much, much closer to home than my White Mountains.

I began driving out there once in a while of a weekend afternoon for a little escape. If I had a few spare hours, but not enough time to head up to Crawford Notch for the day, I'd take whatever book I was reading at the time, drive to the top of Pack Monadnock, and find a somewhat quiet place to read and get a little sun.

Pack Monadnock became my "consolation woods." If my workload and household chores and my "social calendar" allowed me a few free hours but did not allow a genuine hike, I'd spend that time driving back and forth to Peterborough and reading on a sunny boulder atop Pack Monadnock. I got to know the vicinity of the summit pretty well. I figured out where the quieter places were. I settled on a favorite boulder and never did any exploring.

I never hiked up or down Pack Monadnock, though I knew roughly where the trails were. I just wanted to get to a quiet place in the woods to read my book, and I didn't want to waste my time climbing up a silly little hill.

This continued for several years.

Then I discovered Mine Falls Park, right in Nashua. It was much easier to find a somewhat secluded place than in Greeley Park. It was every bit as peaceful and "wild" as my favorite boulder on Pack Monadnock, and it didn't take more than five minutes to get there!

In no time at all, Mine Falls Park became my "consolation woods," and I stopped visiting Pack Monadnock altogether.

A couple more years went by.

I don't know exactly what happened, but somehow, I was prompted to take another look at Pack Monadnock. Maybe I didn't feel like reading that day. Maybe I had enough free hours in my schedule that Saturday that I considered a hike, but had to rule it out, and the very idea of a hike whetted my appetite for it. Whatever the reason, a few years ago, I went for an actual hike up and down Pack Monadnock.

Now I realize that I made a mistake in the very opening paragraphs of this story. I only thought I had discovered Pack Monadnock when I first drove past it in 1995 or so. I really discovered it in 2003 when I walked up the Marion Davis Trail and down the Wapack Trail.

There was more ground cedar clubmoss than I had ever seen before. And juniper so dense and so expansive it looked like a Lilliputian forest! And hobblebush growing so far south. Why were the trees along the Wapack Trail so small when the trees just yards away on the summit grow to normal size?

I had discovered a natural ecosystem worth investigating, and every bit as fascinating as Arethusa Falls.

Oh, I still go to Mine Falls Park to do much of my reading. But now I head out to Pack Monadnock three or four times a year, and I hardly ever drive to the top anymore. I walk the dense forests of the Marion Davis Trail looking for the first trout lily of the spring. I take a side-trip off the Wapack Trail to climb out on a ledge and watch the red-tailed hawk hunting over the sparse forest. I sit still for an hour at a time to find the wild things that move only when they think there are no humans around.

I'm growing ever more intrigued by this little mountain that stands alone.

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