Zou: A Farewell to the MRL

by Billy Zou '12 | 6/23/16 6:00pm

The Moosilauke Ravine Lodge has the unique distinction of being haunted by both the dead and the living. I first became aware of its ghosts at the inauguration of Jessica Griffin ’11 as Lodge manager. I had been on an overnight hike with a friend of mine, an avid outdoorsman, and he’d brought me along to the Lodge for dinner. It was the first time I’d been back since a year earlier during my Dartmouth Outing Club first-year trip. At the time, I wasn’t sure I was interested in the Outing Club culture — or the outdoors itself, for that matter. The inauguration proceedings involved a delicate ritual of celebration and ridicule, and there is a part where all the Lodgelings dance in a spinning circle as the Kitchen Witch beats her steel drum to rhythm of an ancient song. The ghosts came out of the woodwork.

We’ve all heard the stories of Doc Benton, but the ghosts of the MRL were young and old, and they made you feel at home. As you spent more time there you began to recognize people you knew amongst them: recent graduates, friends on off-terms ­— including the ones on permanent FSPs, parent-alumni or a professor or two who never managed to leave. It’s why it never seems to be warm enough more than 10 feet from the fireplace, why when contra dancing breaks out and you happen to be in the library downstairs the old spruce logs appear to buckle with the force of a thousand boot-heels.

The Lodge left its magic on us too. The voices of the people you knew and loved there – even years later in the streets of some unknown city – would always seem to carry whispers of the hill-winds and their eyes would glow secretly with the light of a hundred Moosilauke sunsets.

If the DOC were an organized religion, as some say, the old ravine lodge was its cathedral; a cathedral not only to wild nature and student-led stewardship over the college’s cabins and trails, but to the kind of fanciful eccentricity that suffused the Outing Club as a whole. The reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” at breakfast, the passing of soup over heads at dinner, the sign that read “Famous for Fine Freshman” once a year, the songs by the eternally out-of-tune piano – it all said: here, you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. Here, you are free to be yourself, if you allow yourself to be free. The lessons learned stay with you. In 20 years a disillusioned senator might find herself reciting in verse: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

It’s hard to forget your values when they’re remembered in simple sentences that rhyme.

There was a sense of perpetuity, too. For those who’ve read Douglas Adams’s “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” I always imagined the eponymous establishment rested on an old mountain somewhere near Warren, N.H. on I-91. Should our sun become a supernova, the Lodge would still be there, serving dinner to galactic hitchhikers and thru-hikers alike, with a side of UV glasses so they could enjoy safely the most spectacular sunset yet. Part of the fantasy is that when the bulldozers come out they’ll find that this wood-log structure does not go down so easily.

The new MRL will be a fine place. The old ghosts may not return, but there will be heat. It will be greener and more sustainable with more robust septic tanks. And it will remain open through the winter months, making all of Moosilauke more accessible to skiers and backpackers. On the other hand, it seems unlikely to survive a supernova, fire code be damned.

What I do remember is once sitting up in gallery in the rafters above the second floor with the rest of Vox Croo in our zany outfits and painted hair, with a section of the incoming class gathered below in the hushed lamplight after dinner and all the singing and dancing (but not the real dancing that was still to come), listening to one of the Lodgelings give the “sense of place” talk that night (was it Garrett Simpson ’11? Or Maisie Breit ’10?). The most stoic amongst us was a mess of tears. I don’t even remember what was said, but to be honest they could have read “Green Eggs and Ham” and we would have cried. It was one of those moments when things come full circle. The tears said: you don’t know what one day this place may mean to you.

What a world! To the pile of spruce logs and glass and creosote that held it all: fare-thee-well. Though ’round the girdled earth we roam, your spell on us remains. May you come back to haunt us, preferably in the form of a large wooden pterodactyl. Caw!

Billy Zou, ’12 was chair of the DOC’s Cabin and Trail Club during the 2011-2012 school year.