A peak of realism and terror


A painting of Mt. Katahdin, Maine's greatest mountain, from photo-realist Richard Estes's "Realism'' show, opening May 22 at the Portland Museum of Art.

Looking at that gorgeous peak, I think of black flies and beer on a fishing trip to Baxter State Park 45 years ago. And, some years later, hiking Katahdin's scary "Knife Edge,'' with near-sheer cliffs on each side.

On a climbing trip to Katahdin about a decade ago, I noticed how variably physical fear can manifest itself. While I found walking along the "Knife Edge'' nearly terrifying (although every few minutes mitigated by clouds scudding in below us, thus helpfully making it impossible to see just how big the drop was) one of my companions, who had done extensive climbing in the Alps and other high mountains, seemed to display no anxiety.

And yet when the next day we rented a small plane (and its wisecracking Mainiac bush pilot) and flew over the gorgeous peak, our companion seemed terrified.