We moved to New Hampshire on my son's 10th birthday, leaving behind the rural Berkshires and moving to the somewhat more populated hill town of Henniker, home of Pat's Peak Ski Area.
"This is the worst birthday ever!" our son scolded us as we loaded up the minivan that morning. Two hours of pouting later we pulled into our new driveway and unloaded. "Can we play now?" my son and his younger sister wanted to know. "After you unpack your underwear," I answered, handing them each a box.
The kids plodded to their rooms, resentful of having to complete yet more work. Within minutes a screech erupted as they found not skivvies, but scooters.
They took to our suburban-esque street: a quarter-mile paved loop with about twenty or so houses facing an open green. Within three passes on their new scooters, they trailed kids like the Pied Piper. Stopping for a quick drink of town water from the tap--a luxury we well-users had never before known--my son proclaimed, "This is the best birthday ever!" and within seconds he returned to the street with his new posse of friends.
Moving to New Hampshire meant introducing my children to the Old Man. Fortunately, I wasted no time. Just days after I'd acquired my new "Live Free or Die" plates, we made the trek to that now infamously faceless ridge. All three of us marveled that the jagged rock really did resemble a man, before hopping back into the van and driving south to meet dad for dinner.
A couple years later I was tapped to write a climate change script for the state's Christa McAuliffe Planetarium. Upon interviewing scientists, I learned that the corridor of air mass that moves over the White Mountains and out to sea is charmingly nicknamed the Exhaust Pipe of the country, for all the pollutants that the wind currents carry our way.
As I stare at the back of our year-2000 state quarter, I speculate that perhaps the Old Man couldn't hack the air up there anymore.
Tomorrow as we greet refugees to our country in a volunteer holiday dinner at a church in the state's capitol, I wonder if they'll consider their first Thanksgiving their best day ever or the worst. I'll have to bring along a New Hampshire quarter and introduce them to the Old Man; I think he would have liked that, with or without a new scooter to cruise around on.
(NOTE: The above was inspired after stumbling upon NPR's State by State story that they did earlier this fall, and that they will discuss on Thanksgiving Day. The story on Blog of the Nation will focus on the book State By State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, compiled by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey and featuring 51 writers.)