Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A place out of time

Although it can lead to long drives and long days, one of the pleasures of my speaking tour to promote Our War is the chance to see new places and meet new people. That was certainly the case Sunday afternoon at the annual meeting of the Lyme Historians, whom I had never heard of until their president invited me.

Lucy Marie and her grandfather
Half the fun was getting there. After I had accepted the invitation, my son and his wife scheduled the baptism of Monique’s and my astonishing granddaughter, Lucy Marie, for that morning. They live in South Portland, Maine, nearly two hours from our home in Concord. Lyme is on the western edge of New Hampshire, at least three hours from Portland.

The baptism was in the Cathedral of St. Luke. Lucy Marie warmed up her voice properly early in the service and provided the sound-effects -- solo, no less -- during the holy rite. She hit her crescendo right on cue, as the priest doused her head. The other two babies, oblivious to what was expected of them, remained silent throughout.

Monique and I had to leave for Lyme right after the service. We were perplexed when the GPS did not take us to I-95, the Maine Turnpike. We are new to the GPS, but after it guided us out of a barren wilderness in west Georgia last winter, in GPS we trust. Sort of. As we followed the monotone prompts, we fended off suspicions that we were headed for Canada. 

The GPS guided us across central Maine and upper-central New Hampshire almost entirely on country roads. In three hours we drove less than a mile on an interstate. It was beautiful, one part nostalgia, one part new, all clothed in the spring green that still prevails just south of the White Mountains.

We entered New Hampshire at Freedom where, when our children were small long ago, we climbed Prospect Mountain. This is no 4,000-footer, but like many of our hikes, it was notable for its high view-to-strain ratio. Farther on, we saw the incisor-like peak of Mount Chocorua, a much harder climb that we made twice with our boys.

As we approached Chocurua on one of those hikes, our middle son Yuri kept falling behind as he stopped to examine the creatures in the small pools on boulders in a marsh. This was a boy who loved showing us the bones in owl scat. This curiosity proved to be a harbinger. He majored in biochemistry in college and is now a cardiologist.

Warren's Redstone rocket
When we passed Squam Lake, we remembered the day a ranger on the fire tower on nearby Red Hill pointed out to us where the Henry Fonda character in On Golden Pond crashed his boat. After driving by signs for Castle in the Clouds, the Loon Center and the Polar Caves, we turned back west. We were just a couple of miles short of Warren, where we had taken the boys one Sunday to see a real Redstone rocket. It stands in a park, as though waiting for some modern-day Alan Shepard to hop aboard. (You can read about its 1971 overland journey from Alabama to Warren here.) 

Then we reached roads we had never driven before, leaving Wentworth and passing Mount Cube Farm in Orford. This was the home of the late, sometimes loony (he wanted to arm the New Hampshire National Guard with nuclear weapons, example) Gov. Meldrim Thomson. The Thomson name is still on nearly everything in the town.

From Orfordville we drove south into Lyme. In a subsequent post (or maybe two) I’ll tell you about the fruits of my two hours with the Lyme Historians, the group that has banded together to learn, preserve and protect the town’s history.

Meanwhile, the trip there was eventful enough to be worth its own post. In so many ways, outwardly at least, this rural, very-north-of-Boston region defies the passage of time. Constancy, tradition and respect for the past are New Hampshire assets. I'm not saying I expected to see the Boys in Blue mustering on the town commons we passed, but they would not have looked out of place.

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