New Hampshire and Massachusetts

Sunset on Lake Ivanhoe - photo by Ron Nottebart
From Portland, Maine, it was necessary to drive a wild zigzag pattern of country roads to head west toward New Hampshire where I'd be staying for the next couple of days. The blacktops through the ancient and storied woods wove and forked and intersected and every so often roundabouted, and were the polar opposite of the gridded roads I'd driven through the Iowa cornfields. The arcane route necessitated an elaborate list of driving cues writ large on the whiteboard I keep in the front seat of my car for just such a purpose. My drive soon took on the fun and challenge of a puzzle or a game - how well could I execute the multitude of steps necessary for the completion of my mission?  The day was pleasant and the scenery just what I'd been missing from Canada - lots and lots of trees and every so often an interesting little town.

Less than a half hour after crossing into New Hampshire, I rolled to a stop on the luxuriant bed of pine needles covering my hostess Joanne Nottebart's tree-lined driveway.  Joanne is a wonderfully funny and plucky woman who just happens to be my good friend Ron's mom. I've had the pleasure of getting to know her over the years at rendezvous of this exact sort and I was looking forward to having some time to chat with her. Joanne passes her summer months in a comfortable and neatly appointed cottage perched a short distance from the shores of mighty Lake Ivanhoe near East Wakefield.  I say lake, but the locals actually refer to it as a "pond" due to its modest size. I do think it merits a mighty in the swimming department though!

Photo by Cathy Nottebart
Before yet another half hour had elapsed, I was in my bathing suit, floating in the rejuvenating green waters, delighting in the perfect balance of cool-but-not-too-cool water to warm, dry, moving air.  My only distraction was to reach up every now and then and take a swig of the rum and Coke that was waiting for me on the pier. Let's see...life very hard today...check!

Oh, and even sadder - did I mention that my pal Ron (he and his wife Cathy had arrived just the day before) is a really good cook?  After porpoising about in the lake to my heart's content, the next imposition forced upon my time was to sit down to a magnificent dinner of perfectly roasted lamb with homemade mint sauce and all sorts of other tasty trimmings. What a decadent day!

Thursday morning I got to enjoy the rare pleasure of riding along as a passenger when Ron drove Cathy and me out the lovely Kancamagus Highway through New Hampshire's White Mountains.  There are a number of very picturesque pullovers along the Kanc's 26 mile length and Ron selected a few of his favorites for us to explore more fully.  Our first stop was the serenely lush Sabbaday Falls.

Walking along the trail to the falls, we discovered all sorts of wonderful flourishes of nature: mosses, pine cones, ferns, water bugs and mushrooms to name a few - it was a real treasure hunt of a hike. The dense canopy of foliage obscured any sign of the bright fall sunshine just overhead with the dramatic exception being an occasional beam of light pouring down from an invisible opening in the leafy ceiling as if to spotlight a single aspect of the forest floor.  This unusual milky white fungus wore a stunning necklace of dew drop jewels where the sun touched it:  

We next popped into an area called Rocky Gorge to take a look at a spectacular array of boulders that constrict and sculpt the rushing waters of the Swift River.  It's a place where water and rock interact on a grand and impressive scale.  Posted at the entrance to the bridge over the gorge is a sign relating the riveting tale of one Dorothy Sparks, trapped beneath a Rocky Gorge waterfall gasping for life for well over 3 hours on an October day back in 1942.  As far as warning signs go, I have to say it was an extremely effective discouragement, which is good because it really is a tempting area to try and dip some part of your body into.  

Not far from the gorge lies the enchanting Falls Pond, tucked away on one of the bends of a trail that snakes off through the White Mountain National Forest.  When we emerged into the clearing around the pond, the water had created an enormous mirror, doubling the broad swathes of vivacious green and sublime blue.  Ron and Cathy both managed to take pictures that I just love that beautifully represent the gorgeousness of the place, I however took crappy photos that aren't worth sharing:

Photo by Ron Nottebart
Photo by Cathy Nottebart
We made one last quick stop to check out a quaint covered bridge and hop across some rocks sticking up in the shallow edges of the river and by then we'd drunk in enough pastoral beauty for the day.  It was time to get back to the cabin and begin preparing our fabulous lobsta dinner - and I do mean lobsta!

Joanne and Ron worked in efficient tandem preparing a huge steaming pot on a propane burner outside.  Cathy and I looked on with amazement at the whirl of activity and occasionally attempted to straighten a fork or fluff up the pot holders so as to try and feel useful.  Into the pot of luxuriant steam went fresh, fresh, fresh lobsters, huge steamer clams and sweet summer corn.  When the treasures were plucked from beneath the billowing clouds of vapor a short while later, I was reminded that the bright orange of a steamed lobster's shell is one of my favorite colors of all - as orange as orange can be.

We had a spectacular feast.  Huge clams slathered in melted butter, giant chunks of orange flecked lobster flesh slathered in melted butter and sweet summer corn, slathered in butter.  I think the theme is obvious.

After clearing away the butter besotted remnants of our dinner and washing down the seafood slicked surfaces of the table, we sat down to relax by the light of the forest fire lamps and tell ghost stories and war stories and tales of romance, because we were at camp, after all.  We yakked until the frequency of our yawns indicated we should retire.  The sounds of the Indian summer night coming through the screens on the open windows lulled me right to sleep. If I'd been able to stay awake just a little longer, I would have been able to hear the calls of a solitary loon searching for her mate, but too bad! I had sleeping to do.

Friday morning Ron gave me a tour of the family shop building out back because it's always fascinating to me to see how other people organize their things (or not).  While I was happily poking around, I found a set of four hand-painted ceramic Tiki heads pushed to the back of a dusty shelf and when I remarked how much I liked them, Ron informed me (and Joanne later confirmed) that they were destined for the trash heap and I could save them from certain doom were I to take them with me.  Yahooo!  I absolutely love them.  No telling how I'll end up using them. but it'll be something grand.  We subsequently discovered that Ron had in fact painted one of the four (the one with the black face and blue accents) when he was a teenager - which made my Tiki head booty even cooler.

As I worked to ready the car for my imminent departure, Ron prepared another delicious and deeply satisfying meal - real Yankee hot dogs.  The ones with a casing that snaps when you bite into them and that burst open on the grill when you're cooking them.  I love a good hot dog and these were the real thing.

After properly stowing the Tiki heads, polishing off a few super-tasty hot dogs and saying some fond farewells, I zoomed off through the trees headed south toward a curious destination in Salem (New Hampshire) referred to as "America's Stonehenge."  The site features a number of hand built stone structures that are undeniably pieces of human architecture but because of the place's varied and colorful usages during the last two centuries, the owners aren't really able to say with absolute certainty who built what or when.  Carbon dating of charcoal fragments from the site suggests humans were there at least a couple of thousand years ago, but then a zealous owner in the 1800s moved things around and sold off and quarried a good bit of the stone from the site, and completely muddied any archeological record that might have been present.

Perhaps due to its mysterious origins, the New Age movement has embraced America's Stonehenge as a sacred space.  It could also be due to the staggering number of low rock walls that snake around the 30+ acre property marking an elaborate and accurate celestial calendar (hence the Stonehenge association).  All of which is helpfully etched into a diagram located near the sacrificial altar. But the fervor of the New Agers simply adds to the deliciously complex flavor if you ask me.  We human certainly love a story, don't we?

It was a hot and airless afternoon though, even in the shade, so I soon tired of the cognitive gymnastics I'd been performing on the piles of rocks and was ready to head on to nearby Byfield, Massachusetts where I'd be staying the next couple of days with my brother-in-law Steve and his family. The short 48 hours I spent with them was a pleasant whirl of talking, eating and kayaking.  It's so easy and stimulating to converse with the Massachusetts Schades - Steve, Trish, Dean and Ian.  I really enjoyed the good long stretches of conversation we got to share and feel lucky to have such appealing folks in my extended family.  I had a reservation for a dungeon in upstate New York for Sunday night, though and our visit was soon concluded.

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