Take me home, country roads
A week ago, I was sitting aboard an Asiana Airlines flight some 37,000 feet above earth on my way from Seoul, South Korea to New York’s JFK Airport where I would catch a flight to Boston and then a ride to northern New Hampshire. I contemplated the transition from a frenetic, wired city of more than 10 million people to a bucolic and isolated town (pop. 4,044). More specifically, I’d be staying at a family member’s home more than eight miles (12.8 km) down a road that ends at the state’s largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee — “No Internet here,” my older brother told me during a call before my arrival.
Having lived in Seoul for more than five years, it is always a jolt to leave the convenience and buzz of the metropolis to arrive in a rustic setting where the silence and your heartbeat in the middle of night can be deafening. I often find myself feeling uncomfortable and awkward in my first days (jet lag mostly) and weeks (cultural and idiosyncratic confusion) back in the country of my birth. Handing over and receiving money with two hands; bowing to acknowledge people; saying “yeah, yeah” too much; expecting to get places quickly; hoping to get all kinds of side dishes with cheap meals; looking for restaurants that deliver food (they don’t here in New Hampshire) — these are the things that I suppose people mean when they refer to reverse culture shock. As I rode north on Interstate 93 in my brother’s Volvo wagon with my 100-plus pounds of luggage in tow, I gazed out at the nascent spring landscape, realizing that a new beginning was underway in nature and my life. How would I adjust?
Stopping in Concord (the capital city) to stock up at the Market Basket supermarket, I got lost in the multifarious aisles, unsure of what to put in the cart — “There is so much stuff,” I thought repeatedly — listening for the staple man who calls out “sale” in the meat, seafood and produce sections of every Korean supermarket, prompting the usual push and shove of fervid female shoppers. Yet the store was rather quiet and vacant as closing time neared; a perfect time to shop, my brother advised. The conservative shopping spree came to $117.52.
Well stocked, we arrived at the 1825 cape-style home under cool star-filled skies. The pleasant smell of wood smoke permeated the old home and the wood floors creaked underfoot — both calmed and welcomed me. Usually, I struggle to sleep after flying for more than 10 hours — jet lag twists the internal clock — but this night I drifted smoothly off into that darkness and woke in the morning feeling rested though misplaced. Strolling into the woods, pine and fallen leaves filled the air with familiar scents and two white tails bounded off over a stone wall that winds through the woods behind the home. No din of traffic. No buzz of people rushing to and fro. The cacophony of the city stood in stark contrast to such solitude.
As my first day unfolded, there was some oak to be cut, moved and split, a process that is salubrious in its corporeality — everything is physical, methodical, precise. It’s impossible to rush. Such work slows down the mind, effaces the urge for digital updates and takes one back in human time. In the evening, as temperatures dipped into the low 40s, a fire needed to be kindled and the wood served its purpose gloriously, crackling and humming in the fireplace, illuminating the living room with a warm, golden hue, offering more reward for the work done.
While in Asia, there was no need for a car. Korea’s public transportation is astonishing: ubiquitous, modern, fast. China, Thailand, Japan, among others, all have extensive train and bus infrastructure; once you’re off the boat or plane, you have free reign of the land with your two feet and the nearest public transportation. America is different. “It’s three miles to Jo Jo’s,” my brother told me in reference to the nearest convenience store. So the next afternoon I walked it just to see, and three miles really isn’t that far. Nonetheless, if you want to get to New Hampshire cities like Concord or Manchester, or Boston (and beyond), you’ll have to walk a ways farther to catch the Concord Coach bus (the whole trip on foot is more than 10 miles according to Google).
No, I don’t have any urge to get a car in the near term; I’m resigned to perambulate until I feel fatigue or frustration. Just the other day, after getting dropped at the Moultonborough Public Library (open Mon-Thurs, 10-8), a fine, modern two-story building with 10 computer terminals, an adequate book and periodical collection and a friendly staff of females (I got my library card), I stopped by the local bank for a public notary, ate lunch at a small diner, then walked back toward the eight-mile road home.
Clear skies and temps in the 50s made for fine walking, but eventually I decided to stick out my thumb, mostly just to see if I could (the last time I hitchhiked was more than 10 years ago when I lived in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado). Two cars passed, then three more. I walked, then turned to face the cars with my right hand extended, thumb out, slowly walking backward. Seven more cars passed, a few at a time. Finally, some 45 minutes later, a maroon Chevy pick-up truck with a large dent in its front right fender slowed and pulled to the edge of the road ahead. I ran, plopped my bag in its bed and opened the door.
“Thanks for stopping,” I said to the driver, a middle-aged man in a baseball cap and canvass jacket, gray hair pushed behind his ears, a smile on his face. “No problem,” he said, as I closed the door and noticed an Irish terrier sniffing at my head from the crew cab. “Nobody hitchhikes anymore,” he laughed, pulling the truck back onto the road. “That’s probably why no one stopped,” I said with a chuckle. “That’s Daisy,” he said, nodding to the friendly dog at my ear. His name was David: a builder, used to be a high school science teacher, went through a divorce. He regretted not going back to teaching. Though I was headed a ways farther past his turn, he insisted on driving me the full distance. “It’s no big deal; plenty of time,” he said.
“That’s it up on the right,” I said as we neared the driveway to the white cape. Pulling the beaten-up Chevy to a stop on the dirt road, David turned, held out his hand and said, “Good luck with everything.” Again, I thanked him, gave Daisy a pat on the head, stepped down from the truck, swung the big door closed and started up the driveway toward my new home with the realization that wheresoever you go in the world, it’s always nice to feel like you’re supposed to be there and, whether city or woods, west or east, we all have someplace to be. You’ll know it when you arrive.