On New England

Because life is currently rather circular, I’m currently sitting in the Hopkins Center on Dartmouth campus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat here, or near here, but suffice it to say that it was a mainstay of my high school and early college years. I’ve blogged probably 70 entries (out of 240ish) sitting on the wireless connection of this campus, and spent countless hours talking to my friends over a cup of coffee or tea, in particular chai.

Something is marginally different now, however. This is no longer where I live. I live three thousand miles away, and only come here once every six months. Time is relative, however, so the amount of time away is largely irrelevant. The difference is far more subtle: walking through town here, people generally don’t smile. If people know each other, they might smile briefly, they’ll say hello, and on some occasions stop to talk further. But by and large, everyone is solemn faced, if not grim. Now, Seattle has its fair share of depressed and grim people, but there is a generally acceptable mood in the population. We are not the most free-speaking area of the country, but even with that in mind, we’re lightyears ahead of New England Stoicism. It’s not that New England is dead, and in fact there is quite a bit of activity and growth occuring. But the general atmosphere is simply grim. I can’t think of any other word that would better describe it. It’s like they are industrious and unhappy about it, but don’t realize that they are unhappy about it.

There is the beginnings of an economic boom occuring the area, with several major stores moving into the area, and apparently there is even talk of a mall going in. Additionally and simultaneously, the counter-culture (people living alternative lifestyles, often artists or musicians) is also beginning to explode in the area, complete with a non-profit low-power radio station (WXND), and even a soon-to-open comic book institute. If after October I didn’t come back for several years, I honestly don’t think I would recognize much of anything but the basic layout of the roads (and maybe not even that, purportedly, they’re finally going to make modifications to Route 12A, to help clean up the traffic problem with the plazas).

Every time I come back to the Upper Valley, I realize more and more how done I am with the area. I enjoy seeing my friends and family, but as I become more acquainted with good coffee shops and places to hang out and good restaurants, I find myself less and less missing the area. That’s not to say I don’t miss Vermont, or Squam, or my friends, or my family. Far from it. It’s more that I’m trying to explain that the allure of the UV is really fading. Of course, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d probably buy some land up in the Northeast Kingdom and build a house up there. Not as a primary residence, but as a place to hole up and enjoy the world a bit more than cities really afford. I think it would make living in a city the rest of the time a lot more palatable to me, which I think Mickey would definitely appreciate.

I will give New England credit for one thing: history. In most other parts of the country, entire regions have been overtaken with housing developments and suburbs, cul de sacs, and factory fresh houses. New England has some of that, but you also get to see older architecture, and older town layouts where roads went somewhere and the housing was designed for a non-car centric style of life. It engendered a sense of community that has largely been killed through suburban planning in the rest of the country. It’s affected this area as well, but not as much, or at least more slowly. That is absolutely a good thing, and hopefully with the beginning realization of the need for communal interaction, it won’t lose any more (and maybe even improve).