We arrived in New Hampshire on June 6 after a leisurely 12-day and 2,600 miles trip from Las Cruces. This road trip, taken at a much more reasonable pace, provided the opportunity to observe the landscape and the raw majesty of this land. Starting in the high desert of New Mexico, passing through the drought-stricken and dusty panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma and east of Tulsa, we had our first sighting of the hardwood forests and gentle rolling hills that are hallmarks of the 100th meridian and the start of the Great Plains. This served as a pre-cursor of the deeper and more expansive hardwood stands and the dramatic river valleys of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri where the abundance of rainfall created a towering green canopy punctuated with the bright splashes of sunlit fields, now dizzy with wild phlox. These are the serendipitous encounters with the early summer beauty that occur when moving more slowly across the country.
We crossed the Mississippi River, this time at St. Louis, and we were again back “east”. We stopped overnight in Terre Haute, Indiana on the last day of May. I spend the first 2 years of my long and often winding road of undergraduate education at Saint-Mary-of-the Woods College, then an all-women’s Catholic college (it has since turned co-ed). The campus was particularly glorious in the afternoon sunlight and it was both haunting and comforting to be making this pilgrimage to a place that was so formative in my young adult life. I lighted votive candles in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the campus (shown in the second image here below), speaking the names of some most dear to me. I can feel the sacredness of this place founded in 1840 by the 42 year-old French nun, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. I imagine this woman and her troupe of five sisters, traveling by ship, steamboat and stagecoach for 2 months from France arriving in the Indiana wilderness in 1838 with the idea of opening a convent, an academy for girls, and ministering to the needs of the sick and of orphans. Her perseverance in the face of overwhelming physical, financial and organizational challenges, (including a Bishop who once ex-communicated her defying him), inspired me then and now. I am cherishing these four images here from that glorious day.
We stopped for 2 nights at the Mothership (Airstream central in Jackson Center, Ohio) for our annual tune-up on T2. All went well and there were no surprises which, for a 2015 trailer which has been towed 90,000 miles and is lived in 24/7, is great news. We drove county roads and state highways through the rolling farm land of Ohio, Pennsylvania and central New York State before climbing up the Green Mountains in Vermont and cruising down the east side for our first peak at the iconic Mount Monadnock from the viewing platform at Hogback Mountain along Route 9 in Wilmington, Vermont. We landed at the campground and I want to share some of the experiences we have had here because they illuminate our full-timing life.
After 8 years on the road, we find a trip to the storage area we are still renting both liberating and deeply reflective. It’s like walking into a museum of our lives. When we left in 2014, we managed to free ourselves of 90% of our stuff but that last 10% has taken on a life of its own. What stories wait quietly in the photo albums that fill 3 large U-Haul boxes? We discovered 3 oversized flat boxes holding the original art work that we didn’t sell, thinking maybe someday we would have a tiny house and its presence would fill the walls. We found one each of the western chairs, hall table and bar stools with tooled leather seats and tops designed by our friend and western artist, Buckeye Blake. These date back to the early 1990s when we had our furniture company, Due West. Our lives were so different back then when we were living out our dream of bringing livable art into practical settings. The hand-carved candlesticks, shown below, that we purchased from a master woodcarver in California sit in the archives waiting patiently for their new life.
I found one box filled with samples of some of the best things we produced for clients during the years we owned our advertising/marketing company in the early to mid- 2000s. They might as well be footprints from a giant sloth discovered during an archeological dig in White Sands, New Mexico. The discovery was both awesome and curious – relics from a distant past. We encountered a file cabinet and emptied its contents into a large duffle bag which is heading for the anonymity of the shredder, no longer defensible in the storage space. Museum curators must sometime be rigorous.
We spent days visiting family and friends. The grandchildren who live here in New Hampshire, like the ones in Florida, have mysteriously morphed into young adults, a fact that becomes more obvious and more convincing in person. A random collection of my siblings and I managed to journey last week to my mother’s home in Peterborough where she reigns, staying in the house where she and my father lived when they sold our childhood home on Long Island and moved to New Hampshire in the mid-1980s. This remarkable woman will be 99 years old in July and she continues to live there alone, 9 years after my Dad’s passing.
We caught up with one of Peter’s oldest friends whom we haven’t seen in 15 years. After five hours of visiting and eating and laughing and reminiscing we vowed to repeat the reunion but in a shorter time frame, aware of the fragility of any decades-out planning for septuagenarians. On another day, a leisurely noontime lunch with another friend melted into mid-afternoon with effortless conversation. “This is what retired people do”, our friend joked as we wrapped up our time together, stiffly lifting ourselves out of the comfortable chairs and heading to the restrooms.
On our last full day in town we ran into a collection of friends quite by accident in between two scheduled meet-ups. We started off the day with coffee with Peter’s oldest son who was running an errand for us. Then, we serendipitously encountered people from the entire timeline of my time in the Monadnock region stretching back to 1975. One couple, who I last saw back in 2003, are now 80 and I’m seeing that octogenarian mile-marker in a completely new light. Another woman had been the dental hygienist when my son was in first grade (he is turning 45 this year) and I haven’t crossed paths with her for a decade or more. A third person was the former boyfriend of one of our employees during our years owning the advertising/marketing company. How easily the years have slipped like rain drops into the rivers of memory.
We ended the time talking with our one of our granddaughters who is a rising senior at Saint Lawrence College and is just back from a life-changing study-abroad experience in Copenhagen which opened doorways to multiple other excursions around Europe. What a gift of joy and love and hope Peter and I both received after the all-too-brief time with her. The world is in very good hands if we boomers have the good sense to get out of the way, open the doors and windows, and let the winds of change freshen up and enliven the place.
One of the joys of being back in New Hampshire includes easy access to great ice cream. New Englanders are known for being picky when it comes to ice cream and while Peter and I have experienced some wonderful ice cream elsewhere in our travels (most recently Salt and Straw in California) our heart is with the local ice cream shops like Kimball Farms and Walpole Creamery, right here in the Monadnock region. Real maple walnut ice cream, made with maple syrup, still brings tears to my eyes. This trip we have repeatedly indulged in the long-standing summer evening tradition of going out for ice cream after a full day. The simple ritual feels particularly poignant this year after the long bout of shut-downs and shut-ins and separation from one another.
I feel particularly thankful for this visit which, like the New Hampshire summer itself, is always too brief. The past year brought its share of health challenges for both of us. My eye sight and vision continues to improve after my cataract surgery in late April so I am especially delighted to experience the glory of peonies, and the tail end of the lilac season here in the northeast. Peter continues to re-gain his strength and stamina after his second knee replacement in July, jealously guarding his walking routine and his resistance bands. This week, we finally released our bicycles which had been in storage for a couple of years. It was time to donate them. Our local bike shop will refurbish them and then see they get to the local homeless shelter where they will be put to essential use.
We headed back west on June 19, starting our 6-week and 3,500 mile-trip to our August volunteer position at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington state. There, we’ll be hosts at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. But first, after leaving New Hampshire, we will be stopping for a few days to visit our dear friends in upstate New York. While there, we will most likely find time to enjoy the local favorite ice creams from Pittsford Farms Dairy. After all, it’s what you do in New England in the early summer.
Peter and Liz are still living on the road after 8 years in their Airstream, T2. This year, they are continuing to find new adventures while cherishing each and every stop.