Up Country

It’s said that you can never go home again, and in many ways that’s true. The places I have called “home” over the past six-plus decades vary from a small rented house in New York State to a (too-) large house here in Tucson, with a stop in Richmond, VA, and “visits” (places I lived but didn’t call “home”) in State College, PA, and Fort Walton Beach, FL.

As an adult, I have really only called two locations “home.” One is Tucson, where I have lived since 1978 (albeit in three different houses), and the other is a small town in New Hampshire called Gilmanton – more specifically, it’s a small summer cottage on the shore of Crystal Lake, which is in Gilmanton Iron Works (GIW). The cottage has been in the family since 1911 and now belongs to my brother. This is the front of the cottage, facing the lake.

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This is the back.

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From third grade through high school, as soon as school let out for the summer Mom and I would pack up her car, load in the dog and the kid (me), and head for the cottage. Because we lived in Richmond during those years, it was a Big Trip. In the early ’60s it took two days to get to GIW, but as the Interstate system grew, we eventually got it down to one long day. We would typically arrive around midnight to a dark cottage and pull up by the back porch. We’d open the doors, get out, and breathe in the fresh, pine-scented air and listen to the breeze off the lake and in the pine trees. It was *always* cool, too – in contrast to the heat and humidity of Richmond.

While the cottage (and its garage/barn) are still there, the overall property is vastly different from when I spent summers there as a kid. The cottage is no longer used; when my brother built a year-round house on the property, the town’s zoning didn’t allow two active residences on a parcel of land the size of ours. So it’s not possible for me to “go home” any more, in the sense of living in that particular structure.

And yet.

Sometimes, circumstances will conspire to create the *illusion* of being back home. I found this out quite by accident this past weekend, when I went with Wynne to Silver City, NM, for a conference in which she was a panelist. We stayed at a place called Bear Creek Cabins in Pinos Altos, which is a few miles north of Silver City on NM 15. We left 100-plus-degree heat in Tucson about 5 PM on Thursday, and arrived at the cabins about 10 PM (including the one-hour time change from AZ to NM). I had driven; when we got to the office we stopped, opened the doors, got out, breathed in the fresh, cool, pine-scented air and heard the breeze in the pine trees …

And I was INSTANTLY back in GIW on a late-May night in 1966 or so. It was so overwhelming that I literally got goosebumps (and they weren’t from the cool air, either!). If nothing else memorable had happened that weekend, that one instant would have made the whole trip worthwhile.

Here’s a photo of our cabin. It’s actually a duplex, with one half opening on this side and the other (identical) half opening on the far side. There’s no lake anywhere nearby, and the ground is rocky instead of covered with pine needles. BUT THE SCENT AND THE SOUND took me home!

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So, sometimes, you *can* go home again – at least in your mind. It reminded me of the James Taylor song, “Carolina In My Mind.”

Oh, and the “Up Country” of the title is what we always called both the place and the trip. It stemmed from when my forebears would make the trip from Boston “up country” to the cottage. When they went home, they’d go “down to” Boston. So every year, at the end of the school year, Mom and I went “Up Country” for the summer.

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One Comment on “Up Country

  1. They do say scent is one of the strongest forms of memory. Your description reminds me of a resort my grandfather had back in Minnesota – Pine Haven he called it. It was popular with the fishermen, with log cabins and that pine scent in the air.

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