Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Donovan – "There Is a Mountain" (1967)


First, there is a mountain
Then there is no mountain
Then there is

Do you think Donovan was confused when he wrote those lines?  Or was he high?


Actually, he was neither.  He was simply paraphrasing something that the Buddhist scholar Qingyuan Weixin wrote in the 9th century:

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers.  When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers.  But now that I have got [Zen's] very substance . . . I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.


So ask not whether Donovan was confused or high when he wrote "There Is a Mountain."  Ask instead whether Qingyuan Weixin was confused or high.

(Then again, the first line of "There Is a Mountain" is "The lock upon my garden gate's a snail, that's what it is" – so maybe Donovan was high after all.)

Speaking of getting high, Sugarloaf Mountain (which is a located in Frederick County, Maryland) has an elevation of 1282 feet.  It's a monadnock – an isolated hill or mountain that rises abruptly from the relatively flat land that surrounds it.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Chicago businessman Gordon Strong bought Sugarloaf Mountain and the surrounding land about a hundred years ago.  (SPOILER ALERT: Bernie Sanders is not going to like how this story comes out.)

In 1925, Strong commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design something called the "Gordon Strong Automobile Objective," a large circular structure built on the pinnacle of Sugarloaf that would have served as a sightseeing and entertainment destination for day-trippers from Washington and Baltimore. 

The Gordon Strong Automobile Objective
The structure's most notable feature was a wrap-around exterior ramp that cars could use to ascend and descend.  (Wright later used a similar design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.)  

At one point, Wright's plans for the building also included a tall spire that was apparently intended to serve as a mooring post for dirigibles.  (Hmmm . . . maybe it was Frank Lloyd Wright that was confused or high.)

The dirigible mooring spire
Strong came to his senses when he saws Wright's plans, and cancelled the project because it would have violated the integrity of the mountaintop.  (You can say that again.)  This seems to have infuriated Wright, who promptly sent a nastygram to Strong:

I have given you a noble "archaic" sculptured summit for your mountain.  I should have diddled it away with platforms and seats and spittoons for . . . expectorating businessmen and the flappers that beset them.

Click here to read more about the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective.

After Gordon Strong retired, he set up a nonprofit corporation (Stronghold, Inc.) to own Sugarloaf Mountain and maintain it in its natural state.

A Sugarloaf Mountain trail
Roughly a quarter of a million people come to Sugarloaf each year to hike or ride horses or mountain bikes on its miles of trails – absolutely free of charge. 

I've probably visited Sugarloaf a dozen times since moving to the Washington area.  The trail to the summit of the mountain is fairly steep, but anybody in reasonably good physical condition can get to the top and enjoy the spectacular views of the Potomac River and the Blue Ridge.


On my last visit to Sugarloaf, I didn't take the trail to the summit.  Instead, I hiked on the Yellow Trail, which circles the base of the mountain.

A Yellow Trail marker
Eventually the Yellow Trail intersects with the Blue Trail, which climbs about halfway up the side of the mountain before descending and intersecting with the White Trail.

A Blue Trail/White Trail blaze
Here's the sign that's posted at the entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain:


In case the small size of that photo makes it hard for you to read the sign, here's what it says:

Sugarloaf Mountain is open to the public.  The mountain is privately owned and maintained by Stronghold Incorporated for the public enjoyment of nature.  Stronghold receives no local, state, or federal funding . . .

If Bernie Sanders is elected president, I would expect him to order an immediate government takeover of Sugarloaf Mountain.  After all, leaving it in the hands of a private foundation that maintains and preserves it for the public to enjoy free of charge – and doesn't accept a penny of tax money – is completely inconsistent with his world view.

Bernie Sanders
A few years ago, the Sugarloaf Mountain Winery opened a short distance away.  It's just what you need after a strenuous day of hiking on the mountain.

Sugarloaf Mountain Winery
If you're looking for a white wine, I recommend the viognier.  If you want a red, go with the cabernet franc.


Here's "There Is a Mountain," which Donovan released as a single in 1967:



Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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