ADAMS -- As one step follows another, and sweat slips and slops from hair to eye to knee, the fact, the idea, no longer seems relevant.
The fact that did matter, down below and far away, is that this mountain, this hump of a summit set at the north end of the gray-green Berkshire range, is the tallest in the state.
But what matter now? Lungs and thighs do not know statistics. The mind, when tired, when tried, ignores the lofty realms of stature and grabs hold of what is next: a rock, a mud slick, a divot in the trail.
It may seem, of course, that no Massachusetts mountain, not even the highest, could provoke such endeavor. But this peak, measured at 3,491 feet above the calm, calm sea, does. And so too its neighbors, Saddle Ball Mountain, to the south, at 3,234 feet, and Mount Fitch, to the north, at 3,110.
But forget statistics. Amid the labor, this becomes the thing: a mountain, a form of land, steep, made of quartzite and marble and schist, layered with nature and solitude. Then, at the top, there is surprise, in the form of more stone, set as markers and engraved with words.
On one rest the thoughts of John Bascom, written in 1906:
rising centerwise in this magnificent group,
dominates the County, stands the sentinel of the western
portion of the State, and, with the New York mountains,
and on either hand of it for many miles
rules them all with no rival
either in beauty of parts,
breadth of outlook
or in height.
Then, beyond this, comes a tower, also of stone, with a size and strength that is not found in towers guarding many coastlines. The tower is a monument to soldiers, placed atop the state, where it rises higher than Earth itself.
And then, next, a lodge, low and long and made of wood, a welcome bunker for those who come, following the road by car or bike, or a trail by foot.
This is what it is to be the tallest in a state long settled, a land long tilled and treed and left to grow again, a land where to be the best is to be embraced, owned.
Oh, yes, old Greylock, you are worshiped. Though you are not Everest, nor McKinley, nor even Mount Marcy, you are ours. And so affections are showered upon you, as they were by Henry David Thoreau:
As the light increased
I discovered around me an ocean of mist,
Which by chance reached up to exactly the base of the tower,
And shut out every vestige of the earth,
While I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of the world,
On my carved plank in cloudland;
A situation which required no aid from the imagination
To render it impressive.
And you are worshiped, still, by those who come, simply. Those like Jim McMahon, and Bill and Sarah Hague, father and 10-year-old daughter, all from Connecticut, whose curiosity led them to a green spot on a map, and who then stood in the fog of the night and delighted in the movement of moisture and earth.
Theirs is the good, the happy, the thing that makes one believe, still, what Thoreau wrote.
But today's worship also comes at a cost. There is something about the biggest, the best, that we all want to own. All hail the tallest, most dominant player in the league. All take the tallest building, shrink it to a charm and place it in a pocket.
And all build monument to mountain -- or is it to us? -- in the highest air.
Wrote John Ruskin, engraved in one of those stones:
seem to have been built for the human race
as at once their schools
and their cathedrals.
This learning and worship went on for centuries before. Yet those in awe and wonder did not approach these heights, or when they did, they did so gently, lightly, leaving you, Greylock, as you had been for some 600 million years, since pushing plates had drained the warm, shallow sea and lifted you up, and up.
Time, in wind and water, have worn you back down, to your present gentle state. But people, too, have taken their toll, cutting and paving and building. You are protected now, a good thing, after all, but also a way of saying that, yes, we will own you, sign you to a long-term contract, hail you as the biggest, the best, a thing that brings us all a bit of fame.
Still, quietly, away from the circling light atop the tower in the Greylock night, you are there.
And it is in these places, away, on a ridge, or a trail, or an opening near the summit, that each of us, wandering alone, can find, in the weather, or a view, a moment of peace, a reflection on the world below. Then, in the cloud-cloaked dawn, with a sigh, a thought, a smile, we, too, thank you.
Tom Haines can be reached at email@example.com.