Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Putting the 'And' in New England.

Before I get into the spiffy specifics of my trip to Boston I want to give my impressions of New England. It's a strange place, New England in the fall. It is both very similar to the Ozark hills where I grew up, and completely foreign. The hills, the cool weather and colorful leaves remind me of autumn in Missouri. While the climate and foliage are the same, the land is different. The Ozarks are sharp granite points that once pierced the smooth belly of America. They are now worn dull by the passage of time, but there are still gray faces of rock cliffs peering out, overlooking the hollows, and creeks. It is a severe landscape. New England is round and curvy hills. They roll and undulate. The land is soft and round, it flows.
The homes and picket fences make sense there. Broad, proud farm houses, pushed a little closer together. White fences mark out what's left of the land belonging to each one. The white houses against the red and yellow backdrop look comfortable and inviting. These houses always looked strange to me in the plains of Missouri and Illinois. Wide expanses dotted with these stylized homes and white fences against the blue sky, shouldering the brunt of the prairie winds look out of sorts and out of place. The prairies need low sleek buildings, hunkered down out of the elements, not quaint cottages lined up in uniform rows. Here the houses sit in little crooks and corners, the roads undulate with the hills, flowing with the landscape. Back home the roads are either deep gashes in the plains, or hang awkwardly peering over the edges of the cliffs and valleys.
Washington state is truly the "Evergreen State." We have leaves that change, but they are scarce and far between. Not enough to generate that heady scent of fall. It rains too much, the leaves drop and rot too quickly, they don't crunch under foot. In New England as back home, it's different. I could smell Autumn. I was struck by the similarities to the fall afternoons from my boyhood. When I was hiking along a trail in Concord, crunching quietly on the brown leaf litter, hoping to see some sort of wild critter. The squirrels had no such compunction. They thrash and crash about more like X-gamers on crystal meth than small prey items. I tried to fill them in, told them to keep it down lest they got et, they didn't seem concerned.
In Seattle we sit on about a 150 year time line. Old buildings are 1940s cape cod houses, or brick buildings down town for selling and receiving goods from or headed out the port. In St.Louis we have about another 100 years. Pierre Lacl├Ęde landed almost exactly 250 years ago, and there are a hand full of historical buildings that date back nearly that far. Compare that to where we stayed in Concord, which has several buildings dating back to the revolutionary war in one small town. The town itself was incorporated in 1635. I walked the battle field of the first skirmish of the revolutionary war. I saw Emerson's home, and Walden pond is not far off. There is a sense of age, of time, of near permanence that I have never really experienced to that degree. The locals seem unconcerned.
My flight heading back to Seattle left at 6 a.m. That meant I had to be up at 4 (1 a.m. Seattle time)I stood outside and waited for those traveling with me to get out of the house, I sat on my luggage in the foggy quiet. I looked at the moon, hazy and sullen, scarred by leafless trees. It felt like a good ghost story unread. I don't doubt these were the types of moments that inspired Washinton Irving and others. I just sat in the spooky pre-dawn, until the stillness was broken by my companions.
"time to go."
And it was.

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