Though all land erodes, that erosion is never perfect; where harder rocks resist, an isolated mountain or hill called a monadnock can rise above the reduced plain, an unassimilated remnant of the loftier previous geology. The word comes from the Abenaki Indians, with one possible meaning of “mountain that stands alone.” They used it to name the classic example of the formation, a 3,165-foot peak that rises from the flatter lands of southwest New Hampshire. Divorced from any range, it offers spectacular views in all directions; because of that (and its convenience to Boston), Mount Monadnock lures more hikers than any peak on Earth save Mount Fuji. In the climactic chapter of Moby-Dick, Melville describes Ahab as “fairly within the smoky mountain mist, which, thrown off from the whale’s spout, curled round his great, Monadnock hump.”

Bill McKibben