“But give me a spruce house made in the rain.” Thoreau in an 11/4/60 letter to H.G.O. Blake.
When he wrote these words, Henry Thoreau was thinking back to his summer trip to the White Mountains, and he was musing about, for him, a usual annoyance:
several nuisances that make traveling there-abouts unpleasant…The chief of these was the mt houses. I might have supposed that the main attraction of that region, even to citizens, lay in its wildness and unlikeness to the city, & yet they make it as much like the city as they can afford to. I heard that the Crawford House was lighted with gas & had a large saloon, with its band for music, for dancing.
I go to these same mountains later today, aiming for a mix of research and rambling. And a glance at the forecast says I may see some rain; on high there’s been some June snow and ice, a brief refresher for the last scraps of winter shaded still in high crevices. Remnant winter may suggest that I stay low.
What I most need to remember, even as I slip on the straps of the little settlement of my pack, is that I am going to a “spruce house,” not a “mt house,” some little replica of what I already know perched on a high slope. In the White Mountains, many of the “mt houses” of Thoreau’s time are gone, though their foundation stones still form rectangles on top of Lafayette and Moosilauke, for example. And Mt Washington remains a “mt house” outpost in the sky, with buildings old and new. But other peaks feature mostly water- and wind-worn stone and stunted spruce.
There is, however, new encroachment – for many who walk to these summits the “mt house” now takes the form of a mt screen, carrying in it news of the valley; on a screen, “they make it as much like the city as they can afford to.” And now, even on mountain summits, I often see people in the familiar screen-hunch so common along our sidewalks and cafes of our cities. We seem ever more reluctant to go to the “unlikeness to the city,” to leave it behind.
Why is that?
If a band plays on up there, its music should be the wind in the trees and across the rocks. And I would have a different kind of dancing in a spruce house.