The Sheltering Embrace of the White Pine
I believe in the sheltering embrace of the white pine, hemlock, red spruce. The woods of my adopted state of New Hampshire are where I feel at home and at peace. Growing up in an old farmhouse in Massachusetts, I spent hours in the adjacent forest following the ghosts of carriage roads and stone walls and searching cellar holes for bottles. Summers were spent camping in the White Mountains, swimming in the icy Kangamangus River and climbing the Presidential Range. College and work led me away to fast-paced cities such as Hong Kong, London, and Boston. But when it came time decide where to anchor my life and my family, I went back to the forests of New Hampshire.
Even though 83% of New Hampshire is forested this is not Thoreau’s Walden. My family lives in a planned community with a golf course. I can drive to a Wal-Mart or Home Depot, if I so desire, in twenty minutes. More importantly, we have wireless broadband internet service.
Most summer evenings my family takes a picnic dinner down to the lake we share with the loons. At my son’s school, winter gym class is often snowshoeing through the surrounding woods. My son climbed his first 4,000 footer when he was 5 years old (or at 5 months old, if being carried in a Baby Bjorn counts). My work commute to a historic site and wildlife refuge travels past granite ledges, a heron rookery, and northern hardwood forest stands… and not a single traffic light.
My job involves teaching the public and school groups about New Hampshire history and ecology. I now know why there are cellar holes and stonewalls out in the middle of the woodlands. I teach newly-arrived retirees about the evolution of New Hampshire from an agricultural to industrial to tourism-based economy. I guide children to vernal pools and monarch-filled meadows. I watch them join hands, encircle and hug massive ancient white pines and get hugged back.
When I teach ecology in my son’s school, my students can recognize a dozen different animal tracks, and they can tell you how maple syrup is made. I imagine some parents will roll their eyes and argue that these children are not getting what they need to be successful and competitive in tomorrow’s world. My son’s classmates do not come from all over the globe and you will hear mostly English in the hallways. I tried to find a Chinese language class for him, but the closest was 50 miles away in the state’s capital.
What my family has gained here in the forests of New Hampshire is a deep sense of place and belonging and responsibility. Teaching about New Hampshire’s history and ecology and the importance of stewardship is how I proselytize my beliefs. And I pray my son will grow into a man who knows how to find comfort and connection by taking a walk through the woods.