Posted February 6th, 2009 at 7:29 pm (UTC-4)
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I’m at it again with another made-up regional name. Just as there is no such place as MassConnIsland to encompass the three southernmost states in the New England region, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to the north don’t really come together as NewVerMaine. But they have enough in common to set them apart from the states below them.

Winter is the time of year that tests one’s love of this land of old, weathered mountains, vast evergreen forests, and rocky seashores. And when I say rocks, I mean gigantic ones, piled all along the Maine coast in particular. You can build only so many ski resorts, stack only so many cords of firewood, and pull only so many fish and lobsters from the frigid sea to pull a profit out of such places at this time of year. Steady employment is pretty hard to find in this northland abutting Canada. Many residents of these states survive on seasonal, warm-weather jobs at resorts, tourist cabins, fishing camps and the like. But just as hardy people have stuck it out on the icy winter plains of North Dakota in the Midwest, people who have these north woods in their blood love it too much to leave. Somehow, year after year, they get by.

Green and More Green

As in southern New England, tourism – including those ski resorts – has become a lifeline in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In no other region are bed-and-breakfast inns more plentiful and in demand, especially during picturesque “leaf season” in the fall. Whereas tourists mosey around the southern New England states in search of historical and cultural landmarks like whaling museums, colonial-style villages, monuments and other remnants of the American Revolution of the late 18th Century, visitors seek out the North Country for its scenery, snow, and wildlife – including moose, brown bears, mink, bobcats, river otters and eastern coyotes.

Visitors come in search of simple serenity as well.

Ruth and Wimpy's
This is Ruth and Wimpy’s lobster shack in Hancock, Maine. And the red fellow in the foreground is “Wilbur”

And great food. Maine lobsters are a delicacy too expensive to afford very often back home, but they’re so commonplace in Maine that every little shack along the coast serves “lobster rolls” made with hunks of lobster meat. Or you can order-up clams on the half-shell, mussels marinara, locally caught and fried octopus, or puffers. Puffers? They are strips of mild whitefish breaded in tempura batter, which puffs up when the fish is deep-fried. Tempura in Maine! – where, I guarantee you, the batter is not mixed with chopsticks.

Yummy Fare

This may be the hard-edged land of flannel shirts and chest waders, but inside some of the simple cabins from which you see fireplace smoke curling are some of the nation’s finest restaurants. Northern New England even sports an internationally renowned school for chefs. At the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, young people pay handsomely for the chance to work at the bottom rung of the food-service business, from chopping greens to scraping bread crumbs off guests’ tables, in hopes of someday becoming master chefs. Their laboratories are real-life restaurants in Essex and the state capital of Montpelier. There, they do almost 90 percent of the work in the kitchen – the “back of the house” as it’s called in the trade – as well as the lion’s share of the serving out front. Talk about a good deal for restaurateurs!

So fine is the food and enthusiastic the service that many patrons would never know they are exhibits in a culinary classroom save for one little detail that cannot slip their notice:

Tipping is not allowed.

Fragile Ecosystem Preserved

In my last post, I mentioned the ecology theme of the Rose Island Lighthouse down in Rhode Island. Environmental tourism is even stronger up north. Most of the visitors to an Atlantic Ocean salt marsh once known as Laudholm Farm, near Wells, Maine, for instance, stow their litter and are careful to keep to the footpath as they peer at wetland bogs, migratory birds and marsh animals. This is the land of Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and nature writer whose book Silent Spring launched an environmental movement so strong that it led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other toxic pesticides.

Laudholm Farm
This is the beautifully preserved milking barn at Laudholm Farm on an estuarine salt marsh in Maine

At Laudholm Farm, too, you’ll find a big Jamesway milking barn of the sort that were once the centerpieces of model farms throughout northern New England. The entire estate is part of the 728-hectare Wells National Estuary Sanctuary – Maine’s largest stretch of open land. At its dedication many years ago, then-U.S. Senator William Cohen of Maine welcomed the nature preserve. There is more to the Maine lifestyle than “condominiumizing the coastline,” he said.

That’s less of a problem during our present economic troubles, of course, since fewer speculators are building condos and fewer consumers are buying them.

The northeasternmost state in the nation’s upper-right-hand corner, Maine was part of a much larger Massachusetts until 1820. It is almost as large as the other five New England states combined but holds only 9 percent of the region’s population.

You want rocky? Here’s one view of Maine’s rocky coastline, which wiggles in and out of the sea

And here’s my favorite Maine factoid. Take a look at a U.S. map, if you can, perhaps by zooming in on the upper-right corner of the country on the interactive map you’ll find over in the column on the right: Suppose the rocky coastline of Maine, including all the little detours into its many inlets, were a string. If you pulled that string tight, the Maine coast would be longer than California’s long coastline that runs more than halfway up our West Coast. Yet look at the two states on a map, and Maine’s coastline looks to be just a fraction of California’s.

Down and Back and Down Again
Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
At the end of one of Maine’s innumerable little peninsulas, you’ll find Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Check out the layers of granite to see why the beacon protected many a mariner from a shipwreck

All these inlets are a nuisance to travelers. You can’t just roll along the coastline, admiring the scenery, the way you can along California’s Pacific Coast Highway. If you wind down a narrow road to one of Maine’s quaint fishing villages or little resort cities with their grand sea captains’ mansions at the end of one of Maine’s countless peninsulas, you have to retrace your steps to go anywhere else. If you wanted to visit all the little towns, you’d be driving for weeks!

Check out how hard it is to see this moose cow on a clear day. Try spotting it on the road on a foggy night

In Maine’s largely empty interior, pines are plentiful and houses are few and far between. When Carol and I last visited Maine a few years ago, there were even signs along the Maine Turnpike displaying a puzzling series of letters and numbers rather than the name of the town you’d reach off the next exit. That’s because there was none. Instead, the ramps would lead to unincorporated and virtually uninhabited tracts of land, identified by those mysterious codes. You might meet a moose there, though, or even a brown bear. And you were almost guaranteed a whitetail-deer sighting.

No wonder Mainers, with their famously wry humor, sometimes call their state “The Next to Last Frontier” – barely conceding that Alaska, far, far away to the west, is the last.

Which reminds me of another Maine tale to go with the one from the last posting:

Question: When is summer in Maine?

Answer: The Fourth of July.

Now naturally, the state does get a whiff of warm air for a few more days than that, but it’s not a blessing. The wind blows in mosquitoes the size of condors and blood-sucking black flies that only a werewolf could love.

Wild Places and Things

If you want to see Maine’s seals up close – and there are five varieties, including harp, hooded, and ringed – or a lobster anywhere but in a tank or in chunks at the end of your fork, you’ll have to take a lobster-boat excursion. Two layers of sweaters advised.

On it, you’ll get an inkling of the backbreaking work of a lobsterman, who must set and haul up traps from dawn till dusk. And you’ll learn invaluable things about the creatures, including the fact that they smell with their leg hairs. I’m not sure that this information could be of any practical use, but you never know.

Acadia National Park
This is a view from atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Below in the distance is swanky Bar Harbor

For those less prone to seasickness, Maine is home to one of the nation’s most beautiful – and most visited – national wonders. It’s Acadia National Park, which is spread over an island with the unusual name of “Mount Desert Island” as well as smaller islands and an onshore peninsula. Created in 1916, Acadia is the nation’s oldest national park east of the Mississippi River. At the summit of its Cadillac Mountain on a clear day, you can see Mount Katahdin, the starting point of the Appalachian foot trail, 130 kilometers to the north. And spread out directly below are the yacht-filled slips of the resort town of Bar Harbor. Or as they say in New England, “Bah Hahbuh.”

You’ll recall that I said that New Englanders practice a studied wariness, and that’s nowhere more true than in Maine. Mainers are still sizing up people years after they move to the state, and you may never be accepted as true “Mainiacs.” “Just because your cat has kittens in the oven,” goes the explanation, “you wouldn’t call them biscuits.”

I say this and have observed it. Yet Maine, which calls itself “Vacationland,” is delighted to accept all the tourist dollars it can get. It’s just when people come and never leave that there can be tensions.

You’ll Need Boots
Montpelier, Vermont, at 8,000 people, is the nation’s smallest state capital. One of the coldest, too, as you can guess by looking at it

Winters are long, cabin fever runs high, and during spring’s “mud season,” newly thawed dirt roads are all but impassable. Maine is not a bedroom community for bigger cities to the south, the way southern Vermont and New Hampshire have become. Nor have the “summer people,” as the Mainers call them, moved in to the same degree. For many years, the people of this state have turned down nearly every proposal to widen the Maine Turnpike, even though 70 percent of them lived within 25 kilometers of the road and could have used a faster trip. They just didn’t want to encourage development.

Only the little sign off to the right would give away the identification of this pretty little building in Freeport, Maine, as a McDonald’s restaurant

Maine’s quiet pride bubbles at the mention of two institutions: the state university, whose hockey and baseball teams often make College World Series appearances; and the L.L. Bean outdoor clothing and equipment company in Freeport, which is famous for its conservative clothes and solicitous customer service. Even Freeport’s McDonald’s fast-food outlet is located in a historic house. So many people drove up to Maine to shop in Freeport that 13 separate malls of outlet stores sprang up along the coast, offering discounts on famous-name brands. At this contender for Outlet Capital of the Nation, stores sometimes spill their goods onto the sidewalks, creating a “shop till you drop” frenzy the likes of which I hope to never experience again.

What does one do for fun in Maine? There are lobster bakes, lighthouse tours, snowmobiling trips and organized moose-picture safaris. I kid you not. In Maine, drivers are advised to watch out first for automobiles, then for moose, unless it’s dark, when the order is reversed. Adult moose are darker, taller and weigh as much as many cars.

That’s Vermont. No, New Hampshire
New Hampshire
This is New Hampshire. Or is it Vermont?

If you’ll turn to that map again and look at the shapes of Maine’s neighbors to the east – New Hampshire and Vermont – you’ll notice that they look a lot alike, like two long pork chops side by side, with the thin “handle” of one pointing northward, toward Canada, and the “handle” of the other pointing south, toward Massachusetts.

I asked web guru Anne Malinee how many Americans out of 10 would know which is which.

“Half,” she said.

“No way,” I protested. “I’d be surprised if three out of 10 would know New Hampshire from Vermont if only the outlines appeared.”

“I meant half a person”! she replied. One-half of one person in 10 might know them apart, presumably excluding most who live there. Anne is from Kansas, a long way away. So count her among those who are never sure. I’ve been to both states several times, and I still get them confused unless they’re clearly labeled.

So pay attention!: New Hampshire is the one with the skinny “handle” at the top, and it’s the only state to border Maine. That’s possible only because a tiny bump of New Hampshire sticks out eastward to the Atlantic Coast, barely separating Maine from Massachusetts below. Yet the 21 kilometers of New Hampshire’s Atlantic shoreline offer a great deal. There’s a quiet, state-owned swimming beach. Then an old-fashioned amusement beach with a five-kilometer boardwalk that includes a “casino” – the old fashioned word not for a gambling house but an entertainment arcade and ballroom.

In Portsmouth harbor, these three-thousand-horsepower tugboats await assignments to tow ships up the Piscataqua River

And finally there is graceful, historic Portsmouth, one of the best-preserved maritime centers in New England. It was a whaling town and a shipbuilding center. And in the middle of it all is Strawbery Banke, a remarkable cluster of buildings saved from ruination. And not just colonial ones. At Strawbery Banke you’ll find corner stores from the 1940s; little bungalows from the 1950s complete with big, blocky, black-and-white television sets and early refrigerators; and gardens in the styles of many eras. (And if you think the name “Strawbery Banke” sounds odd, wait till you hear the name of the Portsmouth neighborhood it’s in. It’s “Puddle Duck.”)

Ever since the first mountain climbers showed up in 1640 to test a peak called Mount Washington – and more on it in a little bit –, New Hampshire has had a bemused tolerance of tourists. Artists hung out at the foot of that mountain, founding an entire “Bretton Woods School.” More about Bretton Woods to come, too.

Train station
Every unusual building is fair game for tourists’ cameras, including this old train station in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The town simplified the name from the original “Wolfeborough” many years ago

The upshot is that New Hampshiremen – that’s what they’re called, though there don’t seem to be a lot of references to New Hampshirewomen – have a little joke going. They like visitors so much that many say the license plate motto should be changed from “Live Free or Die” to “Bring Money.”

A Frugal Lot

The ‘Live Free” motto is attributed to Revolutionary War general John Stark, and it was picked up by William Loeb, editor of the arch-conservative Union Leader newspaper in the state’s largest city, Manchester. In part because of Loeb’s influence, New Hampshire has voted Republican much more often than Democratic in statewide and presidential elections. One of its rural counties on the Maine border has even been the most reliably Republican in presidential voting in the nation.

Our new, liberal Democratic president, Barack Obama, just nominated U.S. Senator Judd Gregg to be his secretary of Commerce, even though Gregg is a Republican. And to get him, the president had to get New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, to agree to appoint another Republican in Gregg’s place.

Liquor store
What’s so special about this New Hampshire liquor store? It’s the prices. People drive there from all over the Northeast to stock up, because prices are so low. In part, that’s because the state charges no sales tax

As evidence of New Hampshire’s prized independence and self-sufficiency, the state has stoutly rejected efforts to impose income or sales taxes. It is the only state in the Union that has neither. “We’re stubbornly self-reliant,” is one explanation, which may explain why New Hampshire routinely ranks in the top five or six in per capita income among the 50 states, and near the bottom – sometimes even 50th – on the annual “generosity index” of charitable giving.

The lush forests of upper New England are dotted with cozy little lakes like this one

Americans can thank New Hampshire for national forests. When the gentry of New York, Washington, and Philadelphia, sitting on the verandas of the numerous grand resorts in the shadow of the state’s White Mountains, saw the mountains being stripped of wood by loggers, they complained. It’s not that they were raging environmentalists. The bare spots on the mountainside spoiled the view. So in 1911, Congressman John W. Weeks of New York, a New Hampshire native, pushed through the nation’s first law allowing the federal government to purchase vast forest lands, using the rationale that saving trees would protect stream banks from dangerous runoffs, and turn them into preserves. The result is that the view of Mount Washington, around which the first national forest was established, is remarkably free of condominiums, fast-food signs, ski chalets, and electrical towers.

Opulence in the Highlands

The largest and most lavish of the White Mountains resorts was the Mount Washington Hotel, which overlooks the long, unspoiled Bretton Woods Valley at the foot of the Presidential Range.

Mount Washington Hotel
The setting of the regal Mount Washington Hotel is almost breathtaking

Whole families – or at least the women, children, and household servants – “summered” there for generations. (Fathers stayed on the job in the cities, perhaps dropping in at the resorts for a long weekend or two.) Arriving in first-class Pullman cars or private railroad coaches, guests were greeted by a coachman and then the same solicitous general manager and maitre ‘d hotel who had waited on them the previous year. “Seeing and being seen was the name of the game” for these grand hotels’ clientele, many of whom came from a prominent listing of the top 400 members of the nation’s mercantile gentry, according to White Mountains historian Edward Camara Jr. “It was one of the reasons you went there, to promenade down the long porch to dinner or through the lobby to the ballroom.”

Come wintertime the staffs – and several of the guests – of these northlands resorts would simply move south to “winter” in similarly opulent style in Florida.

Mount Washington
Here’s another view of the Mount Washington, with a bit of the flair from the days when it and other grand North Country resorts attracted the East’s elite

The Y-shaped Mount Washington Hotel was titanic, its lobby so cavernous that it was first called the “assembly hall.” Its 300 or so guest rooms boasted more than one thousand windows, five thousand electric lights, and oversized brass doorknobs that became a trademark. And the most remarkable features of this great palazzo in what seemed like the middle of nowhere in the North Woods were the wraparound veranda that extended for almost half a kilometer, Turkish baths, boot and gun rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools “fed by water from the Ammonoosuc, tempered by jets of steam,” and six separate refrigeration rooms off the kitchen, each with its own temperature that was ideal for meats, cream, fruit, vegetables, pastry, or frozen treats.

It was at the Mount Washington Hotel in 1944 that the New Hampshire mountains met the world. With the outcome of World War II still much in doubt, the United States invited world leaders to the Bretton Woods Conference to formulate postwar economic plans. Two results: a world monetary fund and a new world bank.

Low but Famous Vote Totals
Franconia Notch
This is Franconia Notch, one of New Hampshire’s few routes through the White Mountains

Today only the Mount Washington Hotel and the Balsams Hotel in little Dixville Notch, population 75, survive among New Hampshire’s grand hotels. (A notch is the New Hampshire term for a narrow cut in the mountains.) The Balsams is the site of the nation’s first vote and vote count, just past midnight on primary and general-election days each presidential election year. Sometimes as few as 25 people vote, and the results are carried across the nation as something for the analysts to talk about before meaningful results stream in.

If Boston is the informal capital of the southern New England states, Mount Washington and all it surveys could be called the locus of the northern ones. “Agiocochook,” as the native Abenaki Indians called it, was not only the centerpiece of the eastern American alps, it was, to them, also home to the Great Spirit. For sure, at 1,917 meters, what would later be called Mount Washington was the highest point east of the Mississippi River and north of the Carolinas.

Bring Mittens. Lots of Them
This is the old observatory building atop Mount Washington, coated with “rime,” a form of ice caused by the deposit of super-cooled fog droplets whipped by howling winds

Those early mountain climbers arrived with their ropes and picks, but not many followed, for the weather atop Mount Washington is documented to be the worst in the world. Right at that very point, three great storm tracks converge, and when they are all cranking, there’s hell to pay at the observation station. Not only can temperatures drop 40 degrees Celsius or more in an hour on an otherwise balmy July day, but you don’t know from cold until you’ve stood there in winter. On April 12, 1934, during a raging storm, a gust was measured at 372 kilometers per hour, the strongest ever recorded on earth. When remnants of a coastal hurricane passed one day in 1978, they blew a heavy construction van onto its side. Then the wind changed direction and blew it upright again.

In one of the funniest silent “shorts” I have ever seen, a man emerges from the observation tower on Mount Washington in what is obviously a howling gale. He is carrying a box of cereal flakes, a bottle of milk, and a bowl. He sits at a table, which has been anchored to the deck, sets the bottle of milk down, holds the bowl tightly on the tabletop, and attempts to pour his flakes. As you can imagine, they fly off in the distance the moment they leave the box, perhaps fluttering clear to Canada or Maine on the jet stream.

But the conditions up high did not keep entrepreneurs from building, at more comfortable elevations, all manner of cabins, tourist inns and, eventually, luxurious hotels from which to admire the mountain and the adjoining peaks of the Presidential Range. When railroad lines finally broke through the rugged mountains in 1875 – New Hampshire’s not called the “Granite State” for nothing – the rush was on. Not of settlers, but of those wealthy visitors seeking the fresh mountain air. Soon, horse-drawn coaches were struggling their way upward, along the gorges, until they reached the summit of Mount Washington. And just as at Pikes Peak in the Colorado Rockies years later, automobiles soon tested the serpentine path as well. The first race was won by F. O. Stanley and his wife, driving a six-horsepower “Locomobile” in 1899.

Things are Looking Up Here
Railway engine
Two Mount Washington cog railway engines push coaches up the mountain. Each coach requires its own funny-looking locomotive, and the trip is very, very slow

The world’s first cog railway, which climbs 2,000 meters up a western spur of Mount Washington, was developed here as well, and it runs to this day. It and its funny-looking mountain-climbing locomotives became tourist attractions of their own, drawing tens of thousands of visitors to area hotels. Funny-looking? Their boilers ride at a sharp forward angle, pointed downward. This keeping them parallel to the steep terrain, but it also gives them the look of an elephant resting on its knees.

In one of the most dramatic sections along the cog railway’s route, called “Jacob’s Ladder” – a reference to a ladder to Heaven in the Biblical book of Genesis – the track inclines at a 37.41-degree grade on its wooden trestle. That’s about the angle of your arm if you pointed to a bird, high in a nearby tree.

The trips, in old-fashioned passenger cars into which smoke and cinders routinely fly, are powered by steam locomotives whose drive power transfers to two cog wheels that catch the track as they ascend or descend the mountain. Astoundingly – are you ready for this? – the engine and passenger coaches are not coupled. That’s because the engine pushes, rather than pulls, the cars up the mountain. Coming down, the coaches usually do not even touch the engine. They work on their own braking system that handles the coach’s own weight.

Off to the west, neighboring Vermont has its north-south range – the Green Mountains. Considered the oldest mountains in New England, they wore down over geologic time to become a much more gradual, less imposing range than New Hampshire’s Whites.

Refinement Found Here
The owners of a company that made “palace cars” for grand railroads kept a grand estate and model farm called “Shelburne” on Vermont’s Lake Champlain. This is its barn

Once derided as being a “long place from anywhere,” Vermont, despite its presence in the heavily populated East, is still, by some measures, the nation’s most rural state. It doesn’t have Montana’s wide-open western spaces or the almost-impregnable valleys of a Kentucky or West Virginia, but it is packed with quaint little towns. As the state has yuppified, every one of those towns seems to have a real or faux general store of the kind that supplied the entire countryside with everything from beans to nails a century ago.

And seemingly, too, in Vermont, every other house hangs out a bed-and-breakfast or pension sign.

Vermont’s largest city, Burlington – home to the state’s largest public university – has just 39,000 residents, and there’s a big drop-off to the next-largest town, Rutland, which barely cracks 17,000. Only about 8,000 people, not counting meandering lobbyists, live in Montpelier, the state capital.

Vermont is odd, and in a way unique, in that it was first explored – by whites, anyway – from the west and north rather than from the east. Those Green Mountains got in the way. Thus Vermont – French for “Green Mountain” – retains a strong French Canadian flavor. For decades, Montreal was the state’s entrepót, and it took the coming of the railroads from the south to connect Vermont with the rest of New England.

And there was a time when connections were exactly what Vermonters did not want. Unlike New Hampshire, which was an original American colony, and Maine, which began as the northern reaches of Massachusetts, Vermont was a self-declared free and independent republic before becoming our 14th state and the first after the original 13 colonies declared themselves states.

Vermont is also the nation’s most reliably liberal state – you’ll recall that its neighbor to the east is among the most conservative – and among the nation’s most patriotic. It banned slavery even before entering the Union in 1791 and sent the highest percentage of its young men to fight for the North in the great Civil War of the 1860s. On the Gettysburg battlefield in that war, Major General John Sedgwick’s order read, “Put the Vermonters ahead and keep the column well closed up.”

Fine Just as it Is
Covered bridge
This is one of Vermont’s many covered bridges. Another, which I showed you when I wrote about such bridges several posts back (check the archive!) connects Vermont with New Hampshire and is the longest in the nation

Because Vermont has what a lot of people want, its rolling dairy farms and climbable mountains have been discovered – big time – by developers, tourists, enthusiastic new residents, and parents looking for summer camps for their children. The developments have outraged the locals, who have blocked them when they can. But outsiders continue to pour in, changing the culture and outvoting old-timers at Vermont’s legendary town meetings to pass tax measures. That has elevated the quality of schools and kept towns looking crisp and clean, but prosperity has also brought Chinese restaurants and microbreweries and chain motels, even to small towns. One of the nation’s richest (in butterfat) and most adored ice creams is made in Vermont and exported as a delicacy.

Life is so good in Vermont these days, in fact, that critics say the newcomers have brought a nouveau riche “drawbridge” mentality to Vermont, meaning, “I’m here now. Close the drawbridge.”

Spring is Vermont’s busiest time of year. In addition to tending to the usual chores, many farmers trudge up the woodland hillsides, gathering sap to make the state’s famous, sticky-sweet maple syrup. Not only have some of them opened successful gift shops and plants that make sugary maple candy, but they also ship syrup all over the world. After a long, cold, dormant winter, sugar maple trees spring to life and produce the sap that the farmers tap. The state seems to have the ideal conditions for this trade: a hearty stand of maples, ideal soil, and just the right spring weather, with freezing nights followed by warm, sunny days that make the sap flow.

Is this serene enough for you? It’s early sunset at Old Harbor, Maine

Some time back, I used the word “serenity” to describe one of the allurements of NewVerMaine. It’s a quality that’s getting harder and harder to find as development spreads. But when you consider how crowded the nation’s Northeast Corridor, starting down in northern Virginia and reaching to Canada, has become – and how far away are the true wide-open spaces of the American prairie and western peaks – Maine and its lobster shacks, New Hampshire and its cool mountain valleys, and Vermont and its dairy farms and tidy Colonial-era towns provide at least a taste of serenity. Plus bright, shimmering autumn leaves, a sample of the French language if you’d like to hear it, a railroad ride straight into the clouds, and all the decadent, high butter-fat ice cream and crunchy maple candy you care to buy and eat.


(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I’ll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of “Ted’s Wild Words” in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there’s another word in today’s blog that you’d like me to explain, just ask!)

Chest waders. Waterproof clothing that incorporates boots, pants, and a top held up by suspenders, all in one. Add a colorful flannel shirt, and you look backwoodsy but natty, all at once.

Mosey. To amble or walk leisurely at an unhurried pace. Sometimes, out in the country, you’ll hear people ask someone else to please “mosey on down.”

Solicitous. Expressing care or concern. A solicitous person solicits information about you, your family, and your well-being.

Wry. The word derives from an Old English word for bent or twisted, and wry humor is similarly offbeat and, sometimes, a little contorted from the norm. Similarly, a person’s “wry smile” is a bit skewed.

Yuppify. To give a place the quality of yuppies. The word “yuppy,” coined in the 1980s, derives from the acronym for “Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals, and described the mostly college-educated city people who set out on a career path to well-paying jobs. They kept everything as perfect as possible in order to achieve their materialistic goals. Thus a town that has been yuppified has lost its rough spots and, some say, its character, in favor of a scrubbed, orderly look.

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Ted Landphair


This is a far-ranging exploration of American life by a veteran Voice of America “Americana” reporter and essayist.

Ted writes about the thousands of places he has visited and written about as a broadcaster and book author. Ted Landphair’s America often showcases the work of his wife and traveling companion, renowned American photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

Ted welcomes feedback, questions, and ideas. View Ted’s profile. Watch a video about Ted and Carol by VOA’s Nico Colombant.

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith


February 2009
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