By Jeff Woodburn
The North Country is a great place to live, but a terrible place to make a living or so the axiom goes. Anyone who lives here for more than one winter knows this fact firsthand. Great views, small town intimacy and rural culture, don’t pay the bills. The demise of the once dominant paper industry is the closing chapter of a steady decline in population and manufacturing in this region since 1900.
As we enter a New Year full of uncertainty, any positive news is welcome. One source of the good cheer is New Hampshire Public Radio. To celebrate their two and a half decades of broadcasting, they have been chronicling 25 people who’ve influenced our state over the past 25 years.
Many of those on the list were people, I’ve come to know and admire over my years in politics and business. The New Hampshire community is pretty small and its leaders are very accessible (and helpful to young upstarts.) The point of the piece was not to revel in the celebrity obsession that so poisons popular culture, but to study how our state has changed since 1982. The selected leaders are icons in their own fields that range from government, business, religion, media and arts. The group collectively expressed New Hampshire’s unique culture. But moreover, they are well established and, mostly old enough, to offer insights, rather than self promotions.
What I found most interesting and illuminating were their answers to a very simple question posed by interviewer Laura Knoy. The query was: what is your favorite place in New Hampshire? I kept a running tally (with the help of NHPR’s web site) of the responses. Some listed several places, others none at all. Many picked their hometowns, but the vast majority chose places in Northern New Hampshire.
Conservative Union Leader Publisher Joe McQuade finds truth in the old cow pasture at the summit of Mount Washington from his early years working at the Cog Railroad, while liberal social justice activist Arnie Albert finds it at the World Fellowship Retreat in Conway.
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson is inspired by the 13 mile woods between Milan and Errol with his “eyes peeled for moose, loon, eagles and the like” while Catholic Bishop John McCormick sees the hand of God at the “the top of a ski trail on a clear day.” The mountains are not only beautiful, McComick explains, “but great symbols of the resilience, strength and durability of the people of our state.”
Former Republican Gov. John Sununu likes the bend in the road just beyond the Mount Washington Hotel (the Bartlett side) during the change of seasons. Former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen was more general, but succinctly represented most with her observation that “Mount Washington… embodies the excitement and beauty of the state.”
Former tourism guru Steve Barba and Healthcare Executive Norman Payson both praised the rich heritage and remoteness of the Balsams and Dixville Notch.
All told our beautiful (but deprived), secluded (but inaccessible), peaceful (but boring) home was the overwhelming favorite of this informed and important group. Why is that sometimes we have such trouble seeing our own good fortune? Maybe it because most of us live in the shadows of the great mountains, where the air is cold and heavy? We’re down to earth, simple, terribly practical and suspicious of comfort. There is an Irish saying that goes: “If you marry a mountain girl, you marry the whole mountain.” It is a struggle to live here, but those of us who choose to call this place home, it’s a bargain at any price.
The North Country’s only contribution to this lofty list was veteran Newspaper man and raconteur John Harrigan. He represented us all well (as he always does.) By the way, what is his favorite place in New Hampshire? “My house; It’s warm, remote…,” he says without missing a beat, “and the food is good. “