Tramel New England travelblog: Ancient cemeteries & October snow
I spent a few seconds Saturday honoring John Moore.
You didn’t know John Moore. Neither did I. No way that we could. He died 210 years ago.
I stumbled upon Moore’s tombstone in the glorious cemetery of Canterbury, New Hampshire.
New Hampshire -- and I assume all of New England -- has cemeteries in every village. Including Canterbury, a town of about 2,500 people who are spread out through the hills of Merrimack County.
Saturday was a day of exploration on our New England trip, and we headed back north, to the White Mountains. But we stopped off in Canterbury because the name intrigued us, and we found the usual charm.
A town center virtually void of commerce. On one side of the county road that took us into town was a collection of vintage buildings, fanned out almost like a campus. The combination general store/post office. The requisite town hall, only much smaller than what we’ve come to expect. The United Community Church, with a parish hall behind it. A small library. An historical society. And a beautiful gazebo. All white-framed, save the historical society.
And across the road was the cemetery, on land with massive trees and little flat ground monuments that are centuries old.
An old friend, Cindy Clouthier, was from Nashua, New Hampshire. She came to OU 40 years ago and eventually got a job at the Tulsa World before moving back East. Cindy once said, “You sure don’t have many dead people in Oklahoma.”
I now know what that means. Compared to Oklahoma, New Hampshire has all these cemeteries, big and small, every mile or two. Every village, plus many of the churches, have cemeteries.
More cemeteries are necessary when you’ve been burying people for 300 years.
A cemetery is a great place to appreciate history, to understand how long something’s been going on.
We popped into the general store, and it wasn’t a step back in time. Just a tiny grocery store for residents who didn’t want to drive the 10 miles (and probably 20 minutes) back to Concord or somewhere. We grabbed a drink, Trish the Dish picked up a homemade piece of crumb cake and off we went.
The colors remained vibrant, in our fourth day in New England, but just while we’re here we can tell they’ve been changing. More trees have lost their leaves. Fewer spectacular scenes, though just by a tad.
But the colors remained fantastic in the college town of Plymouth, about an hour north of Concord.
Plymouth is in the southern portion of the White Mountains and is quite picturesque. The lovely Plymouth State University sits on one side of the town center, gradually going up a hill, while the commercial district of town sits on the other side of the street.
Plymouth is quite historic. In 1806, Daniel Webster, who became one of American politics’ greatest orators, lost his first criminal case, at the Plymouth courthouse. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter) died in Plymouth while on an 1864 vacation with former President Franklin Pierce. Plymouth’s Draper and Maynard Sporting Goods Company supplied the early-20th century Boston Red Sox, and there are photos around town of Babe Ruth meeting people as he picked out equipment.
College football fans might remember Plymouth State from 1985, when Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly, campaigned for tailback Joe Dudek to win the Heisman Trophy. Dudek that season set the NCAA career touchdown record, playing for the Division III Panthers, breaking Walter Payton’s mark.
We walked around campus and town, grabbing some lunch at a local landmark called Fracher’s, the front of which is a streamliner locomotive. It contains five booths in the front, and there’s a dining room in the back, but we sat in a corner booth and had a great lunch.
I had a scallop roll -- basically a scallop sandwich, similar to a lobster roll -- and the best kind of french fries. Long cut, not too thin. Think Big Ed’s, if you remember the glorious Oklahoma burger franchise from yesteryear. The Dish had french onion soup and onion rings.
The day was chilly, probably 48 degrees, and there must have been some kind of university function, parent’s weekend or something, because lots of people were in town. The trees in front of the campus were as splendid as any we’ve seen in New Hampshire.
We headed on up Interstate 93 in the White Mountains, and our beliefs were reinforced. You don’t have to leave the freeway to see fabulous foliage. The leaves have a mind of their own. They don’t care if you build an interstate in their midst.
But this was different, because it snowed overnight, and it apparently snowed a bunch. We could see the white-capped mountains, but we also started seeing snow on the ground.
We pulled off in Franconia, a small town of about 1,100, with little commerce but a wonderful city park that sets right on a river. The park was snow-covered, and someone even had built a four-foot snowman. And in the park were the most beautiful red (maple) trees you’ve ever seen. Just like the orange-leafed trees in Maine, hard by the Atlantic Ocean, red-leafed trees in a pasture of snow is a startling sight.
A few miles up we got off in Littleton, a town of about 6,000 which is a business and shopping hub for the area, as well as an outdoors escape. The Connecticut River runs through town, and even at 4 p.m. on a Saturday, the main street was packed with cars.
We turned off the main drag and went driving up the residential hills. The Dish, quite the photographer, has been looking for the quintessential New England picture. Looking down on a village with fabulous color surrounding.
Littleton looked like a place where we might find such a view. I’m a dunderhead, of course, and didn’t ask a local. I just started driving. We went up into the mountains, with still a bunch of houses around, but all we found was trouble. A road was blocked, and a kindly man named Bill, who had waved to us as he drove past a few minutes earlier, returned and stopped to tell us we would have to turn around.
I took that opportunity. Told him what we were looking for, and he told us about a spot, on the other side of town. Only trouble was, you parked on the road, then hiked up the mountain to a clearing. We thanked the guy, then decided not to go. I was wearing my L.L. Bean-like boots, but the Dish was not.
But as we reached the bottom of the mountain, Bill stopped his Suburban, got out and told us he would lead us to Kilburn Crags, the spot he had mentioned. After that, we felt compelled to go, and sure enough, he took us right there.
We still didn’t have to go. Bill drove off, and we could have ditched the plains. But we’re the adventurous type. The Kilburn Crags sign said it was a 0.7-mile trek that takes about 30 minutes.
Off we went, on a trail through the mountains, most of it uphill and, turns out, under water. The melting snow had turned the trail into part marsh, part creek. So we had to walk through and around water. I was in good shape, but the Dish’s poor shoes, not to mention her cold feet, took a beating.
But she felt it was worth it. We got to the clearing, and sure enough, you could look down on the whole town of LIttleton. The colors weren’t as vibrant as we hoped -- luck of the draw -- but still, it was fun. Turns out Kilburn Crags is a local hotspot for hiking, so we felt empowered.
The sun was setting fast by the time we returned to the rented GMC Terrain. Just enough time to zip up to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, about 15 miles farther north. I had heard of St. Johnsbury and wanted to check it out.
Turns out St. Johnsbury is another mountain town, with a blue-collar, artsy feel hard by the river, but with New England quaintness up the hill, where St. Johnsbury Academy sits. The prep school has about 1,000 students, most of them boarders. The upper part of St. Johnsbury is replete with all the usual trappings of New England villages.
And as we left town, dang it if we didn’t see two great views looking down on St. Johnsbury that would have made great photos. Trouble was, we were on the freeway, with no great pulloff, and it was dusk, so the lighting would have been a problem. So all’s well. If we had hiked to Kilburn Crags, only to find a better picture elsewhere, the Dish’s shoes would not have been happy.
We jumped on I-91 and headed back to Manchester. It was strange spending a college football Saturday apart from college football. On my iPhone, I had caught some of the Kansas-West Virginia game while in Plymouth. And driving around Littleton, I caught the end of South Carolina-Auburn. And on the way back to Manchester, I listened, via iPhone, to the finish of Ole Miss-Arkansas and Central Florida-Memphis. I’m an addict, I know.
We got back to Manchester and grabbed a quick burger, then retreated to the Springhill Suites and watched the final three quarters of Alabama-Georgia.
So I got to see a decent amount of the sport that has consumed every autumn Saturday for more than four decades. I missed some. But a small price to pay for experiencing New England in October.