With the trail’s end we returned to the Kancamangus Highway. At one recreation area, a roadside board tells the namesake’s story: Kancamangus succeeded his uncle in the 17th century as leader of the Penacook confederacy and, contrary to predecessors, or so I imagined from the sign’s wording, sought to maintain peace between the First Peoples and the whites. The English had, however, different plans and, through a mounting series of provocations, brought the Confederacy to blows. Kancamangus’ seven years as leader of the Confederacy came to an end with their scattering in their scattering in 1691 and flight into northern New Hampshire and Canada.
We continued along the Kancamangus Highway through New Hampshire’s White Mountains National Forest, making stops here and there. One such stop brought us to Rocky Gorge, a popular holiday spot in the 19th century’s waning years. For, in 1864, the Boston and Maine Railroad had opened the path to Conway, the three-day stage ride now become a four-hour train trip. Local farmers welcomed the flocking citydwellers as a source of income; their farmsteads became the area’s first hotels. From a nearby hotel, a day trip to the gorge was possible. Prior to the opening of the highway, the site remained relatively undeveloped as period photographs made clear: where now a bridge spanned the rocky churn, only a log cut to purpose had provided access to the other side. In the photograph, a woman poses before the dog but does not approach.
As I was reading, my companion sought a vantage point from which to spout a brook trout, which had, with one exception, eluded him thus far in our travels, despite the abundance of swift, cold, mountain streams and rivers. I moved on to other information panels, such as that explaining the power of water and ice. Where I now stood, an icesheet near two kilometers in thickness, had covered the land and its meltwater, come warmer temperatures, began the trickle that became a torrent. The subsequent floods and freezes and thaws (though I nearly wrote “thoughts” in its place, as if they had taken on enough materiality to wear away) made fractures of joints in the granite, which then fell away in sections. Of particular note was a spot where a one-time eddy in the river had created a continuous swirl of sand and gravel about one such fractures; the continual movement slowly opened a pothole in the rock, deepening with the years until spring floods provoked the cavity’s collapse and further widened the gorge.
Now safe, high above the gorge’s bottom, the pothole’s remaining, a half-cylinder cut clean into the stone walls, serves as a visual reminder to onlookers of water’s easily forgotten potency. The bridge, which I now made my way across, was not the original. Indeed, several had stood before in its places, and all washed away with the thaw and flood. Drawing on the limited evidence before me and the law of averages, I tried to estimate when this one might go as well.
Behind the gorge lay a calm pond and, behind the pond, a bog of the kind prized by Henry David Thoreau, who considered them a more necessary addition to any household than the well-kept lawn. This owed likely to the variety or contrast that the bog presented with regard to other natural intrusions upon the human, but I could not help feel that it stemmed instead from some affinity that Thoreau felt for the bog, perhaps due to its very inhospitability to human activity. Or perhaps he simply found that the best crabapples grew there. Opposite the bog and fester, I noted several trees on which the woodpecker had been hard at work, a network of incomplete tunnelings visible near the roots.
Upon completing my circuit, I learned of my companion’s latest find, an elusive brook trout tucked against one rock wall in deeper water at the gorge bottom and the proof thus provided that the fish was neither gone from these waters or become other, but merely reduced in number, a fact he now attributed to the 20th century’s acid rains, coming over from the Adirondacks.