Mt. Ellen dominates the Mad River Valley in the Green Mountains of Vermont. In the early 20th century, college students building the Monroe Skyline trail worked for several months on its summit with the Mad River Valley on one side and the massive Lake Champlain on the other side. They were captivated while reading one of their English class texts during work breaks, Walter Scott’s epic poem, Lady of the Lake. At the turn of the 20th Century, this popular poem was widely read and commonly cited by students and the general public.
The student trail builders were so enchanted with the poem, they ascribed the highest point in the range Mt. Ellen, after Ellen Douglas, the heroine of the Lady of the Lake. Today interest in Scott’s poem has almost completely faded and is unknown to most people. However there are some aspects of the poem that continue to speak to us today. For example:
- In an attempt to change his identity after escaping from slavery, Frederick Douglas assumed the Douglas name based upon the advice of a friend who was interested in the poem
- The Ku Klux Klan adopted the symbol of cross burning from Scott’s poem. In the poem, cross burning is used in a non-racial way to signal the need for a meeting among the Scottish clans
- The poem narrates a reconciliation among warring factions. Mt. Ellen is flanked by Stark Mountain and Lincoln Peak, both named for generals in the American Revolution that brought peace to the war torn Mad River Valley
- And finally Ellen has a difficult decision to choose among suitors.
So reflect (re-reflect) on my poem which recognizes the past and is relevant to those who view Mt. Ellen’s beautiful massive today.
Looking at Ellen
Stretching from horizon to horizon, hail to the majestic mountain massive
Lincoln to the left, Stark to the right; generals whose valor is prominently honored
Her now serene flanks presiding over the reconciliation of warring rivals
Crowned by a semi-circle jagged ridge punctuated with deep valley folds
Nature’s elements hewing a tree lined arette interspersed with craggy rocks
Green as their namesake, lime in the spring, forrest shades in the summer
Exploding into browns, yellows and oranges in the fall before turning white in the winter
Looking for the sign of the cross, but finding only squiggly ski slopes etched in the hillside
Watching a deepening social harmony among the valley’s diverse denizens
The competing allure of the bucolic lake on the other side beacons for her gaze
Is she looking back or at the lake?