Saturday, February 2, 2008


As both my avid readers know, I do most of my walking in northern New England, primarily in New Hampshire. As Robert Frost said in the poem he named after the place:

She’s one of the two best states in the Union.
Vermont's the other. And the two have been
Yokefellows in the sap yoke from of old
In many Marches. And they lie like wedges,
Thick end to thin end and thin end to thick end,
And are a figure of the way the strong
Of mind and strong of arm should fit together,
One thick where one is thin and vice versa.

“Yokefellows in the sap yoke,” refers to collecting sap for maple syrup—a very tough job. (Buy the cheaper, tastier Grade B if you have a choice, rather than the lighter, “fancier” Grade A. And if ever you take advantage of the sagging dollar and head transatlantic for some great New England walking, do not fail to have breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor, in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, near Franconia, where Frost once had a farm. You don’t just get the world’s best pancakes, with Polly’s own excellent maple syrup, but you get the single most spectacular mountain view in the East—the Whites from Adams to the Kinsmans, all laid out before you. Just don’t try to get in on a weekend morning.)

Both of the yokefellows host parts of the Appalachian Trail, though New Hampshire’s section is much more spectacular. Vermont’s own Long Trail shares a treadway with the AT from the Massachusetts line to about a third of the way up the length of the state. Just north of Killington and Route 4, the AT turns east for Hanover and the White Mountains, while the LT continues north to Canada, through the Green Mountains, and directly over the summits of all the state’s highest peaks.

Frost again:

Anything I can say about New Hampshire
Will serve almost as well about Vermont,
Excepting that they differ in their mountains.
The Vermont mountains stretch extended straight;
New Hampshire mountains Curl up in a coil.

The Long Trail at 270 miles is the oldest long distance trail in the US, and although it’s the shortest, the consensus is that—mile for mile—it’s the toughest. I’ve always wanted to start at the Canadian border at the end of September and follow the color south as New England’s leaves turn. With good weather, a little luck, and a congenial partner, it will be a gorgeous walk.

Frost was a great ironist. New Hampshire is a long and dryly witty poem (also, in my inexpert opinion, oddly self-indulgent and slightly goofy). Here’s how it ends:

Well, if I have to choose one or the other,
I choose to be a plain New Hampshire farmer
With an income in cash of, say, a thousand
(From, say, a publisher in New York City).
It’s restful to arrive at a decision,
And restful just to think about New Hampshire.
At present I am living in Vermont.

I aspire to echo that last line. Though New Hampshire would be okay, too.

[If you’re interested in Frost’s poetry or the man himself, Jay Parini’s superb biography is the place to start. Great on the man, terrific on his work. Scrumptious. My personal book of the year in, I think, 1999. Parini, of course, lives in Vermont.]

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