King of the Mountain

Marty passed away a few days ago. He went quietly. It happened in the vet’s office. There was no suffering, no pain, he purred until the end. Rebecca Scholand was holding him during his final moments. Hers was the last face he saw.

“Marty was a good cat,” Rebecca says. “He was king of the mountain. That’s what we called him.”

Marty’s mountain happens to be Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. The highest peak northeast of the Mississippi. Marty lived out his entire 12 years at a weather observatory, perched on the summit of the most topographically prominent feature in the Northeastern United States.

This is not your everyday mountain. Mountain Washington stands surrounded by the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. On a clear day, views from the summit extend into Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic.

The world looks different at 6,228.8 feet. Very, VERY different. In fact, it doesn’t even look like Earth. Sometimes it looks more like a cross between the North Pole and rear end of the moon.

“Marty loved it here,” says Rebecca.

Rebecca is Summit Operations Manager for the observatory, and she’s been working alongside Marty for a decade. She remembers when he was just a little kitty.

“I lived at the observatory on rotation for four years. And when I first got there, I’ll admit, I wasn’t a domestic cat person. We had barn cats growing up, that’s not the same thing. But Marty changed all that. We became friends, and Marty made that place feel like a home.”

It’s hard to fathom how anyone could feel homey on top Mount Washington. This mountain is where the world’s worst weather occurs—which is not a figure of speech but a meteorological fact.

It was here where the oldest record for the nation’s coldest temperature was set in 1885, when the thermometer dropped to a whopping 50 below.

The mountain also holds a record for the highest measured windspeed not associated with a tornado, hurricane, or NASCAR cup series. In case you’re wondering, the top speed is 231 miles per hour, which is strong enough to lift an average-sized Buick dealership.

Rebecca is part of an uninterrupted lineage of researchers who have been studying this mountain’s intense weather since the late nineteenth century. The instruments have changed over the last 133 years, from brass-and-teak meters to plastic touch screens. But the lifestyle within this hermitage is still the same.

Observers maintain a round-the-clock schedule that is akin to the life of lighthouse keepers. Or Jesuits. Or the clinically insane.

Because every hour a brave researcher has to go outside into the harsh elements to take weather readings, which are then sent to the National Weather Service. This happens every 60 minutes. No exceptions. No matter what the weather. No matter how dangerous.

“Oh it can be a tough life,” says Rebecca. “Three hundred and sixty-five days per year, 24 hours a day, someone’s up here, going out into the weather, sometimes it’s 40 below, or you get 100 mph gusts. If your skin is exposed, frostbite sets in after only minutes. It can get pretty lonely up there, too.”

Which is where cats come in.

Researchers here have been keeping cats at the observatory since 1932. There have been many felines over the years. But none were like His Royal Highness.

Marty was charismatic, playful, and happy. He was like all good cats. He enjoyed people, affection, and grooming his personal regions before an audience.

When schoolkids visited the observatory, it was King Marty who served as field-trip liaison. And during the brutal nights, when 150 mph icy gusts threatened to rip the observatory from the mountainside, it was His Highness who sat in someone’s lap and purred.

In the mornings, employees would open the back door and let Marty outside. The royal cat would roam his feckless kingdom like a dignitary, greeting loyal subjects, tending to his peasants, and he was always willing to lend a helping paw to a rodent in need.

“He had a good life. I think he knew that he was probably America’s highest feline, elevation-wise.”

One morning last week, employees noticed Marty was behaving differently when they arrived for their shifts. Marty was sluggish, distant, and not acting like himself. Rebecca rushed up the mountain to fetch him. She carried him into the vet’s office, and the news was bad.

When he left this world, he was comfortable in Rebecca’s arms. She stroked his long black fur, spoke sweetly to him, and it all happened too fast.

Losing an animal is unlike any other pain. It stings every bit as much as the death of a family member. When your pet’s eyes close for the last time it feels like being kicked in the sternum. If you’ve ever watched a suffering animal take its final breath within the sterile backroom of a vet’s office, you know what I’m talking about.

The mood at the observatory immediately dimmed. After the weekend, employees arrived at a quiet observatory station and they half expected to see Marty roaming around. But he was nowhere. And although last weekend’s weather was mostly average, it’s never felt so cold in the observatory.

But don’t get me wrong. Rebecca and her coworkers are not gloomy. Marty wouldn’t want that. It wasn’t the way he did things. And besides, there is one distinct privilege that comes with living so high above the Earth, where clouds form icy rivers, and sunlight comes directly from the finger of God; Marty’s new home is only a few feet away.

“He’ll always be king of this mountain,” says Rebecca.

Long live the king.

22 comments

  1. Steve Watkins - November 11, 2020 8:28 am

    Who is Lisa?

    Reply
  2. Leslie in NC - November 11, 2020 11:33 am

    Goodness knows it’s never easy to say goodbye to a fur baby. Sounds like Marty lived a good life on his mountain and I’m sure he knew much love there. My 6-year- old kitty lives with me at 5,500 ft elevation here in North Carolina and she braves the brutal winter weather to go out on our elevated porch to view her kingdom every day.

    Reply
  3. Sandi. - November 11, 2020 12:56 pm

    I wondered the same thing when the name Lisa seemed to apear out of nowhere near the end!

    Reply
  4. Bob Rennick - November 11, 2020 12:58 pm

    I have a saying “people who say it’s just like losing a child, never lost a child”. Otherwise, I like today’s story and all the others. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Barbara - November 11, 2020 1:13 pm

    Imagine my surprise to discover this charming tale about my home state of NH and the royalty who lived in lofty places! Thank you for sharing some details of the peculiar Mt Washington as well as the heartwarming mission of Marty’s life. The conclusion could not have been more endearing.

    Reply
  6. Dana Howard - November 11, 2020 1:47 pm

    Yes, loosing a fur baby is so very hard. They enter our hearts and stay there for eternity.

    Reply
  7. Helen De Prima - November 11, 2020 2:07 pm

    Love this post; on a clear day, we can see Mount Washington from slight elevation near our home in southern New Hampshire. Contrary to popular belief, however, it’s not the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mount Mitchell near Asheville NC, much less dramatic in both appearance and weather lore, wins that distinction by nearly 400 feet.

    Reply
  8. Patti Couger - November 11, 2020 2:19 pm

    Please do a follow-up on the new kitty 🙏🏻

    Reply
  9. Myra - November 11, 2020 2:19 pm

    Loved the story; however, Mount Mitchell in Western NC is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the North East.

    Reply
  10. Jan - November 11, 2020 2:26 pm

    Loved this story! Having just been adopted a couple of months ago by a kitten who found its way to our mountain, I understand this love story. Holding an animal who is just as smitten with you as you are with it is one of the joys of life! Especially during the difficult days of 2020.

    Reply
  11. Jerri Matthews - November 11, 2020 3:03 pm

    Big mistake . Mt, Mitchell in NC is the tallest peak east of the Mississippi. Google it.

    Reply
  12. Connie Faivre - November 11, 2020 5:23 pm

    Beautiful ‘eulogy’ for Marty, King of Mt Washington. Thank you, Sean. You can see a photo of beautiful marty in yesterday’s New York Times article.

    And for those with knickers in a twist about height (!!!), I believe Sean said it’s the highest peak “…northeast of the Mississippi…” which Mt Mitchell (which I’ve been on and love) is most definitely not.

    Reply
  13. Linda Moon - November 11, 2020 5:40 pm

    A story about a cat! My cat, named for an Appalachian mountain, joined my two gingerheads and me for a long visit at the kitchen table last night…..he sat on the floor politely, not on the actual table. And he listened to tales……mostly about trails and hikes and holidays spent in mountains. Mountains, gingerheads, and my two cats are Royalty for me. KINGS, all!

    Reply
  14. Ginny Judson - November 11, 2020 5:54 pm

    Dammit! You made me cry. In public!

    Reply
  15. Berryman Mary M - November 11, 2020 7:23 pm

    I have been up to the Observatory on the top of Mount Washington and it is indeed an inhospitable place! And I was there in July! 55 degree temperature drop from the bottom. I could imagine King Marty surveying his kingdom! I’m sure they will have other cats, but sounds like Marty was one of a kind!

    Reply
  16. Sharon Brock - November 11, 2020 7:23 pm

    I held my Mystic when he took his last breaths and cried for hours afterwards. Rest in peace Marty.

    Reply
  17. thouse1001 - November 11, 2020 7:46 pm

    Darned leaking eyes… Though I’m not a cat person so much (I do like them) this hit home really hard. The two best dogs in my life went, with me there, at the Vet’s. One just this past Spring. Lord, I PRAY there really is a Rainbow Bridge…

    Reply
  18. Allen PhDude - November 12, 2020 4:11 am

    “It’s like being kicked in the sternum.” Yes it is. A year ago and change I said farewell to my cat Jewel in much the same way. She sat on my lap, wrapped in her favorite blanket, and I stroked her long, black, fur as the doctor sedated her. Then she gave my girl the needle that would allow her to cross over to where there would be no more suffering. She was gone before the syringe was empty. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. We had 10 good years together, after she chose me, after her people abandoned her. You better believe I spent all of them spoiling her. I miss her still.

    PhDude

    Reply
  19. Melinda “Lindy” Holmes - November 12, 2020 2:47 pm

    Hi, Sean!!! I cannot say how much I enjoy your daily messages. I found your emails after I read two of your books, and loved them. I share your daily emails with two friends every day (I don’t know why they don’t subscribe themselves – maybe they like getting mail). And I share especially good ones with friends in Mississippi.
    I received a telephone call from the husband of one friend I forward your messages to every day. He is from the Northeast and asked that I contact you to tell you he has hiked Mt. Washington, and it is not the highest point East of the Mississippi River. He says, Mount Mitchell, just north of Asheville is. He’s such a hoot. He loves giving me a hard time. I promised I would notify you. So I have.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing. PS…… my friends and I are authentic “Church Ladies” !!!!

    Lindy Holmes
    Hot Springs, Ar

    Reply
  20. Chasity Davis Ritter - November 12, 2020 8:23 pm

    Awe Marty. I hope when your rainbow bridge in Heaven touches the earth you can still set your paw upon the ground for just a moment and sniff the air before you head back the stairs. I bet being used to those high altitudes Heaven wasn’t a big change for you. I’m sure your gonna be missed and talked about for years to come. And just for today and maybe a little longer another person who didn’t meet you but that has been touched by your story is shedding a few tears for your memory and hoping to meet you one day See ya when I get there 🌈 🐾❤️🙏

    Reply
  21. Tammy S. - November 13, 2020 5:54 am

    😻🧡

    Reply
  22. Jody - November 14, 2020 10:16 pm

    Beautiful story

    Reply

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