Crossing New England

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange hasn’t lived in New England all his life — yet. He thinks of it as the center of the civilized world, and doesn’t know where it’s likely to go better.

(Lange) One of the nicest things about New England is its small size. You can drive across it in one day, and experience, as you do, several different natural regions and political cultures. It’s not the area we see on the television weather forecast: bounded on the west by Lake Champlain; on the south by Long Island Sound; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; and in the north by Qu bec. That’s not it. What New England is, is a state of mind, a place where dry humor and perpetual disappointment blend to produce an ironic pessimism that folks from away find most perplexing.

I got lost in the fog on the coast of Maine some years ago, with my wife and two children aboard. Things were just a little tense. The faint loom of an island darkened the mist off to one side. Just then a lobster boat came blatting out of the fog. Calling over to the lobsterman as he hauled a pot and tossed out a couple of shorts and crabs, I made a grievous error: I presumed to know something. “Is that Bar Island?” I hollered.

He looked at me briefly. “Nope!” he said, and disappeared into the fog.

That’s the eastern border. The northern’s in Aroostook County, Maine, where kids get out of school to help with the potato harvest. There’s a different accent, a different ambiance, and huge families. You’re now in New France: same climate; but the French have more fun than Yankees.

On the west, New England bulges into the high peaks of the Adirondacks. It’s the southern border that causes the most concern. It’s moving slowly northward, marked a line drawn east and west at the latitude of the northernmost BMW dealer.

But in the space we’ve got left, we still manage to have a pretty good time. We just have to pick the best travel times and routes. Mother and I often wait for September, when everybody’s gone home, and start out across country in the middle of the night. We never travel the interstates on Friday evenings in winter, forefear of being crushed to death by stampeding Volvos. We try to cross New Hampshire (which, thanks to the continental ice sheet, is still inconvenient) between rush hours and on week days. She insists on the interstate for crossing Vermont, because the Green Mountains make her carsick. But when I’m alone in my little truck, Brandon Gap and Lincoln Gap are delightful reminders of how much fun driving can still be, here at the quiet center of the civilized world.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studios in Norwich.

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