A Sermon Preached on the Occasion of a Memorial Service in Celebration of the Life of Nathaniel Bowditch
September 29, 2008
The First Religious Society of Newburyport, Massachusetts
It had rained the night before. We were soaked up to our thighs as we pushed through the wet underbrush and bushes that crowded in on either side of the trail. The day, however, was clearing and a warming mid-summer sun promised to dry us out when we reached the north peak.
This was our third trip to Baxter State Park in northern Maine. On our first two excursions, we had scaled Katahdin and stood triumphant and exhilarated on Baxter Peak. This year – it was 1991 – we began a series of explorations of the surrounding mountains and so spent the night in a lean-to at Nesowadnehunk Campground, setting out early the next morning for the summit of Doubletop Mountain.
Doubletop is a gem among the mountains of Baxter, its symmetrical shape and steep cliffs strikingly evident from Nesowadnehunk valley where the tote road wends its bumpy and rutted way around the park. The views from its twin peaks rival those from Katahdin, with green forests as far as the eye can see and the surface of blue lakes and ponds and streams sparkling down below. And to the southeast, mile-high Katahdin—the great mountain—rises up from the valleys and plains between the east and west branches of the Penobscot River.
My hiking companion, Nat, had been my dearest friend since childhood. These trips were our means of reconnecting; an open space apart from our increasingly busy lives. Three or four summer days in the wilderness rekindled the flame of our friendship. Quiet talks by the campfire, tramps through the woods and strenuous hikes up steep mountainsides, paddling in the ponds of the park and, at the end of the day, invigorating swims in any number of ice-cold mountain streams strengthened the bonds of love and affection that drew us together.
Nat and I saw no other hikers on our way up the slopes and shoulder of Doubletop. We had the mountain almost to ourselves. On that fine day, the crowds, no doubt, were amassing atop Katahdin, making cell phone calls to friends down below, huddled away from the wind. We reached the north peak in two hours time and ate our simple fare of cheese and bread and fruit, content to take off our boots, stretch out our legs and linger in the sun, enjoying the whole world spread out before us.
A favorite photograph of that day shows Nat and me standing arm and arm on the summit – that expanse of green forest and blue lakes in the background beyond us. Nat had a thick two-day growth of dark beard on his face and a navy blue cap perched on his head. In keeping with his family’s venerable maritime heritage, the cap read: “Great Schooner Race 1990 Nathaniel Bowditch.”
(to be continued)