From our schoolroom window, we gazed up at the towering grandeur of Hedgehog Mountain, our town's highest peak, and all week, from opening exercises through spelling, geography, and history, the majestic pinnacle beckoned us to adventure. Reaching into the blue Maine sky, the peak of Mt. Hedgehog is 207 feet above sea level. From its peak, if you looked between Henry Doughty's barn and the Congregational steeple, you could see a bit of the Atlantic Ocean, three-quarters of a mile away.
Mountaineering, to us, was like the great Monsieur Tartarin of Tarascon, who grew a giant baobab tree in a flowerpot. Even so, on Friday afternoons, when school let out, six of us would hurry home, toss together necessities, and meet at the base of Hedgehog Mountain to tent out over the weekend. We were the six musketeers: Athos, Porthos, Hank, Frank, me, and Charley.
We had all climbed to the summit of Mt. Hedgehog and felt no compulsion ever to do that again. We also felt no compulsion to climb any other mountain, satisfied that one is plenty and others the same. Hedgehog Mountain had a trail to the top, but the summit could be reached in minutes. It was no more than a hump the glacier had missed. The summit was weathered rock without topsoil, so there was the illusion of a timberline, but it was hardly caused by altitude.
There were some erosion tunnels in the rock, some big enough to crawl through, but you didn't want to be tubby. Somebody, away back, had become stuck in one of the tunnels and stayed stuck there until he thinned down. So nobody spelunked unless he had somebody with him, and it was a stupid thing to do anyway. We boys never went up the trail; we just tented.
We had three pup tents, each boy had his paper-mill felt blanket, and in each one's knapsack whatever we'd eat - except for our Saturday-night steaks. We'd chip in a quarter apiece, and one of us would go to the Dillingham market and get a slab of beef, which, if you care to figure it out, came to $1.50. But we didn't know that my father had spoken to Charley Dillingham on the sly and told him to be generous and he'd pick up the difference. It never entered our heads that the steaks we ate were better than the ones we bought.
Our tenting-out area was ours, and I never knew anybody else to use it. We had a stone fireplace laid up, and a drain grating for a grill. Also a steel cover to something that made us a reflector oven, and we did bake biscuits and corn bread sometimes.
Our only real problem was water. The nearest brook with a pool was halfway back to town, and there was no spring anywhere on the mountain. Once there had been a set of farm buildings by our campsite, but they had burned or gone to mold. A caved-in well was there, but we didn't dare. We brought water from home in jugs.
A comical thing about these outings occurs to me. Each of us had chores to do at home. I had hens and a pig to feed, and a cow to milk. There were wood boxes to fill, errands to run. So we'd get the pup tents up, and then we all had to run home to do chores. Then we'd all run back, make supper, turn in, and be up early to run home for chores before running back to make breakfast. This may sound as if we tented out curiously, and maybe we did.
Now, there was one boy in our class who was a "mother's boy." He always wore a bathing suit when we went to Spar Creek. He kept begging us to take him with us. I don't remember that we voted on this. We all had doubts that he was meant for roughing it, but he pleaded and we said all right.
We gave him the money, he put in his quarter, and we sent him to the Dillingham market to pick up our steaks. He came back with the package, and off we went, six veterans and a tenderfoot, headed for a happy night under the stars. And when all else was taken care of and the blaze in our camp fireplace had dwindled to embers, we opened the package of steaks and found it was full of yellow bananas. This astonished everybody except our new member, who said he'd never eaten a banana and when he saw them in the store he got carried away.
The six of us sat there in the firelight, the sun slowly sinking behind Mt. Hedgehog, each of us hungry enough to eat a boiled owl, and not one of us spoke our thoughts. Gentlemen all, we ate bananas along with No. 7. We were glad he was having a good time on his very first camping trip - and most likely his very last.
HOW dear to our hearts are the scenes of our childhood! Many years later, I bumped into Johnny Snow, who was Porthos in our sextet. As we stood talking about our boyhood, I asked if he'd been back to our old campground. He said they'd put up a gate on the old Mt. Hedgehog driveway, and it was open only three days a week. We walked over.
The sign said Sanitary Landfill, and that it was for residents only, open Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. We stepped around the padlocked gate and found our old tenting ground, now devoted to the purposes of what we once called a dump. There was no sign whatever of our neat camp fireplace.
Johnny said, " 'Member the time we all ate bananas?" That's all that was said. We walked away. When we got back to where I 'd bumped into him, as we say, Johnny said, "See ya 'round!" And I said, "Bring the fruit!"