sweet new hampshire home.

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A bit ago I made a very quick trip home to New Hampshire. I was lucky to have beautiful sunny weather the whole visit!

My parents recently got a new dog. She has a lot of energy, so she needs a lot of exercise. But she also has heartworms (the cure is in progress!) so she can’t exert herself too too much. This has resulted in a lot of really long walks – not runs, but walks. So I got to visit some of my favorite places.

New Hampshire is not a well-known state within the U.S., and even less so outside the country. I sometimes say I’m from Vermont because there’s a better chance people will know where it is (and I did live there for two years, more recently than I ever actually lived in New Hampshire, so it’s only a partial lie!).

So what is New Hampshire? This is New Hampshire.

With my mom and Missy, we walked up Pinnacle, an iconic hill in Lyme (also in the top photo).

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On a Sunday morning the whole family headed out to Trout Pond, which is a bit of a walk from my house, but a lovely conservation area established in 1990. It is so quiet out there. This is why we love it so much.

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The hay was also getting cut in our hayfield, but I escaped before it was time to put it in the barn. Sorry mom and dad.

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I also ran up Smarts Mountain, at 3,240 feet the tallest peak in the surrounding towns and a favorite spot. It has a fire tower on top which offers awesome views… but it is currently closed by the Forest Service for repairs. It has been closed for over a year now, but no repairs have been made. This makes me angry. You suck, Forest Service.

Since the peak is forested, the views from below the tower aren’t as good. But you can find some openings in the trees along granite outcroppings, and they are great. I love Smarts.

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It’s a mountain, but it sure isn’t Switzerland.

I love New Hampshire.

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home fires burning.

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There are some things that I have never written about. I realized it back when I was going through my old posts, trying to make an index by location (which I did: it’s here). I never posted anything other than a few photos from my amazing trip to Oslo to cover World Championships in 2011. I never posted anything about a beautiful trip walking through canyons in southern Utah. There are more. My trip home for the last 2 1/2 weeks was threatening to join that number.

Like all of these experiences, it is partly because it’s almost too much for me to absorb. If I can’t understand it myself, how am I possibly supposed to explain myself in words? Things are too beautiful, or in this case too comforting. There’s a reason that we seldom write about things that are heartbreakingly sad. But it’s just as difficult to write about something that so strongly swings your psyche in the opposite direction.

IMGP2069I have also felt oddly protective of my home. I hesitate to make “Lyme” a tag on a popular blogging network. Some of my favorite moments from my trip home were when I got to show friends – first Min Ya and then Lauren – the things I love about where I live. The mountains, sunny at the bottom even if it’s snowing on top; the farms with their fields of picturesque fall pumpkins; the ponds and lakes lying like jewels in the forest. But part of the reason that Lyme, and especially my corner of Lyme, is such a great place to escape to and relax is that there aren’t so many people. If you’re reading this, I love you and you are invited to Lyme anytime. Let me show you. To everyone else? Stay the hell away!

Like so many places, Lyme is constantly gentrifying. When my grandparents moved there, Ross was the first member of his faculty to move out to the hillbilly land up north of the college. It had been in a long decline since its height in the 1830’s, when the hills were stripped bare of trees and the sheep grazed almost all of the way up the mountains. In 1927, a history professor had called it, in a now-somewhat-famous paper, “The Town That Went Downhill.” My grandfather’s colleagues apparently thought he was crazy. The town had nothing but farmers in it, and was pretty poor. Of course, even Hanover had nothing compared to the wealth we see today.

In the last fifty years, Lyme has changed immensely. There are now more Dartmouth professors than farmers. About a third of residents have a graduate degree. The median income is $85,000.

Do I love where I live? Yes, I’m a grumpy old hypocrite and obviously many of the things that I appreciate wouldn’t have existed in 1950’s Lyme. But I can say that the idea of further gentrification – in fact, even of much existing gentrification – makes me as mad as this jack-o-lantern. Keep your money and stop building ugly new houses on pieces of forest that I love, or knocking down old farmhouses to make them more “liveable” to show off your wealth.

Most of the rest of my favorite moments came just being around the farm, either with my parents or my dog. Our house was built in 1820, and you can tell: when I drove in, first I felt the unimaginably wonderful sensation of “home”. Next, I noticed that the gardens were overgrowing and the paint was peeling off the dormers. Our farm is a sore spot for one of our neighbors, who really would like it if we would clean the place up a bit.

It’s not a shack or anything, but we are busy people. Both of my parents work easily more than 40 hours a week; my mom runs a nonprofit and my dad is a carpenter. Things around here are perfectly fine to live in – my parents have done beautiful updates on the farmhouse’s interior (even if I hate that paint color in my room, mom). I think our house is beautiful, although it would be nice to fix up the dormer! We speculate that the real reason for its disrepair is that my dad wants to knock it off the house entirely.

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When my friends came I scrambled around to clean up a little more, and later, once they were gone, I spent very satisfying mornings cleaning up around the front garden. I pruned things back for winter, cut the grass, pulled out weeds so that the creeping shrubs would stop taking over the lawn. By the time I was done, it looked nice – and we were all happier because of it. But that’s the utilitarian nature of our life on the farm. When someone has some time, they do the gardening. I’m sure the pruning would have gotten done before winter regardless, but now my parents can do something else instead.

IMGP2073We aren’t real farmers. We’re not forced to make our living from our land, and in that sense we are ourselves, the gentrifiers. We have some horses; we had some sheep. We make hay from the big field on top of the hill, with an old friend bringing her tractors and mowers over to this side of town and doing most of the work for us (we pay). Then we do the tough job of putting it up in the hayloft. Depending on the year and how many horses we have, we can sell some. Not recently.

(Luckily, we have the kind of horses that get fat on grass without any extra, expensive input. We actually have to ration their grazing time, or else they become rotund and roly-poly.)

My parents’ jobs are enough that they can’t do much more farming than this, and I’m not sure they’d want to. I’ve been thinking that we should lease out some pasture to some other farmer and let them keep cattle or sheep there. It would be a good way to keep the place up. But I can’t urge my parents to do it, too hard – I don’t live at home. It’s their bailiwick, and they are busy, busy people. Plus, having someone wander all over your land and partially take it over is a weird thing. We’re not Swedish – no open land laws here. We are private New Englanders. Well, okay, my dad is a very friendly southern guy, but he’s lost the accent and who knows what else.

When we are home, we like working on the farm. My mom has a love-hate, mostly love, relationship with her tractor, which she purchased when they encountered “empty-nest syndrome” after I left for college. Any summer weekend I’ll call them up and hear about where she was brushhogging.

But at least as much as that, we love just being outside. Maybe it’s working, or maybe it’s not. My mom used to walk up to a certain spot in the blueberry field (yes, there’s a blueberry field) every day with our dog. She would look out over the hills and into Vermont. The view up there is different every day. The trees lose and grow leaves; the fog and clouds come and go and the hills turn different colors by time of day. Sometimes you can see Pico and Killington. Sometimes, not so much.

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The last day we were home, we put on all of our brightly-colored clothing (it is hunting season) and walked up the hill with Bravo. First we climbed up through the pastures, then along a new trail that my parents put in partly funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which helps landowners take care of their land. The trail is eventually intended to help with forestry, maybe to drag some logs down to the house. For now, it’s nice for walking and will be a killer ski run in the winter. Bravo loves it, as it was just completed a few weeks ago. The animals are still learning whether to go through or around it, so there’s always new things for him to sniff.

We walked up to the hayfield – Bravo’s favorite – and then down through the hardwood forest on the other side to a small brook. It’s one of our favorite spots: the small, dark creek meanders through the woods, so quiet. Upstream of the crossing (nothing formal: trail on one side, trail on the other side, figure out yourself whether to splash across), the water is flat and you can barely tell it’s moving. Then it turns to ripples and rivulets bouncing over the rocks. From time to time, there have been beaver impoundments. On that day, we looked downstream at a tree that had fallen across the creek and the reflection of the water on the underside of the tree rippled magically. We couldn’t figure it out, and didn’t want to.

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Then, up and over the hill. My dad led us bushwhacking through the woods back up to the hayfield. We marveled at hidden ledges and new topography; my mom and I had never been this way.

On the way down, we looked at the old apple trees, vestiges of an earlier farm. One night, my dad collected apples from seven different trees. We don’t take care of the trees, and on the outside the fruit looked mottled and worm-infested. But when he cut them open, the flesh was crisp white and free of any worms and insects. The trees take care of themselves. That was one of the most delicious apple crisps ever.

I love looking around the farm. There are things that are ours, and things that are old. I love them all. Fall is a good time to appreciate everything; in summer there’s too much running around.

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That’s what I could do at home: Bravo and I spent so many mornings out in the yard, or fixing things up. He is getting to be an old dog and in an effort to reinvigorate him (it seems to have worked), I took him for a walk almost every day. Sometimes we would go a bit farther afield, drive the car out to the trailhead and walk out to Trout Pond. But mostly we just went around the farm. There’s plenty of space. As fun as it was for him, it was perfect for me. The quiet, to think about things, to just be outside of the hustle and bustle of a city. To work with my hands in the dirt instead of on a keyboard. To lie in the grass and just dream.

And of course come back and make dinner. And light a fire in the woodstove in the living room, and sit all together and watch the Red Sox win the World Series. Or be really, really mean to each other while playing Parcheesi. But then eat dessert together and let bygones be bygones.

And then I had to go back. Back to Europe, back to work, back to writing papers. Away from home. It was pretty hard to leave. Goodbye farm. Goodbye parents. Goodbye Bravo. Please be there when I get back.

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finagling favorites.

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I’m home. Home! It’s been since last Christmas, and I couldn’t be happier to be, finally, at home. I imagined this as a working vacation, where I would hole up in my parents’ house and write my papers. But it’s far too luxurious to be home – there are a million things that I’d rather be doing, so I have done them. And not worked so much. Unfortunately I arrived home still sick, so I haven’t been able to do some of the hikes I had imagined, either – no Moosilauke, no Presidentials. But there have been beautiful quiet moments on the hill behind my house, at the Skiway and Pinnacle, and out at Trout Pond (above), where I took my friend Rosalie for the first time. My aged Australian shepherd, Bravo, found his short little legs again and was running joyfully back and forth ahead of us. Rosalie laughed at his bobbed tail bouncing up and down as he bounded along. I love, so much, being home.

I was worried that I would arrive after the best of fall had already said goodbye, but apparently it has been an unusually temperate autumn here in New England. So there are still some beautiful leaves, and some warm sunny days that retreat into freezing clear nights. The full moon loomed over the hills during that first week. I picked pumpkins at a pumpkin patch and marveled at beautiful apples. I wished my friend Sean luck as he headed out to his tree stand in his very first season of bow-hunting; I commiserated with my friend Tim when he ended up chest-deep in the muck of Little Hosmer Pond while retrieving a duck. When Bravo and I go for a walk, he wears a bright orange vest that he comically despises. The horses are getting shaggy and unkempt as they begin to grow their winter coats.

It is fall.

One night I wanted to make dessert for my parents, even though we’re all eating less these days and often eschew the treat. I settled on an apple and pecan tart recipe from Florence Fabricant. In a more rotund world, I’d make an apple pie one night and a pecan pie another night, but we don’t need that at this point. Instead, the recipe combines the two, along with a lot of maple syrup. God, I have missed maple syrup. The tart turned out to be incredibly tasty and an extremely classy way to combine two favorites. As always, Flofab is right. We ate half the darn thing the first night.

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Apple Pecan Tart

adapted from Florence Fabricant / New York Times

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk + 2 large eggs

4 tablespoons ice water

2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

2/3 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the crust: preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a 10-inch fluted tart pan. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and mix until blended. Add 8 tablespoons of the butter, cut into cubes, and mix with your fingers until the pieces of butter and dough are the size of peas. Add the egg yolk to the ice water and then pour the liquid into the butter mixture, stirring slightly. The dough does not need to form a ball, just come together in a shaggy falling-apart mass. Turn it out onto a floured surface and roll. Place the crust in the tart pan and weigh it down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake ten minutes, then remove weights and prick the crust with a fork a few times. Put back in the oven for 20 more minutes.

While baking, make the filling: place the apples in a saucepan with the remaining two tablespoons of butter, and cook just a bit until they begin to soften up. Add the brown sugar and pecans and cook two more minutes. This should make a syrupy, sticky, delicious coating for everything. In a separate bowl, combine the 2 eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla.

Assemble the pie: When the crust is getting golden, pull it out of the over. Spread the apple and pecan mixture in the tart shell, then pour the egg and maple syrup filling on top. Put everything in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake 25 more minutes. Be careful that the pecans on top do not burn.

Especially delicious with vanilla ice cream on top!

Wood.

The good ol’ MacBook is back in working order, which means good things for my blogging capacity. I also have a million e-mails to catch up on, an article to write for the Valley News, a press release for the Outdoor Center, and am basically swamped with computer-centric tasks that I had been able to avoid for a week.

And what a blissful week it was. After our rollerski intervals on Saturday morning, I hopped in the car and headed home to Lyme. My dad was at work and my mom was out brush-hogging, so I started by making some pesto. And by some pesto, I mean that it will take my parents at least a year to eat all the pesto that I stuck in their freezer. By the end of the exercise I had run completely out of pine nuts, almonds, and parmesan cheese, but the kitchen smelled amazing.

I spent the rest of the weekend, and all of Monday, working outside. My parents are busy people and although they spend every weekend working on their land, when you have 100 acres it’s hard to keep up with everything you need to do. On Sunday, we all worked together, clearing logs out of the blueberry field so that Mom could do more brush-hogging, and then cutting up and moving sections of a large tree that had blown over onto another tree in one of the upper fields. Along the way I got in several fights with raspberry bushes, climbed a tree to help attach a tow-rope to pull it down with, and got diverted picking crabapples and fox-grapes for jelly.

On Monday I was left on my own to fill the woodshed for winter. While this sounds simple, it actually wasn’t, and took me all day. First, the leftover wood from last season had to be taken out of the woodshed so that if could be stacked in the front. Then, I had to move the new wood from the summer “drying” woodshed in the garden to the winter woodshed by the house. This meant stacking it in a small trailer, pulling it across the lawn and the driveway with the lawn tractor, tossing it over the split-rail fence, and then stacking it in the woodshed. One I had filled the back row with new wood, I stacked the older, drier wood in one half of the front row.

It was a lot of wood to stack. That was the only thing I did all day, stack and move wood.

Most people would consider this very boring. A number of my friends told me that didn’t sound fun at all. And sometimes, I would probably agree with them. But it was a beautiful weekend to be outside, no matter what you were doing. Fall is coming to New England, slowly but surely, and the days were blustery and blue. I wasn’t distracted by e-mail, work, or training; I was just outside, tossing wood around. I found a rhythm and was happy to stay in it. There is a zen to manual labor, especially if you don’t do it all the time.

As I said, sometimes I would hate this sort of an existence. But it was what I needed at this moment in time, to disconnect from everything that had been worrying me or stressing me out, even subconsciously.

Now it’s back to the daily grind of rollerskiing, working in the office, and having to be on a schedule. I miss home and wish I was still stacking wood.