Wednesday, January 11, 2012

* The Mayor of Camel's Hump: A Vermonter's Life

The Mayor of Camel’s Hump

A poem in memory of

Albert  Meade

raised on a farm

 near  the 200-foot-deep

Quechee Gorge



Gulf Bridge at Quechee Gorge

 Gulf Bridge at Quechee Gorge

The oldest surviving steel-arch bridge spans a scenic location over the Ottauquechee River at Quechee Gorge in Hartford, Vermont. Constructed in 1911 for the Woodstock Railroad, this deck arch bridge spans 285 feet high above the gorge. 
Image courtesy of Robert McCullough


It is January and snow is falling.
A letter from your niece tells me
you have been in the ground since
August, after 86 years above it.

An authentic Yankee, pitchfork and cow pail,
growing up tending the earth;
now its dark harvest.


Once when grown you saw a barn
burst aflame from hay stacked too
green, in vernal combustion.
House - - woodshed - -  hen house - - barn,
hitched together, perpendicular to the
road , pulled out like an accordion;
they stopped the barn from taking the house
by tying ropes around the hen house and
pulling it down with a Model-T Ford.


The railroad was your spaceship. Its gleaming face
would shake your house as it roared by the front
of the farm. Such speed and power and majesty
were wonder to a boy who four miles to and four
miles from school, would walk, sun or snow.
Boys once greased the tracks on the hill outside
your farm, and that Black Behemoth slid back down
the slope a several times before it made its way
on through to town. Old men now admit they were those
boys, and though you know their names and speak them
with a smile, no admission comes from your mouth.


A mile from home that track bridged a gorge 
200 feet deep. The track was one mile shorter to town than
the only road, and you obeyed your father’s command:
Never walk across that gorge. At least in daytime you
obeyed, when others could see. And, besides, walk across
that gorge you could not: there were no railings on that
bridge, just rails.


But crawl you could on hands and knees, and did;
holding the rails for dear life, edging out across
the gorge with river so far below. And so it was
one black night halfway across the bridge, crawling
on hands and knees; you came up against another - -
head-to-head coming from the other direction,
crawling and holding those rails tight - - -
your own father.

Was he come looking for you late to home, or just
taking, in reckless shortcut, the route to town
he’d forbid his boy to take, knowing all that
gravity and impulse can do to flesh?


You grew up and never married those 86 years and
said to the younger listener once, “Don’t make
my mistake and wait too long” about choosing a wife.
There was no sermon or self-pity in that sentence,
just saying how it was with you.

When you were 82, twenty times in one season you climbed
a mountain, sixty miles upcountry, till other climbers
dubbed you the Mayor of Camel’s Hump.

strength waned and slight confusion set in.
And so,
the nursing home.

But later a reprieve - - -
when strength returned  - - - to a kind of dormitory for
the infirm, where you could walk outside your mile
each day, whittled cane, tentative steps now.

Then the river gorging through your veins came
head-to-head with some blockade:  Paralysis.
And, like Lincoln, a night of labored breathing:
The feet that made you mayor of the mountain stopped
now, halfway across the bridge.


The other side wanted you more than this one
And so, stepless, you stepped over, not crawling
This Span.

Once you told me calmly about assisted death, “The
Bible forbids taking a life.” You never quoted
Scripture and didn’t then, just a simple The Bible
Says, kind of statement.

You would wait calmly for Nature to do her work.
But you did not fear to say the wait had grown
lonely and monotonous. It was a hard wait, like
watching grass grow into hay.

Paul D. Keane


I met Albert while volunteering at a local nursing home. We became friends.

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