Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Yaktrax Nation

You know you live in New Hampshire when you don’t venture to the post office without donning crampons. For those of you who live in warmer climes, crampons are attachments to your footwear that make it possible to keep your footing on ice. The brand of choice is Yaktrax, which according to an online description, makes for “secure travel on snow and ice, such as crossing glaciers, snowfields and icefields, ascending snow slopes, and scaling ice-covered rock.”

No glaciers in our neck of the woods anymore. At least not for the last ten thousand years, when there used to be a mile high glacier where my 18th century house now stands. But there is a lot of ice in New Hampshire. There are ice houses, ice boats, and even colorful ice castles a little north of us in Woodstock. The other day I saw a family picnicking with a blanket on the ice on Squam Lake. I heard that some people skated all the way to Holderness (the next town over) on the lake recently.

There is ice on the roads, ice on the driveways, and ice on the sidewalks – where there are sidewalks. In our town the only sidewalk is a short stretch in the middle of the village, which gives the illusion of civilization to those who come to the Nordic ski competitions or the sled dogs races. The Chinook breed of sled dogs, which are known from Admiral Richard Byrd's Antarctic expeditions, were bred in Wonalancet, just north of us. (A friend of ours, John Dyer, was the radioman on Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition, but that’s another story.)

But these days, climate change cancels the sled dogs races more often than not. Nordic Ski races were held in the rain last weekend. These days you seldom see the mercury dip below zero, and then only for a few days. It was downright balmy last weekend. The snow in our yard has melted down to only half a foot or so. But there is another snowstorm in the forecast for this week. (There is always another storm in the forecast.)

The good thing about living in a small town in New Hampshire is the people. We cannot walk to the post office without bumping into a half dozen people we know along the way. That means a conversation with each one. The daily mail run becomes an hour long visitation with friends and neighbors. We stop in at some friends’ home for a few minutes to admire their new pellet stove. I stop to talk to the local pastor or police chief.

We went to eat at the nearby diner in Moultonborough the other day and ended up visiting with six different couples and singles. Now that we have been attending church in that town for a couple of years, we have gotten to know some people there as well. So we always see people we know when on outings to restaurants, grocery store or doctor’s office.

My wife and I were talking the other day about how blessed we are to live in a town where people know your name. (It feels like we are living in an episode of Cheers.) It helps that I was the pastor of the community church here for many years. I would not want to live anywhere else. Sure, Florida is nice for a little break in the middle of the winter – so we can thaw out and feel our toes again – but you can’t beat rural New England for a sense of community.

“What do you find to do up there?” people ask. More than you think. There is music and theatre and countless outdoor recreational activities in summer and winter. There are community meals, social action committees, book reviews, and storytelling. Then there is politics. In presidential primary years, you can’t walk down the main street of some New Hampshire towns without bumping into a grinning candidate. We live a little off the campaign trail, so we normally have to travel a half hour to meet the next president.

The scenery is fantastic. The mountain vistas and clear lakes take away our breath every day. But the best thing about a small New Hampshire town remains the people. They are friends. They are family – literally. Our son and his family presently live within walking distance, which means we see two of our grandchildren regularly. They just bought a house on a dirt road nearby, so it seems they like rural life also.  

The folks in this town are Yankees, which is a breed that flatlanders do not understand. We can be eccentric. We may disagree on things, a fact which is on display every March at town meeting. But we respect each other and would do anything for each other. That itself is worth the trouble of donning crampons every time we go out the front door.

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