A Different Kind of Civilized

The snow started earlier than predicted this morning, and we were enchanted by the raw, feral feel of the storm while walking our woodland miles soon after sunrise. There is something about a February storm here in Northern New England that turns back the clock and simplifies life. Needs are streamlined: warmth, food, safe transportation, and shelter. Have these amid a winter storm, and you feel wrapped in the goodness of life. 

This morning’s peacefulness was not lost on me since it is happening in the heart of the least pleasant week of the year up here. 

It’s February school vacation week, and while we don’t dislike visitors—I was once one myself, after all, before becoming a resident—we are keenly aware of attitude. Nearly anyone can afford to come to these sacred peaks and stunning valleys in the green of summer or under the autumnal kaleidoscope of fall foliage. But to be able to afford a week of skiing for an entire family is a costly holiday. Add up the lodging, ski equipment, and lift passes, not to mention the food and drink, and it dwarfs simple family camping trips in July or August. 

The expense of this week is beyond the reach of most people, and these mountains never seem more white than now.

It’s a class thing, in a world never more disparately separated. 

Talking to my friends in the service industry, the word that echoes is entitlement

One can genuinely feel the temperament of the grocery stores change during this vacation week. Employees are tenser, and ready to be looked down upon, frowned upon, or yelled at. 

In my travels, I’ve often noted that the staff at any Whole Foods Market stands in stark contrast to the chain’s customers. I never quite know how they keep their pleasant and polite ways when dealing with some who can afford to shop there regularly.

I think of those employees I've met at Whole Foods during these touristy times. And I'm often inspired by the more entitled folks when I travel, now that I do travel. My goal is always to pay respect to those who live in a place I am visiting.

In past Februarys, I’ve made it a point to escape during this week and head out of state. Alas, this year money is tight. 

This morning’s walk was silent, save for the sound of snow falling. Even the river ran silently by with nary a whisper of song. The rumble of the ski train was all that punctuated the quiet of the forest on its way from North Conway to Attitash. After it roared past, though, it may as well have been a dream that faded within seconds. 

The train passes, and we are welcomed home by the forest and her denizens immediately. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like out West where we had to be extra careful in our travels, always aware of cougars, grizzlies, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. In New Hampshire, the bears are asleep—not that they are aggressive, we do not have mountain lions, and even the coyotes are the ones cautious around us. If anything, they watch us pass, as hidden as ghosts. We do see deer and, on increasingly rare occasions, a moose. 

This morning, even the birds were sitting out the storm. They were as mute as the river. I pictured them tucked tightly under their wings, sleeping the snow away. The same with the chipmunks and squirrels. They were invisible today. 

We moved about as if in prayer. My exposed face relished the cold snow falling against it. Samwise and Emily carried a slight coating on their fur, and my hat and sweater matched. I am still amazed that they have taken to the cold as they have, and are never put off by it. I’ve yet to see either of them shiver or shake, even when it’s as low as thirty below zero. 

It was in this dreamscape that we lost ourselves today—stride after stride, grove after grove, mile after mile. The trees were silent witnesses to our passing. And then we came around a corner to a sight that caught our attention. Hanging in the low crook of a tree was a deer's hind leg, fur and hoof on one end, white bone and blood on the other. Emily drew close to it at first, standing on her hind legs to sniff at it. She looked at me for a hint on how she should proceed.

“Leave it be, please. That’s not for us." 

She and Samwise went about sniffing the snow in the area, while I noted this is the second kill we’ve found in the last two weeks. As much as I love the grace and gentle ways of deer, I have no qualms with a coyote needing to eat. 

I said a prayer for the dead deer, the gratefully full coyote, and our place in this wildness. I was standing in peace, where violence in the struggle for life had played out only hours before. 

The approaching return of the ski train interrupted all of that. It was on its way back to North Conway for more school vacation skiers.

Even this contrast had me counting my blessings for a life that is a bit different than the one I had imagined while growing up. Not worse off by any means. Just different. Fulfilled, and mostly peaceful. Even when the wealthy come to town and make things less friendly. 

When they crowd the area, we turn to the forest for a different kind of civilization—a purer kind.