A remarkable set of parallel discoveries, all tied to a 1902 walk in the White Mountains, resulted in a marvelous book published last winter: GLORIOUS MOUNTAIN DAYS. The size of a school notebook and issued in full color, the book reveals photos of hikers and trails, but also lifts the curtain on a secret love affair and the career choices of Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), chaplain to the U.S. Senate and a vigorous force toward passage of the Weeks Act -- as the Forest History Society describes this on its website,
March 1, 2011, marked the centennial of the Weeks Act — the "organic act" of the eastern national forests. Signed into law by President William Howard Taft, the Weeks Act permitted the federal government to purchase private land in order to protect the headwaters of rivers and watersheds in the eastern United States and called for fire protection efforts through federal, state, and private cooperation. It has been one of the most successful pieces of conservation legislation in U.S. history. To date, nearly 20 million acres of forestland have been protected by the Weeks Act, land that provides habitat for hundreds of plants and animals, recreation space for millions of visitors, and economic opportunities for countless local communities. As one historian has noted, "No single law has been more important in the return of the forests to the eastern United States" than the Weeks Act.But the remarkable long-term effect of the law is only a postscript to the human interconnections that this amazing album-like book details.
The heart of the connections is unquestionably Randolph, New Hampshire, a small town today that's been in recent news as the location of a tragic motorcycle disaster (seven deaths and many people injured, caused by a truck driver who probably should not have been driving).
Allison W. Bell and Maida Goodwin co-authored GLORIOUS MOUNTAIN DAYS. Goodwin, an archivist, described the book's surprising background. "The paths all lead back to the Rev. Edward Everett Hale," she wrote in the preface, "Unitarian clergyman, auathor, avid hiker, and lover of the White Mountains. At 80 years of age in 1902, his hiking days were over, but his friends Hattie Freeman and Emma Cummings sent him an enthusiastic account of their [hiking] trip."
Goodwin was aware of some three thousand letters that Hattie exchanged with Edward -- letters that were donated to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, as part of the papers of "an influential New England family."
A second thread involved an author, Allison Bell, assisting with preservation of Edward Hale's home in Rhode Island.
And the third was an unlabeled group of photographs that ended up in the archives of the Randolph Mountain Club, one of the most significant nature-preserving organizations in the White Mountains. By what can only be seen as an outrageous coincidence, Allison Bell's research took her to the club's archivists, who pulled out their photo collection of unidentified hikers, with each photo carefully dated -- and the dates matched the letters Allison had with her.
"You're not going to believe this," Allison told the Hudsons [the club archivists], "but I know exactly who these people are."
As if that weren't amazing enough, the letters themselves hid yet another mystery: secret messages coded into them, of deep expressions of love between young hiker Hattie (Harriet) Freeman and the married, elderly clergyman.
Locally to where I am writing today, in the nearby town of Littleton, New Hampshire, publisher Mike Dickerman of Bondcliff Books agreed to partner with Bogtrotters Press to bring the lushly illustrated "album" with its fascinating letters into print. Crammed with full-color botanical images, mountain scenes current and more than a century old, and photos of the week-long 1902 tramp through the Presidential Range, the book is a treasure trove of mountain glory, and a wonderful example of what the Weeks Act made possible: access to some of the finest hiking terrain in the world, and preservation of its plant and animal life, for generations to come.
The book's available from Bondcliff Books, directly (order here) or through the usual online retailers, as well as area bookstores. It's a gem, perfect for a local bookshelf or as a gift that will bring the mountains into the life of a reader who hasn't yet met them.