There are corners of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine which seem impossibly far from the more well-known big cities. We could drive through New England many times, always on different roads, turning a corner to find an unexpected treat. These pockets of small towns tucked into forested valleys don't seem to have changed much in at least half a century. While the tourists in the chain hotels read USA TODAY or surf the high-speed internet, the locals read their weekly local newspapers and sit on their front porches, watching the traffic and playing with their children. In the local diners men Outdoor wood furnace talk in loud voices about hunting. Our housekeeper's father once tended 2,000 maple trees, and her mother still fills the freezer full of snow at the beginning of each winter, so that the family will have maple syrup on snow as often as they want.
Unlike the flatter states in the midwest, the roads here in New England have been adapted to the geography, with sudden hills and dips and corners and twists. After a few miles of empty forest come a few dairy farms, then a one-street town and it's back to forest again.
90% of the maple syrup is shipped out of Canada, but the Pep-O-Mint Statue, Gouverneur, NY northerners are still proud of theirs -- it's a cash crop, after all. There's plenty of firewood beside every country home, and we're seeing a lot of outdoor wood furnaces for sale.
In Gouverneur, New York we spotted a giant steel statue of a War Memorial, Gouverneur, NY roll of Pep-O-Mint Life Savers. The local Rotary Club had the statue erected, because the creator of Life Savers lived in Gouverneur for a while. But the statue is not as beautiful as the nearby war memorial.
Another unexpected discovery was the boyhood home of Almanzo Wilder, who grew up on a small tidy farm east of Canton, New Almanzo Wilder Homestead York, and later married Laura Ingalls. Almanzo's story is told in her book Farmer Boy, just as she told her own childhood memories in the Little House books. Today this farm is part of the flourishing Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead industry. Almanzo's home has been restored and a museum (and large parking lot, with space for tour buses) added.
At breakfast at Anthony's Diner in St. Johnsbury, we enjoyed a quartet of large pony-tailed ageing hippies one-upping each other Almanzo Wilder Farm with tales of the biggest marijuana crops they knew. Vermont maintains a tight connection with the sixties -- organic vegetables in the local market, earnest environmental entreaties, elderly bicyclists, and posters on many store windows advertising the next blue-grass band concert and lecture.
St. Johnsbury, Vermont, is just down the road from Lyndonville, home to Carmen's Ice Cream, sold primarily at the Freight House restaurant and ice cream stand. There's a porch across the front of the building where the ice cream-ordering queue forms. We had Carmen's Ice Cream enough time to read the local specials -- Bear Creek Caramel (caramel base, caramel-filled chocolate cups 7 caramel swirl); Boston Creme pie; Fenway Fudge; Cashew Turtle; Chocolate Lover's Chocolate; Dinosaur Crunch; Lighthouse coffee; Maine Black Bear (vanilla with raspberry swirl and chocolate raspberry mini-melts); Moose tracks -- a classic (Vanilla with chocolate fudge swirl and mini peanut butter cups); Maine Deer Sign ( coffee ice cream, chocolate fudge swirl and toffee candy) and Mud Pie. By the time we had narrowed our choices and ordered, the line was off the porch, across the parking lot and down the sidewalk.