Travel’s been largely on hold for me – just too much to do at home, for instance, especially when it comes to writing. But what if that were to change?
San Francisco, Seattle, and Yakima. I haven’t been back to my beloved Pacific Northwest since leaving in 1990. This would provide a basis for an memorable sweep.
The East African Quakers have much to teach the rest of us, and I can’t think of a better introduction to this mysterious continent.
Cumbria, England, and Lurgan, Northern Ireland. These two places, a short hop apart on the Irish Sea, are central to my Hodson ancestry. I’d love to see where we’re from.
Apart from the museums, classical music, and theater attractions, I’d want access to some early Quaker minute books – especially those pages marked “too faint to microfilm” in Lurgan’s surviving records.
Alsace, France/Germany, and Switzerland upstream. On my Grandma Hodson’s side, these are my places of origin.
Kyoto, especially. Did I mention my long fascination with Zen Buddhism or Japanese cuisine?
The Himalayas. Or my interest in Tibetan Buddhism along with the world’s tallest mountains? (Yes, I know it will make it more difficult to appreciate the summits back home, but that’s got to be well worth the encounter.)
Canadian Maritime Provinces. These are just up the coast from us but have remained a world away. Think I can fix that in the upcoming future?
Anasazi ruins and Albuquerque. The American Southwest is a huge blank in my explorations. This sweep would end with a visit to some very special friends in their new locale.
Australia and New Zealand. From here, they seem incredibly unimaginable. Only one way to fix that.
Those highway signs can often take on whimsical readings.
One poetry journal, for instance, took its name from an exit marker of the Interstate crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland: Northwest Rising Sun. It was for two different towns. Everybody knows the sun rises in the east, not the west. Still, a great name. It pays to be alert.
Likewise, orchestral conductor David Zinman was recording with humorist P.D.Q. Bach (in real life, Peter Schickele) but found his contract with another label prohibited him from using his own name on this project. What could he use instead? Inspiration struck when he was driving on Route 128 outside Boston. That exit sign read Newton Wayland.
More recently, while updating and seriously revising my previously published novels, I set about renaming many of the characters for a better fit.
I’ve passed this sign hundreds of times and often thought it sounded great as a possible character, if only I had the right situation. And then, as I reworked the volume that now stands as Daffodil Uprising, I had the perfect guy to go by the name: LEE MADBURY.
Hardworking leaders. We’ve been blessed by people who want to get things done. The town’s made a huge turnaround in the past 20 years, from a time when the mill windows were boarded up to the vital business incubator it is today.
In general, we tend to vote more to the left, in a working-class streak. In a small state like ours, you’ve probably met the governor and at least one of your U.S. senators. And our city counselor lives across the street.
Family friendly. We actually have four high schools – the city’s (which is moving into a new building), St. Thomas Aquinas, Portsmouth Christian Academy, and the state-chartered Cocheco Academy of the Arts. The Rotary and Kiwanis clubs have been active influences in shaping this direction.
The Greek Orthodox church, one of the oldest in North America. Outwardly, they’re at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum from my Quaker plainness – something I find challenging and refreshing. But they’re welcoming and wonderful and have provided great grounding for my upcoming novel. And, as I’m finding, they’re everywhere in this town. The interior of their house of worship, by the way, is visually gorgeous.
Public transportation to Boston. C&J buses run hourly to Logan airport and South Station. They’re clean and quite comfortable. And Amtrak’s Downeaster heads to North Station five times a day – what a delight! – as well as the other way to Portland, Maine, or a little beyond.
Yes, we neighbor Maine.
Fresh food. Farmstands are just minutes from downtown, as well as two farmers markets. Sweet corn’s no problem. Pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and apples as well. And then there’s the seafood – not just lobster, either.
Market Basket. Well, technically it’s across the line in Somersworth, but this legendary supermarket chain is significantly cheaper than its competition while being highly responsive to its local customers. (It has the best tofu around. The Asian restaurants all get theirs there.)
Police and fire and rescue services. They respond instantly, as we found out back when we had a phone button on autodial. (And they were very friendly about it.) Just as telling, women aren’t afraid to walk home late at night downtown. And, from what we hear from immigrant communities, they’re sensitive and supporting.
Garrison Hill observation tower. The walk from our house starts through our neighbors’ yard, twists up some side streets and then through the woods to the top of the hill and then up the flights of stairs to the crown of the tower where the panorama spreads out over the village -like setting of downtown or, the other way, clear to one flank of Mount Washington. And then it’s the reverse. Great for quick exercise or a jaunt with our guests. See where we live?
For the past 18 years I’ve lived in a small city. One of 30,000 men, women, and children in addition to dogs and seagulls. And it’s felt right. Way back in my past, many folks expected I’d wind up in New York City, and while I do hold a certificate in urban studies from my university, my career took me in another direction.
Well, here are 10 reasons I like where I am:
Quaker Meeting. It’s my core community, my circle of kindred spirits, and we’re the fifth oldest congregation in the entire state. The four before us were all state-supported Colonial Puritan institutions. We were the renegades.
Walking distance to whatever is usually essential. What a civilized way to live! We’re a mile from downtown, in one direction, and the hospital, in the other. (Oh, yes, we can stop somewhere nice for a drink and not worry about having to drive home.) It’s pedestrian-friendly place, really. Cars have to stop or, well, I’ve seen them halted by cops on big horses.
I really like our mounted patrol. As do most of the kids.
The Community Trail. As long as we’re walking, we have the option of a former railroad line that’s become a narrow woodsy park heading out from the train station (I often take that route to Meeting on Sunday morning) or a riverside meander heading upstream. Sometimes I think I’m much further north, in the mountains, especially when I’m on cross-country skis in deep winter.
Centrally located. Within an hour’s drive we have Atlantic beaches one way, forested mountains in another, and the Hub of the Universe in a third. OK, Boston depends on the traffic, but I do rehearse weekly in a choir there.
Waterfalls in the heart of downtown. The river falls to the tide and runs through an arch in the big brick mill. It used to power the mill, too. The scene’s quite charming and sometimes dramatic. And salmon are returning to the fish ladder.
The city’s indoor pool. I swim a half-mile four or five times a week. Nice bunch of fellow swimmers and lifeguards. Not bad for a Christmas present!
Our neighbors. They’re a story in their own right.
Architectural diversity, as you might expect in the seventh oldest settlement in the continental U.S. We’re always seeing something unexpected when we stroll.
We’ve become the downtown for the state university one town over. A third of its students live in apartments here, so we have a bit of that college town flavor. But not so much that we lose our blue-collar edge.
The lighthouse at Cape Neddick in York, Maine, is one of the most photographed in America. Also known as the Nubble Point Light, it has a red beam to distinguish it from other nearby beacons. Each Christmas season, it’s outlined in holiday fare. Here’s how it looks.