New Hampshire Fall Weekend

Copper, gold, and rust tones, muted by the mists and steady rains throughout the wkend. There was a chill in the air, but this was, after all, New Hampshire the last weekend in September.

I had wanted a classic, sunny fall New England wkend where the sun sparkled down from a blue sky and illuminated the changing leaves and gifted us with a brilliance of colors: red, orange, yellow, and green. Green turning into winter. I had spent so many summers and fall weekends in New Hampshire I was dismayed (and subsequently grateful) to find that I had forgotten about the white birch trees. The romantic way to look at them would be to imagine them as resting posts for the invisible wood nymphs flitting around us. I am no romantic, but I find a renewed appreciation for them. Their slender white trunks, almost like stalks, rise up and provide a freshness to the dark woods.

It has been so long since I’d been up in New England, that I’d  also forgotten how New England it is. For me, it’s the houses that give it away. The rectangular two-story white wooden boxes with two sets of windows on either side of the front door. Of course, the narrow roads and the rolling fields interspersed with the dense forests and the old barns and farm stands all contribute to the New England feel. But the houses fascinate me. These houses are where people lives 250 year ago. Did the floors creak when the houses were first built? Then, there were fireplaces in every room, and it tires me to think about all the energy it must have taken to keep those fires going. 250 years ago that was their heat, and New Hampshire, New England, is not a warm place in the winter time. It must not have been an easy life. In 2012, in our current life, not only do we forget how difficult it was, we don’t even know. Sometimes it is good to take a moment and think about this.

Most people go to New Hampshire in late September to soak up the miracle of the turning leaves. I went to run 39.2 miles in two days: a half-marathon on Saturday in the hilly Lakes Region and a flatter full marathon on Sunday by the sea. I also wanted to soak up the miracle of the turning leaves and thought it would make for good running inspiration. As I said, I wanted a classic, sunny New England weekend where the sun was bright and the air was crisp and the leaves were showing off. Those types of days pull you up out of bed and demand that you get out and do something outside! The weekend I was up, it was damp and rainy and a little chilly. Those are days that invite you to stay in bed, make a big pot of soup, light a fire and settle down with a good book.

But getting up even when you don’t want to will bring its rewards. When the mists hang over the mountains which overlook the lakes, the waters are still and reflective. The mountains disappear into the clouds and as you are running past the lakes and streams, a meditative spirit arises and invites reflection. Even when you’re running. In fact, even more so when you are running and trying to find a good rhythm. It is as if the landscape were entering its own melancholia about what is coming. Like the difficult life our countrymen and women lived 250 years ago, sometimes it is good to take a moment and think about this.

Running on the pavement, but through the woods, occasionally we would come across people cheering us on with their dogs. These were hunting dogs or retrieving dogs. Good country dogs. Living in New York City, I see many similar dogs being walked everyday. In New York, living there every day, they don’t seem out of place. They just seem big, cute, lovable dogs. But up in New Hampshire, I realized the dogs are so out of place in New York City and so perfectly matched for landscapes like New Hampshire – with miles of field and forest and small creatures for them to go chasing after. I desperately want a dog in the city, and I want a country dog. I want a good sturdy hunting dog. But after my wkend in New Hampshire, I have realized this is making life difficult for the dog. I thought about it over the 13.1 miles and decided this is not something I should do. It would be good for me but it would not be good for the dog.

New Hampshire prides itself on its political heritage, being the first state to hold a primary. This year, being a presidential election year, the signs were out in full force. If the country were going to choose its next president by the signs in the front yards of the houses I ran past this weekend, Romney will be the winner. But New Hampshire is a conservative state and Romney has a vacation home in the Lakes Region, so New Hampshire might not be representative state to use for the country’s decision.

The next day, down in Hampton by the sea, in a steady, one could even call it dreary rain, I ran 26 miles in and around the town and by the sea. There wasn’t as much open landscape here. It was a bigger town and there were neighborhoods and suburbs, typical of any bigger community. But the houses were still built for fires, and on this rainy dreary day, we ran past several houses with fires in their fireplaces. I couldn’t see the smoke, but I could smell the wood burning and it was comforting as we were running in the rain. I can’t describe it now – the specific description has escaped me –  but the feeling it evokes, the desire to go in, have your mother take your coat and then go sit in front of the fire and have a cup of butternut squash soup (made from the squash grown in the summer garden) is inescapable.

I had no invite to any houses. I was running my 26.2 miles. As we came down into the last four mile stretch, we ran up a short hill which ended overlooking the sea. On a bright sunny day, the water would compete with the sky for brilliance and the sea scene would would also be inescapable. On Sunday, it was dreary and as we run up the crest to the sea view, the sky and the sea were interchangeable – shades of grey mirroring each other. It was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began and it was brilliant in its own way. It didn’t invite the same kind of meditativeness that the mists of the lake did (the sea, after all, is continually moving whereas lakes have the capacity to become absolutely still), but it invited thought. Maybe thoughts about life 250 years ago. Maybe thoughts about where dogs thrive the best. Or maybe thoughts about the coming winter season and how it will be long and dark and cold. Whatever it will be, it won’t be as difficult as it was 250 years ago. And whatever it will be, there will be the confidence of the seasons and the knowledge that next year, the leaves will come again and we will live this whole cycle over again.