The return to the distinctly American northern Appalachians made clear very quickly that fall has arrived. Our route today was essentially southwesterly one from Calais, Maine across northern New Hampshire and into Vermont. The speedometer is back to mph, the gas is in gallons, and there is that weird familiarity — even in a place you’ve never been — that comes with knowing you are in your home country. And there is color.
At one point along the route, we skirted the presidential mountains — there are several in the White Mountain range, the most notable of which is Washington where I think I remember that the highest wind gust ever was recorded. Traveling on the north side of the Presidentials, headed west into Vermont, you top a rise at one point and have a view over the Connecticut River valley. Broad and green with farm fields, the flat inky smear of the river doodled from one side to the other by the hand of a loving creator and thousands of years of geologic activity, and on either side the familiar Appalachians rising into the gray sky like giant whales’ backs splattered with the fall finger paint of a million children. It is one of those moments.
I really wanted to be able to draw some parallels, some point to point similarities between the northern Appalachian area where we are now, and the really northern Appalachian area of Cape Breton, but I can’t. The difference is more than cultural, and its more than visual, and its more than geographic. These mountains feel different. They feel attended to — which is maybe not a good thing — used and cared for. Each township, not unlike each little harbor, makes a home in a spot for a reason, and settles in amongst stream and river, hill and mountain. And the signs denoting settlement make a statement too, since most start with a year in the 1700s.
If you are interested in the drive, which is at this time of year among the great ones — we followed state Hwy 2 out of Calais to Bangor and state Hwy 9 from there to Vermont. I don’t know where we will go tomorrow or what route we will take, but we will find our way across New York and into Pennsylvania, I suspect. We are indeed headed home, but in many ways we are learning that it is all home, for all of us.