That's not to say that presidential hopefuls criss-cross every part of New Hampshire, attempting to shake every hand and meet every primary voter. Most candidates, particularly the serious ones, spend the majority of their time in the southern portion of the state where the majority of the population resides and the Boston stations cover news. Occasionally presidential hopefuls make that long trek (about 30 minutes on I-93) North to be seen in Concord, the state capital. Any candidate seen north of Concord has obviously lost their way and been separated from their entourage.
Outside Silly Season, in many ways New Hampshire's two distinct parts (Southern NH - that is, where the population is, south of Concord - and "The Boonies", all parts North) take on the appearance of their nearest neighbors, Massachusetts and Maine. Middle school students here in Virginia can't distinguish it from Vermont (in fact, they don't think of VT as a state at all but as the local Polytechnic University).
Again, though, the Granite State and its residents are very, very independent. Strongly independent. New Hampshire has a very high population of families from 'old colonial' ancestry, descendants from those original colonists who fled European tyranny. Several towns in NH carry my father's family name; I come from this stock, flavored by grandparents from Northern and Eastern Europe. Certainly this explains a lot.
NH is the only state in the Union which allows for revolution. There you go. Live Free or Die.
Remember that term "rugged individualism"? Herbert Hoover, our 31st President, from (coincidentally) Iowa, is remembered for this term and his belief that those in trouble should help themselves rather than expect others to help them. To me, rugged individualism is status quo in New Hampshire, or at least in our corner of it. Help yourself. Make a change if one is needed. Take charge of your own fate and fortune. Be responsible. This doesn't mean you oughtn't help others less fortunate or accept gifts gratefully, because folks in New Hampshire, despite the hard granite exterior, do have a deeply-seeded tradition of helping neighbors. Helping neighbors helps community. Helping community helps individuals. It's a wonderfully supportive concept. Just don't expect it. Help is a gift, not an entitlement. Now THAT explains a lot.
This isn't to say that New Hampshire folks are all the same, because they're certainly not. They're independent. Sometimes fiercely so. Right, wrong, rarely indifferent. Do not stereotype New Hampshirites as clothed in plaid and fur, huddled around a potbellied stove, riding snowmobiles to school. The political pundits know this, and recognize the power in the independent nature of the New Hampshire primaries. We'll know who wins the primary when all the votes are counted. Not one minute earlier. I'll be right here in my corner of Virginia rooting for my New Hampshire friends to make their choices honestly and independently, and to bask in the limelight before it turns away for another four years and New Hampshire goes back to the beautiful, quiet, unknown state I love.
Saturday's Weekend Edition on NPR brought back one of the fondest memories from my elementary school years: a field trip to a nearby sugar house. Many who travel to New England during the fall are taken aback by the beautiful colors deciduous leaves will turn when the weather becomes crisp. Much of New Hampshire's brilliant color (and subsequent tourist income) comes from the cascade of maple trees dotting its mountainsides. These trees also provide the clear-colored sap which, when collected and distilled in the sugar house, becomes rich, dark maple syrup. I can still smell the vats of syrup and wood fires burning.
I'm spoiled by many great memories and a taste for the finer things I've discovered while travelling through life. Fortunately, my family in Maine feeds some of these tastes regularly. We particularly appreciate the gallons of pure maple syrup which find their way via post to us here in Virginia around the holidays. I've never been able to tolerate the maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup, and as such, I don't order pancakes at a restaurant. So when we have them, it's at home and with The Real Thing.
Today, in honor of New Hampshire's brief 15 minutes of fame and in the spirit of using up what we have (the rest of the 2011 maple syrup stash), it's pancakes for breakfast at Chateau Jeaux-Naus.
1/2 tsp. salt
Serve with pure maple syrup. Nothing else tastes quite right. Or left. Or undeclared.