Winter is the time of year that tests one’s love of this land of old, weathered mountains, vast evergreen forests, and rocky seashores. And when I say rocks, I mean gigantic ones, piled all along the Maine coast in particular. You can build only so many ski resorts, stack only so many cords of firewood, and pull only so many fish and lobsters from the frigid sea to pull a profit out of such places at this time of year. Steady employment is pretty hard to find in this northland abutting Canada. Many residents of these states survive on seasonal, warm-weather jobs at resorts, tourist cabins, fishing camps and the like. But just as hardy people have stuck it out on the icy winter plains of North Dakota in the Midwest, people who have these north woods in their blood love it too much to leave. Somehow, year after year, they get by.
Green and More Green
As in southern New England, tourism – including those ski resorts – has become a lifeline in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In no other region are bed-and-breakfast inns more plentiful and in demand, especially during picturesque “leaf season” in the fall. Whereas tourists mosey around the southern New England states in search of historical and cultural landmarks like whaling museums, colonial-style villages, monuments and other remnants of the American Revolution of the late 18th Century, visitors seek out the North Country for its scenery, snow, and wildlife – including moose, brown bears, mink, bobcats, river otters and eastern coyotes.
Visitors come in search of simple serenity as well.
|This is Ruth and Wimpy’s lobster shack in Hancock, Maine. And the red fellow in the foreground is “Wilbur"|
This may be the hard-edged land of flannel shirts and chest waders, but inside some of the simple cabins from which you see fireplace smoke curling are some of the nation’s finest restaurants. Northern New England even sports an internationally renowned school for chefs. At the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, young people pay handsomely for the chance to work at the bottom rung of the food-service business, from chopping greens to scraping bread crumbs off guests’ tables, in hopes of someday becoming master chefs. Their laboratories are real-life restaurants in Essex and the state capital of Montpelier. There, they do almost 90 percent of the work in the kitchen – the “back of the house” as it’s called in the trade – as well as the lion’s share of the serving out front. Talk about a good deal for restaurateurs!
So fine is the food and enthusiastic the service that many patrons would never know they are exhibits in a culinary classroom save for one little detail that cannot slip their notice:
Tipping is not allowed.
Fragile Ecosystem Preserved
In my last post, I mentioned the ecology theme of the Rose Island Lighthouse down in Rhode Island. Environmental tourism is even stronger up north. Most of the visitors to an Atlantic Ocean salt marsh once known as Laudholm Farm, near Wells, Maine, for instance, stow their litter and are careful to keep to the footpath as they peer at wetland bogs, migratory birds and marsh animals. This is the land of Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and nature writer whose book Silent Spring launched an environmental movement so strong that it led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other toxic pesticides.
|This is the beautifully preserved milking barn at Laudholm Farm on an estuarine salt marsh in Maine|
That’s less of a problem during our present economic troubles, of course, since fewer speculators are building condos and fewer consumers are buying them.
The northeasternmost state in the nation’s upper-right-hand corner, Maine was part of a much larger Massachusetts until 1820. It is almost as large as the other five New England states combined but holds only 9 percent of the region’s population.
|You want rocky? Here’s one view of Maine’s rocky coastline, which wiggles in and out of the sea|
Down and Back and Down Again
|At the end of one of Maine’s innumerable little peninsulas, you’ll find Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Check out the layers of granite to see why the beacon protected many a mariner from a shipwreck|
|Check out how hard it is to see this moose cow on a clear day. Try spotting it on the road on a foggy night|
No wonder Mainers, with their famously wry humor, sometimes call their state “The Next to Last Frontier” – barely conceding that Alaska, far, far away to the west, is the last.
Which reminds me of another Maine tale to go with the one from the last posting:
Question: When is summer in Maine?
Answer: The Fourth of July.
Now naturally, the state does get a whiff of warm air for a few more days than that, but it’s not a blessing. The wind blows in mosquitoes the size of condors and blood-sucking black flies that only a werewolf could love.
Wild Places and Things
If you want to see Maine’s seals up close – and there are five varieties, including harp, hooded, and ringed – or a lobster anywhere but in a tank or in chunks at the end of your fork, you’ll have to take a lobster-boat excursion. Two layers of sweaters advised.
On it, you’ll get an inkling of the backbreaking work of a lobsterman, who must set and haul up traps from dawn till dusk. And you’ll learn invaluable things about the creatures, including the fact that they smell with their leg hairs. I’m not sure that this information could be of any practical use, but you never know.
|This is a view from atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Below in the distance is swanky Bar Harbor|
You’ll recall that I said that New Englanders practice a studied wariness, and that’s nowhere more true than in Maine. Mainers are still sizing up people years after they move to the state, and you may never be accepted as true “Mainiacs.” “Just because your cat has kittens in the oven,” goes the explanation, “you wouldn’t call them biscuits.”
I say this and have observed it. Yet Maine, which calls itself “Vacationland,” is delighted to accept all the tourist dollars it can get. It’s just when people come and never leave that there can be tensions.
You’ll Need Boots
|Montpelier, Vermont, at 8,000 people, is the nation’s smallest state capital. One of the coldest, too, as you can guess by looking at it|
|Only the little sign off to the right would give away the identification of this pretty little building in Freeport, Maine, as a McDonald’s restaurant|
What does one do for fun in Maine? There are lobster bakes, lighthouse tours, snowmobiling trips and organized moose-picture safaris. I kid you not. In Maine, drivers are advised to watch out first for automobiles, then for moose, unless it’s dark, when the order is reversed. Adult moose are darker, taller and weigh as much as many cars.
That’s Vermont. No, New Hampshire
|This is New Hampshire. Or is it Vermont?|
I asked web guru Anne Malinee how many Americans out of 10 would know which is which.
“Half,” she said.
“No way,” I protested. “I’d be surprised if three out of 10 would know New Hampshire from Vermont if only the outlines appeared.”
“I meant half a person”! she replied. One-half of one person in 10 might know them apart, presumably excluding most who live there. Anne is from Kansas, a long way away. So count her among those who are never sure. I’ve been to both states several times, and I still get them confused unless they’re clearly labeled.
So pay attention!: New Hampshire is the one with the skinny “handle” at the top, and it’s the only state to border Maine. That’s possible only because a tiny bump of New Hampshire sticks out eastward to the Atlantic Coast, barely separating Maine from Massachusetts below. Yet the 21 kilometers of New Hampshire’s Atlantic shoreline offer a great deal. There’s a quiet, state-owned swimming beach. Then an old-fashioned amusement beach with a five-kilometer boardwalk that includes a “casino” – the old fashioned word not for a gambling house but an entertainment arcade and ballroom.
|In Portsmouth harbor, these three-thousand-horsepower tugboats await assignments to tow ships up the Piscataqua River|
Ever since the first mountain climbers showed up in 1640 to test a peak called Mount Washington – and more on it in a little bit –, New Hampshire has had a bemused tolerance of tourists. Artists hung out at the foot of that mountain, founding an entire “Bretton Woods School.” More about Bretton Woods to come, too.
|Every unusual building is fair game for tourists’ cameras, including this old train station in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The town simplified the name from the original “Wolfeborough” many years ago|
A Frugal Lot
The ‘Live Free” motto is attributed to Revolutionary War general John Stark, and it was picked up by William Loeb, editor of the arch-conservative Union Leader newspaper in the state’s largest city, Manchester. In part because of Loeb’s influence, New Hampshire has voted Republican much more often than Democratic in statewide and presidential elections. One of its rural counties on the Maine border has even been the most reliably Republican in presidential voting in the nation.
Our new, liberal Democratic president, Barack Obama, just nominated U.S. Senator Judd Gregg to be his secretary of Commerce, even though Gregg is a Republican. And to get him, the president had to get New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, to agree to appoint another Republican in Gregg’s place.
|What’s so special about this New Hampshire liquor store? It’s the prices. People drive there from all over the Northeast to stock up, because prices are so low. In part, that’s because the state charges no sales tax|
|The lush forests of upper New England are dotted with cozy little lakes like this one|
Opulence in the Highlands
The largest and most lavish of the White Mountains resorts was the Mount Washington Hotel, which overlooks the long, unspoiled Bretton Woods Valley at the foot of the Presidential Range.
|The setting of the regal Mount Washington Hotel is almost breathtaking|
Whole families – or at least the women, children, and household servants – “summered” there for generations. (Fathers stayed on the job in the cities, perhaps dropping in at the resorts for a long weekend or two.) Arriving in first-class Pullman cars or private railroad coaches, guests were greeted by a coachman and then the same solicitous general manager and maitre ‘d hotel who had waited on them the previous year. “Seeing and being seen was the name of the game” for these grand hotels’ clientele, many of whom came from a prominent listing of the top 400 members of the nation’s mercantile gentry, according to White Mountains historian Edward Camara Jr. “It was one of the reasons you went there, to promenade down the long porch to dinner or through the lobby to the ballroom.”
Come wintertime the staffs – and several of the guests – of these northlands resorts would simply move south to “winter” in similarly opulent style in Florida.
|Here’s another view of the Mount Washington, with a bit of the flair from the days when it and other grand North Country resorts attracted the East’s elite|
It was at the Mount Washington Hotel in 1944 that the New Hampshire mountains met the world. With the outcome of World War II still much in doubt, the United States invited world leaders to the Bretton Woods Conference to formulate postwar economic plans. Two results: a world monetary fund and a new world bank.
Low but Famous Vote Totals
|This is Franconia Notch, one of New Hampshire’s few routes through the White Mountains|
If Boston is the informal capital of the southern New England states, Mount Washington and all it surveys could be called the locus of the northern ones. “Agiocochook,” as the native Abenaki Indians called it, was not only the centerpiece of the eastern American alps, it was, to them, also home to the Great Spirit. For sure, at 1,917 meters, what would later be called Mount Washington was the highest point east of the Mississippi River and north of the Carolinas.
Bring Mittens. Lots of Them
|This is the old observatory building atop Mount Washington, coated with “rime,” a form of ice caused by the deposit of super-cooled fog droplets whipped by howling winds|
In one of the funniest silent “shorts” I have ever seen, a man emerges from the observation tower on Mount Washington in what is obviously a howling gale. He is carrying a box of cereal flakes, a bottle of milk, and a bowl. He sits at a table, which has been anchored to the deck, sets the bottle of milk down, holds the bowl tightly on the tabletop, and attempts to pour his flakes. As you can imagine, they fly off in the distance the moment they leave the box, perhaps fluttering clear to Canada or Maine on the jet stream.
But the conditions up high did not keep entrepreneurs from building, at more comfortable elevations, all manner of cabins, tourist inns and, eventually, luxurious hotels from which to admire the mountain and the adjoining peaks of the Presidential Range. When railroad lines finally broke through the rugged mountains in 1875 – New Hampshire’s not called the “Granite State” for nothing – the rush was on. Not of settlers, but of those wealthy visitors seeking the fresh mountain air. Soon, horse-drawn coaches were struggling their way upward, along the gorges, until they reached the summit of Mount Washington. And just as at Pikes Peak in the Colorado Rockies years later, automobiles soon tested the serpentine path as well. The first race was won by F. O. Stanley and his wife, driving a six-horsepower “Locomobile” in 1899.
Things are Looking Up Here
|Two Mount Washington cog railway engines push coaches up the mountain. Each coach requires its own funny-looking locomotive, and the trip is very, very slow|
In one of the most dramatic sections along the cog railway’s route, called “Jacob’s Ladder” – a reference to a ladder to Heaven in the Biblical book of Genesis – the track inclines at a 37.41-degree grade on its wooden trestle. That’s about the angle of your arm if you pointed to a bird, high in a nearby tree.
The trips, in old-fashioned passenger cars into which smoke and cinders routinely fly, are powered by steam locomotives whose drive power transfers to two cog wheels that catch the track as they ascend or descend the mountain. Astoundingly – are you ready for this? – the engine and passenger coaches are not coupled. That’s because the engine pushes, rather than pulls, the cars up the mountain. Coming down, the coaches usually do not even touch the engine. They work on their own braking system that handles the coach’s own weight.
Off to the west, neighboring Vermont has its north-south range – the Green Mountains. Considered the oldest mountains in New England, they wore down over geologic time to become a much more gradual, less imposing range than New Hampshire’s Whites.
Refinement Found Here
|The owners of a company that made “palace cars” for grand railroads kept a grand estate and model farm called “Shelburne” on Vermont’s Lake Champlain. This is its barn|
And seemingly, too, in Vermont, every other house hangs out a bed-and-breakfast or pension sign.
Vermont’s largest city, Burlington – home to the state’s largest public university – has just 39,000 residents, and there’s a big drop-off to the next-largest town, Rutland, which barely cracks 17,000. Only about 8,000 people, not counting meandering lobbyists, live in Montpelier, the state capital.
Vermont is odd, and in a way unique, in that it was first explored – by whites, anyway – from the west and north rather than from the east. Those Green Mountains got in the way. Thus Vermont – French for “Green Mountain” – retains a strong French Canadian flavor. For decades, Montreal was the state’s entrepót, and it took the coming of the railroads from the south to connect Vermont with the rest of New England.
And there was a time when connections were exactly what Vermonters did not want. Unlike New Hampshire, which was an original American colony, and Maine, which began as the northern reaches of Massachusetts, Vermont was a self-declared free and independent republic before becoming our 14th state and the first after the original 13 colonies declared themselves states.
Vermont is also the nation’s most reliably liberal state – you’ll recall that its neighbor to the east is among the most conservative – and among the nation’s most patriotic. It banned slavery even before entering the Union in 1791 and sent the highest percentage of its young men to fight for the North in the great Civil War of the 1860s. On the Gettysburg battlefield in that war, Major General John Sedgwick’s order read, “Put the Vermonters ahead and keep the column well closed up.”
Fine Just as it Is
|This is one of Vermont’s many covered bridges. Another, which I showed you when I wrote about such bridges several posts back (check the archive!) connects Vermont with New Hampshire and is the longest in the nation|
Life is so good in Vermont these days, in fact, that critics say the newcomers have brought a nouveau riche “drawbridge” mentality to Vermont, meaning, “I’m here now. Close the drawbridge.”
Spring is Vermont’s busiest time of year. In addition to tending to the usual chores, many farmers trudge up the woodland hillsides, gathering sap to make the state’s famous, sticky-sweet maple syrup. Not only have some of them opened successful gift shops and plants that make sugary maple candy, but they also ship syrup all over the world. After a long, cold, dormant winter, sugar maple trees spring to life and produce the sap that the farmers tap. The state seems to have the ideal conditions for this trade: a hearty stand of maples, ideal soil, and just the right spring weather, with freezing nights followed by warm, sunny days that make the sap flow.
|Is this serene enough for you? It’s early sunset at Old Harbor, Maine|
TODAY'S WILD WORDS
(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word in today's blog that you'd like me to explain, just ask!)
Chest waders. Waterproof clothing that incorporates boots, pants, and a top held up by suspenders, all in one. Add a colorful flannel shirt, and you look backwoodsy but natty, all at once.
Mosey. To amble or walk leisurely at an unhurried pace. Sometimes, out in the country, you’ll hear people ask someone else to please “mosey on down.”
Solicitous. Expressing care or concern. A solicitous person solicits information about you, your family, and your well-being.
Wry. The word derives from an Old English word for bent or twisted, and wry humor is similarly offbeat and, sometimes, a little contorted from the norm. Similarly, a person’s “wry smile” is a bit skewed.
Yuppify. To give a place the quality of yuppies. The word “yuppy,” coined in the 1980s, derives from the acronym for “Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals, and described the mostly college-educated city people who set out on a career path to well-paying jobs. They kept everything as perfect as possible in order to achieve their materialistic goals. Thus a town that has been yuppified has lost its rough spots and, some say, its character, in favor of a scrubbed, orderly look.
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