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.