I was a few months shy of 20 when I first landed in this State primarily made of granite and started putting down my tender young roots. I have noted elsewhere that I got here in the middle of a blizzard, but as soon as winter surrendered its bitter cold grip on the state to the inevitable arrival of Spring, I summited my first Mountain (Chocorua) in the White Mountain National Forest. And even though I had been in the Mid-Atlantic stretch of the Appalachian Mountains plenty of times, visiting Kinfolk in the Maryland Hills, my city boy suburb life growing up never presented a chance to actually climb one on foot until I got to that Peak and saw with my own two eyes what an amazing planet we live on. While I am aware there are much taller mountains in this country of ours, even at only 3,000 ft above sea level where I was standing that first time, looking over such an amazing landscape while breathing in crisp, cold, clean air, I was pretty sure I had died and gone to heaven.
Once my friend and I neared Summit, we noticed a building that had been clearly standing, just shy of the tree line, for many years, judging by how it was constructed. When I was there in 1978, it was a Ranger’s station where Forestry majors stayed overnight for the summer, earning not very much money but getting plenty of practical experience living on the top of that mountain dealing with hikers, being available for emergency assistance, performing Trail maintenance duties, and generally just having the coolest damn job imaginable.
After exchanging greetings with the Ranger, we went inside to see a roughly 15’x20′ space (it might have been bigger, but cut me some slack… That was 45 years ago) that had a hammock attached to the rafters (which the Ranger quickly assured us was HIS bed) and a general area where we could put our gear if we wanted to stay the night. Once we picked our spots and unloaded our stuff, we went the rest of the way up to the top. Wandering around, I remember being amazed by the tenacity of what little vegetation there was up there that just refused to be denied life, growing and flourishing despite the harsh temperatures it had to endure in winter months; even back then, technically still a teenager, I was deeply humbled by Nature’s relentless fight to survive.
One of the main roads nearest to this mountain is Route 112. Believe it or not, this road has its own website and can be found here. According to the website, it is roughly 35 mi from one end to the other and goes through some of the most beautiful and wild terrain in the Northeast. Initially consisting of two separate local town roads, the “Kanc,” as it is lovingly referred to locally, became one contiguous stretch in 1959 and has effectively become the main thoroughfare for tourists, adventurers, thrill seekers, and outdoor types. In the fall, however, the Kanc is overrun by a sea of Humanity that simply has to go there to admire the foliage.
Known as “leaf-peepers, and as happy as their presence makes me because of the boon to the state economy, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to doing the Snoopy dance after they got in their cars and drove the hell back to wherever they came from because of the mess they leave behind when they go.
The West end of the Kanc is in Littleton, New Hampshire, and unless you have your kids’ eyes covered, you will have no choice but to stop as soon as you start in a place called Clark’s Trading Post. Why? Well, because they have trained Black bear shows and a tourist trap gift shop, and no child will ever forgive you if you don’t let them buy a bunch of junk that they’ll lose in a week but hate you forever if you don’t buy it anyway. Trust me… As that kid myself once and as that parent later, I’ve learned to bring extra money every time I go there to keep the peace for the duration of the trip.
The good news? Once you survive the Trading Post, the kids are at peace with their gizmos, and within a couple of miles, you are in a Mountain Wilderness, driving up hills and down Hills and steering around sharp corners with no idea what next amazing sight awaits you, in all of Nature’s Beauty and Glory, for the next 37 miles. I should point out, too, that the Kanc is absolutely not just a boring Road where all the kids get to do is look out the window; the number of White Mountain National Forest Campgrounds, trailheads for day hikes or extended stay assents, picnic areas and so on make it basically impossible to avoid investing some serious quality time communing with nature.
The featured image at the top of this piece is a place I have been to countless times over the past 45 years. I can’t prove this, but I’d be willing to bet it’s in the top five of the most visited rest areas/ scenic overlooks in the Northeast. And even though it is stunning to see, no matter what time of year you might find yourself there, that the image is taken fairly close to Peak Colors takes the experience to a whole other level. I am nowhere near as capable of describing it as well as the likes of Emerson and Thoreau, or countless others, but I can assure you that if you stand just still enough, and long enough, you will get back in your car a spiritually altered human being. And if you aren’t, get out of your car, go sit back down for another half hour and try again.
“Communing with Mother Nature”isn’t just about staring at the pretty colors or mountain peaks and valleys or ponds, rivers, and streams with your eyes or breathing in the air wafting with the blended scents of wildflowers, decaying leaves, stagnant ponds covered with thin layers of algae, along with the sweet smell of pine and hemlock air with your nose. It is, most importantly, about listening to Her, feeling Her energy, and contemplating deeply on the cycles of life happening all around you while you sit in Her company. It is especially about understanding and being humbled by Her perpetual truth; from Life comes death, and from death comes life.
A few miles after the Overlook, and right before you get to the end of the Kanc (Conway), there is a place where I have taken my children, my grandchildren, friends, extended family, and pretty much anyone I can talk into going there for the day. I hesitate to put the name of the place in print because you’ll go too, if you ever get the chance, and muck up the parking area, which is already jam-packed full of cars with outer state license plates.
It’s the sort of place all of the locals know about, but nobody else has ever heard of until they drive by it heading to the east end of the Kanc. As you can see, it’s a simple enough Mountain stream, very much like any other Mountain stream, but is fed by a confluence of a river and the underground spring from the mountain you can’t see in the image (yes, I took this picture many years ago). On the hottest day of summer, this water is freezing cold, and there are pockets and pools everywhere for you to sit in and shiver until your lips turn blue and you have to get out of the water and, most believe, is about the best spot you can get to with very little difficulty and still immerse yourself, and be humbled by, all that nature gives us no matter how badly so many people take it for granted or do nothing at all to help keep pristine for the future Generations.
You don’t have to be in my state to kiss and make up with Mother Nature but you would be well served, wherever you live, to get the hell out of your house and go to Her… Begging forgiveness and promising to take better care of her going forward.