A few years ago, my ambitious younger self signed up for an online travel writing course. I think it's fun to go back and look at old work, in part to compare it to current work - while this isn't bad, I'm happy to say I have improved since then. Here is my homework assignment on Chester, NH, circa 2011:
I am driving home. It is late October and the country-side is still recovering from the affects of Tropical Storm Sandy. The skies are gray and angry looking. Branches and leaves cover the roads. Traffic lights are out at major intersections and whole neighborhoods are dark. Generators are attached to nearly every home on my route.
Bare trees seem to claw at the sky as I turn down the narrow, old road that leads home. On my right is the Exeter River. Chester is the river’s birth place and it is so small here that it’s hard to imagine that downstream is where British sailors used sail to collect trees for masts. Back then, all trees of certain measurements were property of the Crown and hands-off to the locals.
The road follows the infant river upstream, under a canopy of trees. There are all kinds here: pine, white pine, maple, ash, birch, beech, and elm among them. When in full foliage, they are so lush and rich in color that they make it difficult to see more than a few feet into the woods. Right now, the ground is littered with their acorns and pinecones. We use the trees to make predictions about the weather: leaves turn inside out just before rain falls and many acorns promise a long, hard winter.
Nature abounds here. Trees shelter birds and small mammals, and play host to singing tree frogs. Deer and moose, wild turkeys and herons, black bears and bobcats all make their homes in the thick surrounding woods. At night or early morning, they wandered the quiet developments or lounge in the marshy deposits of the Exeter.
Here is a mix of old and new, where a new, stylish home with matching BMWs in the driveway can sit next to a salt box with a run-down barn and a thirty-year-old John Deere. I grew up surrounded by family farms, horses, chickens, cows, and half-acre gardens crammed with squash, corn, and tomatoes. There aren’t any large-scale farms in Chester – these are all gentlemen farmers, people who hold down full time jobs and still make time to muck stalls and bale hay.
Chester is old, with a decent pedigree, and she is a true Yankee. She doesn’t reach out to you with open arms and ply you with pies, but she offers what good Yankee hospitality always does: peace, solace, and freedom of movement under her protective shelter. She rests – and invites you to, as well.
Friends from the Midwest came to visit once and I asked them how they liked New England.
“Your roads are like roller coasters,” they said. “And all these trees! They make me claustrophobic. You can’t see anything around here.”
I outwardly sympathize, but in truth, the old roads and the trees encompass all that I like best about New England: Narrow and winding, sheltered and protected, old and new, and the end always just out of sight.