FRANCONIA – Robert Frost once lived in this area, and as I understand it, the old place that he called home for 5 years and 18 summers after that inspired some of his most famous poems. He arrived in Franconia as a little known poet, but left as an important literary figure. Thanks to the foresight of this small town his memory and spirit continues.
Frost, a San Francisco native, would become rural New England’s leading citizen. He was spokesman for the Yankee ways of thrift and common sense, yet he was fleeced by the seller when he purchased his small hill farm, and trained his one cow to be milked at noon to accommodate his sleeping schedule. Moreover, his words were as strong, simple as an old stone wall; but behind the vivid imagery were deep philosophical musings.
We arrive in Franconia on a hot, humid day. My companions are my 2, 5 and 13 year-old sons. From Franconia Village we take Route 116 to Bickford Hill Road, which is a quiet, shaded, dirt road that runs along a stream. Once you cross the metal bridge, the names changes to Ridge Road, and it twists up a steep hill. It lulls my youngest to sleep. We pass by few simple homes hidden into the landscape. It is a place where you’d more likely to find a moose than a museum.
I imagine this road hasn’t changed all that much since Frost first wandered up it nearly a century ago looking for a farm with a view. We pull into a small parking area built into the embankment. My eldest son and I take turns touring the grounds and the few public rooms in the old house. We hike a short incline to the pleasant backyard (with a half-mile nature trail that includes plaques with poems written here,) a small post and beam barn that serves as a gathering place and book/gift shop. It also house a collection of old farm tools, and a wall of photos of the “poets in residence” that have spent summers here since the Frost Place opened in 1977. Nearby is the tiny Civil War era cape that was Frost’s humble home and summer retreat for 23 years. Its authenticity is a result of being used seasonally by one family for most of the last century. The Frosts were the only winter inhabitants from 1915-20, and lived there without electricity, indoor plumbing or central heat. The Frosts summered here until 1938.
We are greeted by an eager and aspiring young novelist, who serves as the guide. When I tell him the purpose of our visit, he ushers me toward the only other apparent visitors, an unassuming older man. “Robert Frost’s grandson,” he whispers, as if he doesn’t have a name. Today, he doesn’t. I send my son to gather up his brothers to consecrate this historic encounter. He seems a bit embarrassed by it all and introduces himself as “John Cones.”
The 81 year-old retired architect from Salem, Va changes the subject away from his famous grandfather, to another ancestor and his namesake, who served under George Washington and was later granted a land (called Cones) near Columbia. I turn the conservation back and he gently reminisces, not about poems, but rather porcupines. It seems his grandfather’s big Newfoundlander, Winnie, “got into a porcupine pretty bad and had to be put down.” Mr. Cones remembers taking long walks with his grandfather, and I think of Frost’s words that summed up his often sad, but successful life, “it goes on.”
It has been 24 years, since Mr. Cone has been here and he’s pleased that the “interest (in Frost) hasn’t faded” and that the “house has been fixed up a whole lot” since his last visit. I coax him to pose for a few photographs and then feel like I’ve intruded enough.
By now the kids are anxious to leave; we take a quick walk through the house. I stop to imagine Frost writing from the old cracked leather chair that looks out at a wooded mountain vista and wonder if those were the ones that were “lovely, dark and deep,” and then I’m interrupted by the commotion of the three boys, and I realize that it really is time to go. And miles to go before we sleep. And miles to go before we sleep.
(The Frost Place is open from late May until early November. For more information, www. frostplace.org or 603-823-5510)