On warm summer weekends in the 1960s, my family piled into our Ford Country Squire station wagon with its pale green paint and fake “wood” siding and headed north from Massachusetts, weekending with older relatives among the cooler forests of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. The wagon had sideways third-row seats, so my sisters and I saw things sort of backwards and just slightly in the past.
The great aunts, uncles, and grandparents we visited up north were then in their 60s. At the time, being 60-something meant being frail and holding a cigarette. To a kid, 60 looked elderly, 70 ancient, and the elusive 80, primeval. Many of these good people wore wool in July; cotton was something of a rarity. They read books and grew vegetables and told funny stories and smoked and smoked and drank Manhattans and did not work out, ever.
Those weekend memories resurfaced when I returned to New Hampshire in January to join the delightful team occupying the gray gambrel barn at Garnet Hill (dragging the Polar Vortex across the weather map with me from Wisconsin…a story for another time).
My impression of the area today? Everyone at every age is in motion here. They are spinning and hiking and skiing and biking and jogging behind strollers and walking and mountain climbing and yoga posing and lifting heavy things on purpose.
The other day I saw a guy propelling himself down Franconia’s Main Street on a device that looked like oars mounted backward on the front of a skateboard. He appeared to be punching the air, and the existence of his invisible, Harvey-esque opponent did not seem to cause him embarrassment as he passed the pundits sitting out in front of the General Store.
You are as likely to see a cigarette around here as you are a Red-Throated Loon slalom skiing across Lake Winnipesaukee.
Life expectancy has increased by decades since records were first kept. (Statisticians say, “the death rate has dropped,” but to my mind, it’s always been one per person.) And New Hampshire often ranks among the five healthiest states. Clearly, staying active has something to do with it.
If you’d like to come up and see for yourself, say from New York City, here are the directions: Walk north through Connecticut. Run through the Massachusetts woods. Then turn right and bike across Vermont to New Hampshire. Clamber up the White Mountains and look for the gray barn.
See you on the hill.
Photography by Jason Tors