Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Let's Start At the Very Beginning
Because it's a very good place to start.
Up, Back, and Away opens with Miles staring down a ski trail on Ashburton Mountain which is located in far northern Vermont.
In case you were wondering, Ashburton Mountain is fictional - but it is based on a real Vermont mountain, quite close to the Canadian border. (If you know anything about Vermont's ski resorts - or about me - you can probably figure out without too much trouble what mountain I had in mind. It's pretty much my favorite place in the world. We'll save its true identity for another day).
Of course, holy mountains have always been a feature of the human story and Miles is following in the footsteps of the world's great mystical seekers in his own small way when he goes up Ashburton at the command of the mysterious Gypsy.
The Bible is full of stories of people being told to go to this place, do this thing, wait for this man, find this rock etc. I was also inspired in that opening scene by a thousand myths and fairy tales where the rules are laid down very specifically and must be followed if the promised magic is to happen. Like the mysterious witch who tells the soldier in "The Tinder Box" to set down her apron before the three strange dogs guarding the treasure chests filled with copper, silver and gold in order to pacify them. Or in Spirited Away, the great film by Hayao Miyazaki, where the heroine is told by her magician guide not to breathe as she passes over a certain bridge or else her spell of invisibility will be broken. There are a thousand such examples. Rules matter in fairy stories and Up, Back, and Away is, at least partly, a fairy story.
But back to Ashburton Mountain. I chose the name "Ashburton" because it features in an important, if dusty, corner of American and English history. In 1842, the United States entered into a treaty to settle boundary issues between the United States and the "Possessions of Her Britannic Majesty in North America" (a/k/a "Canada"). The treaty was signed by United States Secretary of State Daniel Webster and British diplomat Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton. It is, not surprisingly, known as the Webster-Ashburton treaty.
Our family owns an old farm in Vermont that crosses over the border and includes some 20 acres of land in Canada. If it weren't for Webster-Ashburton, our old farmhouse would likely be located in Canada! The United States famously built a fort on Lake Champlain in Canadian territory 1816 because of a surveying error. It was known as Fort Blunder and you can see it plainly today when you drive across the bridge to Rouses Point, New York.
From the top of Ashburton Mountain, you could see well into the Province of Quebec. Of course Miles only goes three quarters of the way up the Mountain in his search for the Birch Gate and he has no particular interest in how the Mountain got its name, but I do and I thought you might be interested as well.