Touchdown America: Summer in New Hampshire
We were afraid Michael wasn’t going to get into the country. Flying into Boston, the more laid-back airport choice over JFK, we thought we would stand a better chance with his recent passport stamps to Iraq. Somalia. Chad. Not necessarily stamps you want to have during a travel ban.
And now, standing in line behind a hiking group from Montpelier (exhausted but exhilarated after doing the Creux de Van), we brace ourselves for the worst.
Our agent, mildly intimidating with mustache and tinted bifocals, looks at our passports and says, “So, did you name your daughter after the singer? Personally, I’m a Chandelier guy.”
A sigh of relief.“You’re one of the few people who make that connection,” I reply.
We had made it to New England!
New England, code for shimmering orange leaves if you get the timing right, coastlines plush with four pound lobsters, distressed “three bar” baseball hats worn backwards on boarding school kids. At least that was my New England, where I spent summers growing up.
We are headed to Dublin, southwest New Hampshire, the “rebel of the New England States” with the state motto Live Free or Die, where Dad is, where front porch swings and American flags are the setting for conversations about climate change and the future of plastics.
It is also the first of many stops for us, our safe harbor before a year of travel. We are coming home to family, family I live 10,000 miles from and who I miss like I’m in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez epic.
So what do you do in Dublin, New Hampshire?
You combat jet lag at the Monadnock Inn, an 18th century carriage house with creaky stairs and a British-Malaysian caretaker named Christina who serves up bottomless filter coffee and fried eggs, something I’ve secretly missed living over in Europe.
You drive past the blink-and-you-miss it main street consisting of a town hall, church and the totally impressive Yankee magazine headquarters (also owner of the Old Farmers Almanac, the country’s oldest continuously produced periodical).
You order a pretty good vegan kale caesar salad and talk to septuagenarian poets (all published) at Nature’s Green Grocer. Introduce your grandchild to some four-footed friends the Friendly Farm or if you prefer, the 16-footed at the Caterpillar Lab.
Go down the road to Greenborough, the inspiration for Thornton Wilder’s "Our Town”. (Even James Baldwin and Leonard Bernstein were artists-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony up the road.) Stack up on your Tommy Orange and Rosie Revere, Engineer, at Toadstool Books.
And you attempt to hike Mount Monadnock, a 3,165 ft. isolated mountain around what the Monadnock region is situated, and is, according to Dad, the “second most-hiked peak in the world, after Mt. Fuji.” Unfortunately your jet lag and subsequent motivation gets the better of you and you opt for lake-plunging.
But most of all, you spend it with family. Dad has been coming here since he was a kid. It was where he went to camp and learned to sail.
We celebrate Sia’s fourth birthday. My sister, a postpartum doula, drives up from Brooklyn and immediately inserts Luca into one of her many woven baby wraps (he will stay sleeping on her back for the rest of the trip). Our beautiful step-cousins are here from Milan, trilingual and inherently chic.
Michael gives a talk to a packed room, all travel enthusiasts, people possessing a global curiosity and an even greater social grace. They ask about the North Pole, Chad, plastic.
Family, it’s what I cling to, living in Europe, so far away. You cram as much activity and expressions of love into one week as anyone can possibly stomach and then move on to the next. I suppose it’s as much a curse as it is a blessing: having so many people you love, to want to stay with them forever. But we are spread out across the globe, strewn playing cards on the kitchen table.
As you get older, you start to realize (or at least convince yourself) that there are two types of people: the transients and seekers, and the nurturers and home-makers. I’ve learned that I fall into both categories, keeping me in a perpetual, paralyzed sort of dervish. Always looking for that soft place to land.
I suppose it’s these moments-within-the-moments, the sound of the wind between the dizzying expanse of red spruce and yellow birch, those mighty old-growth trees prized by the English Crown for their use as ships masts. The same trees into which, Michael says, “you could definitely disappear as a criminal.” The same woods where Captain John Mason and his tribe of settlers must have felt homesick, a cross-Atlantic longing that got them through the New England winters.
It’s where I would look to God if I believed in one, he would whisper that the state of the world is only temporary, just as we are. Our love, on the other hand, carries on long after we are gone.