The Northern Loop

I left the house before sunrise today in order to drive three hours north to Hennicker, New Hampshire to see my dear friend Tara and her newborn baby Aiyana. Creeping barefoot through the silent kitchen, I momentarily relished the darkness and silence of the early morning. For the first time since Thursday, not a television, radio, video game, or cell phone could be heard. In the distance, I recognized the call of a wild turkey family.

Sixty minutes into the drive I approached the blessed exit for Northampton, Massachusettes – the Asheville of New England – and considered exiting for an Irish cream mocha from Haymarket Cafe. When I lived in the Berkshire Mountains, Northampton was an hour’s drive from the old apple orchard my friends and I called home. On weekends, if we weren’t hiking the AT, we’d hit the road and lounge around Northampton for a day. The Haymarket is still the first and only place I’ve been able to write a complete short story. Inspiration abounds in the cafe, perculating from customer to customer like water through coffee grounds – the end result being addictive, seductive, desirable.

Realizing the time of day, I pressed on for the Vermont state line where rests a gigantic Welcome Center that is open twenty-four hours a day. I knew for certain that I would find Green Mountain Coffee there, straight from the source. To my dismay, however, free beverages were not served. I hesitatingly joined a line of groggy-eyed customers to place my vending machine order for a cup of the famous coffee. For the record, drinking coffee from a vending machine goes entirely against my Coffee Consumer Code of Ethics. However, the need for altertness on the road and my desire to drink Vermont coffee in Vermont overrode my disgust in the machine and within five minutes, I was cruising down the interstate once again, this time with a warm smile on my face and steamy cup in my hand.

For two more hours I drove north, cutting a tiny triangle across Vermont, then billowing up the New Hampshire mountains through fog and across icy rivers that surged with crushing anger over frozen banks and eddies. Travelling skiers were in abundance as were “oldies” radio stations – the only reception I could get on the dial. If the Rolling Stones, the Police, and Van Morrison are oldies, well fine with me – I rocked out all the way to Tara’s doorstep, arriving just after 10:00 a.m. You know you’re in New Hampshire when you see “Moose Crossing” signs every five miles and the edges of state highways are embellished with snowmobile tracks. God I love that state.

Tara looked different when she opened the door, her hair now four inches longer than the last time I saw her. She still maintained her knowing smile and startling olive green eyes, but there was a look of serene wisdom in her profile that I had not seen before the birth. We spent hours chatting, looking at photos of the birth, walking alongside the river, and discussing the pros of cloth diapers. Happily, I have a favorite image of Tara in my mind’s eye that I will cherish: When Aiyana finally relaxed her twelve-day-old body enough to fall asleep in her mother’s arms, pink face and fingers rounded and nestled just so, Tara looked down at her beloved newborn calmly at first, and then suddenly her face burst into a cheek-cracking smile of pride and wonder. “She’s just so sweet. I’m so in love,” she said.

My Northern loop was not over yet, as I dashed from Hennicker heading southeast in the direction of Boston. At the last minute I had decided to give my cousin Angela and family, who live in Derry, New Hampshire, a surprise visit. Her husband didn’t even know that I was in Connecticut for the holidays so when I walked into the house unannounced the look on his face made all the miles of the day worthwhile. “But I thought you were in – ” he paused, then finished, “North Carolina.”

Twelve hours after departing, I pulled up the long gravel driveway in Durham and was greeted briefly by my Uncle and family. With cousins Blake and Evan gone, much of the electrical equipment still lay at rest in the house. Almost four hundred miles, three cups of coffee (Vermont, Tara’s, Angela’s), and over half a dozen smiling faces later, and I was back where I started: tiptoeing through the kitchen barefooted, in the dim natural light in a surprisingly quiet house.

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