Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: New Hampshire

A FAMILY SUMMER

Family can mean so many things and be expressed in so many ways. Happiness, struggle, warmth, disagreement, and unconditional love. It can be long lost friends who brave the ferry lines at Mukilteo to pay a visit and share the joys of a jaunt up Ebey’s Landing.  It can be relatives—aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, you name it—who touch base at the cottage or on a woodland hike to remind me that we are still family. And then there is the ever-changing and growing Whidbey Island family that moves throughout the myriad summer festivities and barbecues with the promise not to lose touch when the rain and cold of winter arrive. And this year I found a new family at our Island Shakespeare Festival, feeding my love of language and theater. I feasted on Twelfth Night, Sense and Sensibility, and Othello, over and over, again, starting in the warmth and late sun of June and ending in the chilly nights of September. These accomplished young actors became my family, and helped fill the void that has persisted since I left New York City. And is there anything better than open-air theater?

Twelfth Night cast members after the closing show of the Island Shakespeare Festival season

And then there was that one last look at beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee before the summer ended.

You knew I couldn’t resist mentioning my yearly sojourn to New Hampshire, even though I have inundated you over the years with my reminiscences of time at the family summer cottage. (See my blog post THIS OLD COTTAGE.)  This year I enjoyed the best weather of my lifetime—temperate, sunny, clear—with only one rainy day, which didn’t spoil swimming, but added a touch of mystery to an overcast lake.

You can imagine how special this was for a Northwest transplant who spent weeks this summer dealing with a blanket of smoke blowing in from the Canadian fires up north, the direct result of global warming. Some days it looked to me like Delhi or Beijing, and four weeks ago I drove my daughter, Martha, to Vancouver, B.C., because there were no planes, large or small, flying out of Seattle. Not even a small seaplane. She had arrived from Denver early in the morning and had twenty students waiting for her at a destination that looked almost impossible to reach. It was strange to speed north through forests of fir, which stretched high into the gray sky like misplaced ghosts. Fortunately, however, Martha caught a small plane flying to Campbell River, and connected with a water taxi to Cortes Island, where she taught a course, Move Without Pain, at the Hollyhock Lifetime Learning Center.

I think the best description of what is happening here on the entire West Coast appeared in an article written by my niece-in-law, Jessica Plumb of Port Townsend, for the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, back in New Hampshire: My two youngest sons, Robert and Tom, joined me during my two weeks. But before Robert arrived, Tom and I spent a pleasant afternoon at the historic Castle in the Clouds, a 16-room mountaintop estate in Moultonborough, NH, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and the Ossippee Mountains. We walked through its woodland paths and enjoyed the falls, in an area very reminiscent of The Flume.

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Naturally, no summer is complete without at least one strenuous hike. This summer it was Moat Mountain in Conway. I had no climbing shoes or poles, but I survived. Good practice for the upcoming trip to Nepal this November!

When Rob arrived, he and Tom decided to break all records in a killer climb up Boott Spur trail on Mt. Washington in the White Mountains. I found this clip on YouTube that gives you some idea of the trail. When Rob was taking shots of the summit with his iPhone, it was blown out of his hand by a fierce wind! Fortunately he had used his new Sony a6000 for the photos of their climb.

The day was long, but they arrived back at the cottage in time to grab a few artsy photos around the cottage and some stunning shots of the sunset. Rob is quite a photographic artist!

Ready for a swim

My photography tends to be more muted, but I love these shots of the sun going down behind Rattlesnake Island, taken before Rob arrived.

At the end of our stay, we were treated to a short visit from my niece, Rebecca Magill, her husband, Paul Benzaquin, and their daughter, Amaya, They had just returned from one month in Ethiopia and treated us to a slide show of their work and travels in the country of Amaya’s birth.

On the way home, I left my sons at the Manchester airport and headed for Peterborough to visit my older sister, Anne Magill, and her husband, Frank.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit my younger sister, Cary Santoro, in Harrison, NY. Will save that for my next visit East.

Then it was on to West Hartford, CT, to visit Judy Wyman-Kelly, a longtime honorary member of the Peterson family, her husband, John Kelly, and daughters Leah and Sarah. She had generously lent me a car for two weeks, and now gave me a great send-off from Bradley Field, the airport where I started my first overseas travel, leaving on a World War II DC-3 propeller plane for a 22-hour journey to Paris by way of Gander, Newfoundland…in 1949. Can you believe how long it took? I was part of a student group with the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), heading for three countries to help in rebuilding war-town Europe.

This is the second year that I haven’t hiked and camped in the Northwest with Jon Pollack. His death ended our nineteen-year exploration of the Olympics and the Cascades and has robbed me of one of my most treasured and simpatico companions. His buoyant spirit, humor, and love of nature filled my summers with delight, and it will take me a long time to recapture, if ever, the joy of exploration into the wild that I enjoyed with Jon.

I spent a lot of time roaming the beaches on Whidbey Island this summer, and especially enjoyed low tide on the Langley waterfront, when I can walk all the way to the marina.

The tide came in and it was dusk.

And then came the sunset over Puget Sound.

The following day I visited friends living high on the bluff off Sills Rd., and got another view of the Sound at sunset.

And so, until next year, I say goodbye to summer and welcome the autumn, with its own special beauty.

THIS OLD COTTAGE….

img_0230Yes, that’s what it is. Snuggled among the pine and hemlock on a piece of land slanting down to the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, stands this simple cottage, built by my parents in 1951 before the onslaught of fourteen grandchildren, and it has been expanded to become a family gathering place ever since. Just one hour away from the White Mountains, it is also our New England base camp for wilderness exploration and hiking.

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On my last day before returning to Whidbey Island I looked at the lake, longingly, and with a touch of sadness. Early each morning I would swim way out until I could see the sun streaming through the tallest pine. I’d float in the water letting it bathe me in its warmth.

On this day I had just finished my swim when a huge storm loomed over the distant hills and made its way down the wide stretch of lake we call “The Broads,” bending branches and knocking down power lines in its wake. Boy, did I run up that hill fast!

It is only now, nine hours later, that the electricity has returned. But in the meantime the storm left a turbulent lake with ocean-like waves, which I played in, as I have each summer for the past sixty-five years.

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I’m sitting on the dock, shielded by a breakwater that protects me from the ferocity of the waves, and looking out at Barndoor and Rattlesnake Islands one hour before sunset. What a kaleidoscopic day—from calm silver gray to bright blue to heavy clouds dusted with pockets of charcoal.

It’s wonderful to come in from a brisk swim to my favorite rock and be tantalized by a sun that is playing peek-a-boo with those heavy clouds. First you see me—then you don’t! But where does the pink glow on the water come from? How can a white glaring sun, fighting an onslaught of wispy gray clouds, produce pink sparkles in a triangular swath of water? And how can this be reflected onto an island that seems totally unconnected to the process?

Maybe if I were a scientist and knew the answers it wouldn’t be so amazing. Instead, I am in thrall and watch until that white ball turns the pink water to deep blue crystals and the pink finds a new home under another cloud bank.

As a child I was fascinated by cloud formations, which I anthropomorphized. But now they are not people or dogs or dragons. They are paintings and ships and tumbling patterns. And, as is happening tonight, they seem to open magically at the last moment before the white sun turns to a red ball and disappears behind the hills, leaving yet another unfolding pattern, this time of radiant color.

No last day is complete without a farewell fire.

Sunsets are like fires. We never tire of looking at them, analyzing them, and seeing a world of symbolism in their infinite formations.

No last day is complete without a farewell fire.

 

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For me, this is the end of summer. After eight hours of flying cross-country from Manchester to Baltimore to Seattle I was greeted by Mt. Rainier, glorious in the sunset, and seeming to follow the plane right onto the runway. I now know which side of the plane to pick for a perfect view. It’s the left behind the pilot going west and the right going east. Pretty good for a lady who is directionally challenged!

THE UPSIDE OF TRAVEL

Complaints! Complaints! Complaints! That’s all we seem to hear about travel these days. No longer the rush of excitement as the plane revs up before lifting off and heading for 30,000 feet, or the cloud banks stretching below like cotton batting blanketing the earth, or the deserted mountain ranges that conjure up the beginning of time.

It’s just constant bellyaching  about long security lines, too many people, invasive searches, and delayed flights. And I was right there with everyone else in the Seattle airport in a line that seemed to stretch all the way to Tacoma, when I began to notice little acts of love and kindness that are also a part of the mix…

A grandfather calling his little grandson over for a final hug (“Aren’t  they wonderful?” he said as he saw me smiling. “Oh, yes they are!”), a security person who apologized after the third pat down (could my body lotion have set off an alarm?) and a waitress in a bar, where I had asked for water because I couldn’t find a fountain. She directed me to a fountain but it was too far, and my plane was boarding. As I stood in line, she rushed over with a giant cup of water and a straw and said, “M’am, you forgot your water.” “You are an angel,” I said. She had been concerned and chased me down. How sweet was that!

During the flight I was sitting next to two loquacious ladies who were unaware that I had gotten up at 3:30 AM to make my airport shuttle and desperately needed my sleep. An hour into the flight they were still talking. Sleep was impossible. I made my way to the steward’s station and explained my predicament, asking if any single seat was available. Eureka! An aisle seat was found next to two sleeping passengers. The remainder of the trip was spent in heavenly silence.

One last gesture of kindness came my way as I was trudging between gates in Philadelphia, hurrying to make a close connection. A gentleman in a motorized cart stopped and offered me a ride, taking me what seemed like 2 miles to my gate, and waving any gratuity. Just being kind. It seemed to please him and it sure pleased me!

This is what I took away from my cross country flight from Seattle to Manchester, New Hampshire. And now, as I sit on the dock looking out at the islands and enjoying the serenity of Lake Winnipesaukee, I temper my upset at the turmoil and incivility rampant in my country, and think of those little kindnesses that jumped out at me when I least expected them. And I am filled with appreciation and hope.

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“YOU’RE GOOD TO GO, MEG….SEE YOU IN TWO YEARS!”

How cool is that coming from the world’s best hip surgeon, Dr. James Pritchett of the Swedish Orthopedic Institute in Seattle?

I knew he was the doctor for me way back in June, shortly before my operation, when I asked him if he thought I could climb in the Himalayas by November.

“Why not?” he answered. And guess what, that’s exactly what I intend to do! (Stay tuned)

He did such a perfect job installing a ceramic ball and hammering some fearsome, fancy metal device into my femur, that I walked right through security three weeks ago on my visit to the East Coast and didn’t even set off the alarm. I fairly danced my way through two airports and arrived in Newark, bionic and elated, and ready to take on the Big Apple with a vengeance.

What you discover, as you tell every stranger in sight that you can squat like never before and run up flights of stairs like a gazelle, is that, if they don’t yawn and roll their eyes, 50% have had a similar operation and are eager to share their own success with you. Even the man operating the Xray machine in the Denver airport told of his numerous replaced joints. He did everything but show me his scars. It’s like a brand new fraternity/sorority that I’ve never experienced. Get a replacement—pick any limb—and you’ll find yourself in good company! Bravo for modern orthopedic medicine…and Dr. Pritchett.

My visit started with a whirlwind trip to Rhinecliff, NY, where two close friends, Louise Vitello and Richard Adams were married. What a gala celebration it was with three close families and their respective children enjoying the happiness of a very special couple. I danced for three hours to music that allowed me to show off my expertise in the Lindy, known in the “olden days” as jitterbugging. I think the grandchildren were impressed, which is always gratifying.

My daughter, Martha, whose house in Maplewood, NJ, had just been put on the market, left the next day for a month of teaching Hannah Somatics in England, whereupon I headed for NYCity.

Knowing my penchant for the theater, it won’t come as a surprise that I took in four shows, three while camping out at my buddy James Wilson’s pad in the West Village, and one with my old friend, Paul Sharar, from New Jersey. In all that time I made my way by subway and on foot. Not once did I use a taxi. A quick rundown includes the amazing Jefferson Mays in The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, where Mays plays seven parts. Totally fabulous! The inimitable Matilda, Roald Dahl’s story of every child’s nightmare. Fabulous as well. If/Then, a new musical that was a bit too predictable, but had good singing and dancing, and the long-awaited Indian Ink by one of my favorite playwrights, Tom Stoppard, starring Rosemary Harris and a marvelous young English actress, Romola Garai.

New York was lovely as it always is in autumn, and I was able to catch up with friends Jackie Herships, Grace Polk, and Barry Hamilton and enjoy strolling around what to me are still magical sections of the Village. I also spent a somber, thoughtful hour at the World Trade Center Memorial, now open so the public can enjoy the beautiful fountains and the new tower. The photos show some of the construction for the new subway station being built.

I cut my stay in the City short to head for Northfield, MA, with my sister, Cary Santoro, to visit my other sister, Anne Magill, before attending a memorial for a dear friend, Lynne Warrin. She and I had been friends for forty-five years and co-authored the play, Thank You, Dear, which was performed in Deerfield, MA. The loss of such a close friend is devastating, especially one who has been so instrumental in my work and has shared so many common interests in the field of summer camping, writing, education, and music. Lynne had been a longtime teacher at Eaglebrook School. Among her many students over the years was King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country she had visited recently, as his guest.

Lynne Warrin, 1932-2014

Lynne Warrin, 1932-2014

After the memorial, Cary and I drove to our family cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee near Alton, NH. We spent the evening around a blazing fire and left early the next morning just as the mist was rising from the dock and outlining the shoreline and distant islands. As we wended our way back home we experienced the turning of the leaves, that banquet of color that defines New England as it hunkers down for winter.

What better way to know that you’re back in the Northwest than to see Mt. Rainier looming on the horizon from the plane?

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Footnote: Lest I sell my home town short, let me say that there have been two superb productions in Langley over the past two months; one at the Outcast Theater which mounted the moving drama, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness, and the WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) production of the challenging Sondheim musical, Into The Woods. You couldn’t ask for better performances.

Jon Pollack, Christy Korrow (who, you may remember, went to Nepal with Cary and me two years ago and whose husband, Chris Korrow, has just completed a splendid documentary entitled, Dancing With Thoreau), and I are also availing ourselves of the several performances of operas streamed from the Metropolitan Opera in NYCity to Seattle theaters. It’s challenging, for it means an early ferry ride for us on Saturday morning, to catch a 1 PM matinee from New York. Jon, too, has a bit of a commute from Tacoma. But it’s worth it!

I’ve also become acquainted with gypsy jazz as I marveled at the DJANGO FEST NORTHWEST, which is held every year for a week in September. This is a style of music that was introduced by Django Reinhardt in the late 20’s and 30’s. Langley is besieged at this time by players from around the world. All day long you can hear musicians playing guitars, bass, fiddle, percussion, and wind instruments, as they serenade the public in every possible venue. And in the evening are the concerts at WICA. It opened a whole new world of music for me! 

Next up: Plans for a return to India, Nepal, and possibly Sikkim this November. And I haven’t forgotten about those photos of my Bhutan trip a year ago.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, or, if you’re a purist, HAPPY ALL HALLOWS’ EVE!

This was a busy month!

This was a busy month! On July 10 Son Robert married Gwen Abel at our cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, surrounded by Gwen’s relatives from California and Rob’s from all over the place. It was a simple, beautiful ceremony under the pines by the lake. We celebrated for two days with friends, including Judy Wyman and John Kelly and their two daughters, Sarah and Leah. Then we climbed as a family up to Greenleaf Hut, the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) hut on Mt. Lafayette, up over the Franconia Ridge, and down the Falling Waters Trail (in a thunderstorm, I might add). This and the next hike are the two that I take every year without fail. A week later we climbed to Crag Camp (a Randolph Mountain Club hut) in Kings Ravine, up the Spur Trail to Thunderstorm Junction and over to the A.M.C. Madison Hut. The grandchildren and I took Valley Way to the Appalachia parking lot, while daughter Martha and her friend, Gary, went down the more exposed Airline trail. The rest of the month was spent enjoying the coolness of good old Lake Winnie, until, with a jolt, I was back in sweltering New Jersey. A week later I was in Stockholm, where it was cold and rainy for a few days, but a welcome relief from N.J. heat. ( click here for pictures)

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