Left in Andover: Keeping up with Anne Mausolff

By Susan Leader
2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While visiting Middletown Cemetery in Andover this summer, I met a man paying his respects to his dad and son, whose ashes he had scattered guerrilla-style between two boulders where were no gravestones. Both had loved roaming nearby Markham Mountain to hunt, though neither had ever lived in the area. I was an opposite case, having never explored the mountain.

Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s I often drove past my neighbor Anne Mausolff (1923-2014) as this senior mountaineer charged up and down Weston-Andover Road from her home next to the cemetery, fully loaded pack on her back, training for her ‘Northeast 111’ ascents. It was not until she was almost 90 that I dared to tag along with her on a minor local jaunt.

Anne was intrigued with tracing what she called the Jeep Trail, which criss-crossed the steep eastern slope of Markham Mountain. So for one glorious afternoon I chased around the mountain after her, getting a crash course in the use of an altimeter, compass and National Survey topographical maps. We did find remnants of the trail, although neither of us could fathom the attraction of driving around on such steep terrain.

The leather backpack given to the author by Anne Mausolff.

At the end of the day, Anne gifted me a small leather backpack that she had treasured since her childhood boarding school days in the Alps, when she was sent out to wander the forest, solo or in small group.

Around 2005, I joined a local poetry group of which Anne was a long standing member. We often met at her ‘far-out’ octagonal home in the woods, very close to my house in Andover. We were five or six oddly mismatched souls, growing close with one another through the sharing of our creative writing each month. I specialized in snippets about my crazy family. Another member, whose background could not have been more different than mine, shared tales of his youth in high society. Another liked to weave political points into her poems.

Anne had long since made peace with her years cloistered as a nun from age 18-43, preferring to dwell on her spiritual experiences in nature, which she often illustrated or inscribed in calligraphy. She delighted in the natural world in microcosm and in the surprise ending. Here’s one of her classics:

Anne’s poem with illustration.

Swart Mirage

Black head and back above the froth
of the flurries, a dolphin surges,
white belly stark against the dark.
Ancient sea mirage! Mirage of millennia!
Behind a stone wall,
surrounded by tall trunks
and swart evergreens,
a broken tree stumps in the snow.

We bridged our varied backgrounds and became a family over hot tea, homemade goodies and gentle feedback around the circle, each member reading his or her latest poems or story.

Anne’s erudition was breathtaking. It was a deep pleasure to listen in as she and another of our group, a lawyer by day, sparred back and forth over the whole span of European culture and civilization, Latin, Greek and medieval English. Nevertheless, she was invariably kind and encouraging when it came to critiquing another’s work.

The front of Anne’s grave …

My family had gotten to know Anne in the 1970s when she jumped ship from her art librarian position at Smith College and moved to Andover. We admired her as a fearless Nordic skier and outdoor guide. As an octogenarian she was memorialized taking another sort of a jump — off her roof and into a snow bank for the sheer joy of it!

A sign at the entrance to Middletown Cemetery extols:

It has been suggested that this spot was chosen as a burying ground because it was too stony for farming. Most of the graves are cairned or are in stone terraces to get even the minimum depths for 19th Century burials. Elevated above the road, surrounded by magnificent maples [set out in the late 1850s] — it is a lovely spot and invites quiet reflection.

and the back.

Anne’s grave sits on the eastern edge of the cemetery against the woods, within view of her homemade octagonal house. Her ashes are buried within a small wooden replica of it.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. James Stack says:

    Anne called to invite me to participate in the poetry group. It was because of her and this invitation that I wrote more poetry than I ever had. By 2013 I had compiled enough poems, many of which she had read, into a book. I will always remember her fondly, and forever grateful for her friendship.

  2. John Nunnikhoven says:

    I remember a beautiful winter afternoon, covered with fresh snow, and Anne stopping at the Colonial House to invite Betty and me to go for a ski with her. TOO GOOD TO PASS UP. We joined Anne, clipped on our skis and set out for the trail to Viking. It seemed as if Anne took three or four long strides and disappeared into the woods. The last two kids in their 50s saw of that 80+ yo that day. Another story in our relationship with Anne and our participation in her inn to inn ski tours.