Day 5 – North Stratford to North Umberland
It is remarkable how many abandoned houses we saw on our walk and remember, we were walking on the main road, if this was representative, there must have been so many more that we just didn’t come across. These weren’t good, functional houses from which people had simply walked away – they were houses with roofs and walls crumbling in. The “good bones” of the home had long lost the fight and were well on their way to becoming insect dust, sides had given up and said “go for it” to the persistent climbing ivy, and windows – the eyes into the house’s soul were punched out and shone light no more.
My work here is done, I can’t hold back the years any longer.
Granite is abundant in New Hampshire (all you have to do is look at the stone walls everywhere) as is clay for making bricks (at least in the southern part of the state where huge mills were built along the river.) Griffin and I would look at these once majestic and now decrepit houses and we’d wonder why no one had used more substantial building materials.
Why didn’t anyone use something sturdier than wood? Wood is organic, wood eventually breaks down, wood certainly does not last the ages.
But of course the answer is that wood is available, abundant, and it’s cheap. The cost and effort to transport building materials must have been astronomical back “in the day.” Why pay for building materials to be shipped up north when you literally have what you need in your own back yard?
With wood, you build a house, it lasts for a few generations and when it starts breaking down, you build another one. It’s a cruel fate for houses, but it’s the way of tough love – you either do your job or you don’t get to keep the job.
If we are anything, we, who live in New Hampshire are a no-nonsense bunch.
When your entire job for the day is to walk, then that’s what you do. With our muscles stronger and our packs lighter we began to not only make good distance but we began to enjoy the journey. After a while, constantly putting one foot in front of the other became a meditation to the beauty around us – metal grey clouds, neon yellow of Black-eyed Susans, barns’ blood red doors – it all combined to paint a vibrant picture of that which is the whole.
The rain, which continued to fall, but it never got in our way. It was a warm welcoming drizzle, much like the kind I sent my children outside to play in when they were small. “Put your bathing suit on kids, it’s raining.”
We continued our discussions through the rain – when there are no interruptions a lot can get said. We talked about politics, classes, I retold Griffin the Hitchcock story I had read the night before.
Around 3 in the afternoon, after passing trees and trees and occasional houses, Griffin and I walked by a large ball park where a baseball tournament was going on. We had reached Groveton. We were amazed to see so many cars, smell burgers on the grill and just see so many people – with children!. Where did they all come from? After 5 days of being so removed, it was a bit of a social shock – what had been normal to see on any day before we had started our walk now seemed a little too chaotic, a little too fast, and a little too loud.
Remarkably, it doesn’t take long to find a new balance.
Beyond the ball field lay Groveton proper. A town with more than one street. It had restaurants, stores, for goodness sake, this little town even had a grocery mart.
We ate a meal at a restaurant, bought fruit, drinks, and even candy in the grocery store, and then we ordered subs to bring back to our motel for our dinners (which we knew from Google was only 1.5 miles away.) Food was abundant and we were taking advantage of it.
Convenience can make you so very happy.
Once we had had our fill in town we continued on to the motel. We stopped at the main office to check in and met the owners – Oli and Gerry, a couple who ran everything by themselves. We talked about our walk, about Canada where Oli had been born, about chickens, and about how Oli and Gerry were petitioning the state to have an ATV trail put in behind the motel. Doing so would mean they’d have constant customers, the mainstay of any business.
In the corner of the office was a coffee machine, I had mentioned that I’d had my first cup of coffee in 5 days earlier just that morning. Even though the office (which was attached to where they lived) didn’t open until after 7, Oli said he’d make sure the office door was open in the morning so I could make a cup before we left in the morning.
Gerry suggested we take some candy from the bowl on the counter.
They were going into town did we need anything?
“No, thank you, I think we’re all set.” These weren’t just motel owners, these were people who wanted to take care of us.
After checking our room out, I realized there was no shampoo in the bathroom. That was going to be a problem. Because of our backpack equipment dump the day before, I only kept one hiking shirt and I needed to wash it along with Griffin’s clothes. I went back to the office and asked Gerry if she had any shampoo we could use.
Gerry walked me to a back room at the far end of the motel where the laundry machines and cleaning equipment was kept.
“Will this one do?” She asked holding up a green bottle of a popular brand.
It absolutely would and I thanked her. On the way back, Gerry, limping just a bit told me that she and Oli were hoping to retire at some point and move to where it was warmer. She had been in a motor vehicle accident the year before and had broken ribs, legs and her pelvis. The cold was getting tough on her joints, she admitted.
I looked at this woman – this rock of the earth – and here she was taking care of *me.*
I thought of a flower I had seen earlier in the day. A seed that had found purchase in the cracks of a stone wall and grew by forging its way through adversity.
A plant that had, against all odds, refused to give up.
(Here’s some information on why we took this trip.)
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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