Just like the water-tower graffiti says, yesterday the dog and I went Back Again to Beech Hill. Just like the first time we hiked up Beech Hill, there was an SUV parked by the gated path off Chapman Road that leads up to the ridgetop where the local cable company maintains its antennae and satellite dishes. Just like the first time the dog and I hiked up Beech Hill, it was a chilly Sunday morning; just like the first time we hiked up Beech hill, we paused by the municipal water tower to take photos of graffiti tags, the remnants of youthful hijinks. This time up Beech Hill, though, this graffiti (and the usual dispiriting assortment of post-hijinks litter) was the only sign of antisocial activity: instead of finding an illicit tent pitched at the site of Beech Hill’s west-facing vista, this time up Beech Hill the dog and I saw only one other person, the owner of that parked SUV who had hiked atop the ridge to take some photos.

It was a lovely day yesterday to take aerial photos of Keene:

On the right-hand side of the first photo, you can see the “double spires” of downtown Keene: the white steeple of the Congregational Church in Central Square, and the brown spire of the Methodist Church on Court Street. In the second picture, you can see the green-leafy neighborhood where I rent a first-floor apartment in a little pink house: can you see it? And in the final picture, toward the left, you can see another view of Mt. Monadnock, the Grand Dame who overlooks town with an unwavering presence in both cloud and clear.

You’ll notice that Keene is green and leafy these days–Beech Hill itself is covered with trees–but this hasn’t always been so. In this 1877 map of Keene, you’ll see lots of houses, mills, and other buildings…but very few trees. (Click here for an enlarged view of this map.) This historical rendition of Keene shows an east-facing view of town: the same as that offered from the Horatio Colony Preserve, which I enjoyed back in May. At the top edge of this nineteenth-century map, you can see the ridge that includes Beech Hill…and you’ll notice it’s only stubbled (not covered) with trees. Although people in the “olden days” presumably lived closer to nature than we do now, they also used more firewood, timber, and other close-at-hand forest resources: whereas today the hilly outskirts of Keene are forested, in the nineteenth century they had been cleared.

It’s been a long while since Jesus walked the earth in the flesh… Maybe that’s why I keep looking for signs of God in the chalktalk around New England. If God is watching the earth from above, even more aloof than Madame Monadnock, and if the only time God set foot ’round these parts, way over in Jerusalem, was some two thousand years ago, how the heck can we expect him to recognize the place? Nope, I prefer my God in-the-flesh, on earth as he is in heaven. In fact, I’d like to think that God has traded his rainbow-hued chalk for a handful of spray-paint cans, that it was Divinity himself who cared enough for even our basest bodily functions that he’d come Back Again to remind us that cleanliness is next to godliness no matter where (or in which century) you live.

    Thanks to Armand from Moleskinerie for helping to spread the word that God is out and about making his Divine Presence known all over town. Maybe we could start a God Squad that would track and map such sightings of the Absolute, proof that although Elvis might have left the building, the celestial King has not.