In Praise of the Several States

 

shutterstock_216956542I grew up in northern New Jersey, not far from where Tony Soprano and the gang plied their crooked trade. When my family took vacations, it was to the Jersey Shore. Once or twice a year we’d pile into the station wagon to visit my mother’s parents and their extended clan in Westchester County, New York. We called it “upstate.” It seemed to me and my siblings – some of whom were sitting in the rear-facing backseat – as if we’d crossed over into another country. I don’t know why; only the license plates were different.

With age, I’ve come to realize that our family vacations were essentially local getaways. We weren’t wealthy enough to go on far distant excursions. I went to the Poconos once in high school with some friends to ski. I thought I’d need a passport. When I got older, I spread my wings. My adult years have taken me from sea to shining sea. I lived for a few years in Southern California. I’ve been all across the South, the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Mountain states, and to the Pacific Northwest. I know how unique the regions and cities of this country are. Chicago is dissimilar from New York, which is different than Los Angeles, which is unlike Austin, which makes Boston look like the moon.

I know how special every state is, too, with its own unique character and distinct personality—sometimes more than one. Iced tea tastes different in Georgia than it does in Maine. Snow causes rejoicing in the resort towns of New England; it causes panic in Arkansas. From the redwood forests, to the Gulf Stream waters, this land is as wide and varied as a diner menu. We are a pizza with everything. A person looking for the heart of America could do worse than a grand tour of its state fairs.

Yet somehow it always comes as a shock when I haul my wife and kids the 225 miles from our southwestern Connecticut home to the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire to visit my mother-in-law. Most years we do it three times: at Easter, in August, and at Christmas. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a short hop. But if you’re paying attention, it’s another world.

Let’s start with the flora. We’ve been in New Hampshire for 10 days and I’ve spent several of them picking wild blueberries by the baseball-hatful. They’re everywhere, and delicious. We don’t have this in Connecticut—not in my corner of it, anyway. The fauna: There are roughly 5,000 black bears in the Granite State, some of whom are known to amble though my mother-in-law’s backyard. We don’t see much of Yogi and Boo Boo in the Land of Steady Habits. Thankfully, we also don’t get black flies and no-see-ums.

Here, fresh water is worthy of the name. Lakes, streams, ponds, and puddles are sparkling and inviting. The great outdoors is the essential and unrelenting backdrop for every daily coming-and-going in New Hampshire. Yes, we are in the Lakes Region, but even in Concord and Manchester the wild berries and sugar maple forests are never far. The mountains and valleys are truly those things, not merely hills and hollows. Every other radio station plays country music. You can listen to it with your kids in the car.

Though Connecticut and New Hampshire are both (technically) part of New England, the people couldn’t be more different. The accents are unmistakably not alike. So are the attitudes. Connecticut people are — mostly — soft suburbanites. New Hampshire people are — mostly — rugged ruralists. There are a lot of pickup trucks here, and tractors, and kayaks, and camouflage hats. In winter, there are homemade hockey rinks in every backyard.

We have a little bit of all of these things in Connecticut, but no one would mistake the man from Old Lyme with the Old Man in the Mountain. These are different countries, in the sense that the Founders thought of their home states as their countries.

I don’t mean to make it sound that one state is better than the other. New Hampshire has a bad, bad problem with opioids. The newspapers here are full of politicians’ promises to solve it. So far, this hasn’t become a huge issue in Connecticut, where the local newspapers are full of headscratching and thumbsucking about how the state with the 44th worst business tax climate in the country managed to lose General Electric.

I’m curious to hear from others who have done some interstate travelling this summer about things that have struck you as unique, special, and not at all the way things are done back home. Visiting the several states is one of the great joys and privileges of being an American. Though we think of ourselves as one country, we are still, in fact, many.

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  1. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Matthew Hennessey:Yet somehow it always comes as a shock when I haul my wife and kids the 225 miles from our southwestern Connecticut home to the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire to visit my mother-in-law. Most years we do it three times: at Easter, in August, and at Christmas. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a short hop. But if you’re paying attention, it’s another world.

    I prefer going just a little further north, at least up to the Kangamangus and into the Whites. I’m pretty sure I’ve sung the praise of the former here before, but the views are stunning and there are trailheads that start right off the highway.

    IMG_1021

    On the trail to Sawyer Pond.

    View from the Kancamagus Hwy.

    • #1
  2. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Matthew Hennessey: These are different countries, in the sense that the Founders thought of their home states as their countries.

    They are, though one of the things I love is that they’re all connected — drive far enough South from Blaine, WA and you hit San Diego, etc. — you can drive from one to the other without having to check with any authority or show ID.

    We have some wonderful freedoms.

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  3. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    @tomdmeyer We go up north to the Whites on day trips. Spectacular!

    • #3
  4. John Hanson Thatcher
    John Hanson
    @JohnHanson

    We have a second house in Conway NH, and really would like to be living here full time, but my wife is still tied to a j-o-b in NJ.

    They really are very different places, and to me  NH is better.  It is real snow more often, less sleet and grunge, and the summers, while they can still get hot and humid (To us UUUGH!), do get breaks from Canadian highs more frequently.  We don’t like it hot and humid, and don’t mind cold and snow, as long as we don’t have to drive long distances in it. (Wife’s commute in NJ is 65 miles one way!)  So FL, NC, SC and all points on the gulf coast states are out.  We have found the farther north we go, the better we like it.

    So despite the fact that NH has too many liberal transplants from Massachusetts, so elections tend to be mixed, biased Dem recently, overall a small government conservative can be happier here due to local tradition of individuality, town meetings etc. than in the corrupt liberal wonderland that is NJ today.  (We live in a county, Sussex, that is Republican, but conservative in the NJ context is somewhat a misnomer, even the state income tax was started by a Republican).

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  5. John Hanson Thatcher
    John Hanson
    @JohnHanson

    I should also say we are transplants from California, and fled from there in 2001, and have no desire to return.  We like having four seasons, and the east coast better, though I would probably be happiest in Alaska, or Montana, that is too extreme for my wonderful wife and she really gets the deciding vote :).  CA today is weird, and still a wonderful place to visit, but live? Not in this lifetime.

    • #5
  6. RyanFalcone Member
    RyanFalcone
    @RyanFalcone

    The past 3 years, I have traveled to various parts of Appalachia. What struck me is that everywhere from northern Georgia, up through Tennessee, NW South Carolina, Western Carolina and Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and SW Pennsylvania (where I live) and SE Ohio, there is a remarkable homogeneous quality to the region. This is the whitest, most evangelical Christian, most pro-gun, pro-conservative area in the US. The area also is one of the few left that hasn’t been dominated by urban centers. Pittsburgh, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Asheville, Greenville, SC, Knoxville and Charleston WV, are the urban areas. None of these are big cities and all retain a more regional than metropolitan feel. They also don’t dominate their surrounding region politically. This is a region of distinctly American rural music, agriculture, craft arts, car shows, fairs, college football, hunting, church picnics, BBQ and backyard shooting.

    If you want to know why conservatives are losing, one reason might be that the above region is every bit as big and populace as New England and even more conservative than New England is Leftist. Yet, NE has 12 Senators and Appalachia has 0.

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  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Matthew Hennessey:I’m curious to hear from others who have done some interstate travelling this summer about things that have struck you as unique, special, and not at all the way things are done back home. Visiting the several states is one of the great joys and privileges of being an American. Though we think of ourselves as one country, we are still, in fact, many.

    Not when the GOP Establishment gets done with it, we won’t be “many.”  They are busy writing and/or promoting national laws to prohibit local differences in GMO labeling regulations, fracking regulations, and professional licensing requirements.  And of course, Obama is in on this program of conformity and compliance, too.

    If you go south of the Wabash River in Indiana, people talk funny.  Also, people down there are more reluctant to tell anyone what to do than people in Michigan are. Those distinctions have not yet been erased by the government, despite the fact that local Indiana communities no longer are allowed to have idiosyncratic time zones.

    • #7
  8. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    Great post! Hoping @davecarter chimes in :)

    • #8
  9. Typical Anomaly Inactive
    Typical Anomaly
    @TypicalAnomaly

    I’m from Pennsylvania, but will remark on the plains states. We camped out a few days in SD early one summer. Ok, let’s get it out of the way: trees. The Keystone state was the leading exporter of lumber for a while in the 19th century and in this part of the Great Plains, the fall leaf-raking ritual would be concluded in an hour or so. Ah, more time to spend around the fire making s’mores.

    But the curious thing was the wind. Here, it wasn’t a meteorological possibility. It simply was. Day, night, whenever, the wind was there. How can I be sure? Try to set up a cabin tent the usual way, then step back. Try an hour or two later. Wait until sunset. It howled against the buildings all night. You couldn’t put a sheet of paper (like directions for a cabin tent) down and expect it to stay put. The wind was just there. When we got in the van and closed the doors, the noise dropped about 10 decibels.

    It’s also very dry. We saw small runs of water and occasionally a “river” as the locals knew them. Picturing the Ohio River in our minds, or even the much smaller Beaver River, it became clear this region survives on an unbelievably small amount of water.

    • #9
  10. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    I grew up in E. TN.  I love it there.  Rolling hills, trees, lakes, conservatives.

    I moved to FL when I was 30 and stayed for 30 years.  I love the Space Coast. The Space Coast is middle class and tech. and conservative.  I very much dislike S. FL.    S. FL. is NY, NJ, CT, etc. and Liberal / Progressive.  And crowded.

    I moved to NM.  It ain’t like either TN or FL.  It’s DRY!  It’s brown. (Eskimo’s have many words for “snow”, NM has 374 different shades of brown.)  Yes, it gets warm in the summer high 80’s low 90’s most of the time.  But it gets COLD in the winter.  I’ve seen -20 F.  And Summer ends in mid-September.  Even now, it’s in the 40’s at night.  Did I mention that it’s DRY here.  I’ve seen humidity at 2%.  You don’t get that in FL!  And every plant out here has thorns.  There’s a plant called a Goat’s Head.  It can puncture a car tire.

    • #10
  11. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    Great post Matt. We grew up similarly, I’m from Rockland County in New York and spent every summer 2 hours away at the Jersey Shore as well. I too live in Southwestern CT, and usually head down to where my parents moved to in Brunswick County North Carolina. It is so nice down there. The traffic isn’t horrible like it is up north, the roads are smooth (the roads in Connecticut are horrendous) the people are friendly, the supermarkets are fabulous (the supermarkets in Connecticut are awful).

    What drives me crazy is the arrogance of many Northeastern suburbanites, that anyone who doesn’t live like them are troglodytes. I was getting my hair done and a was talking about the show Alaskan Bush People, I can’t relate to their way of life but it’s a pretty interesting one, to live off the land in a remote place far from people. I almost wish I could do it, even in a small way. One of the women at the salon, said “those people are ridiculous they shouldn’t be allowed to be on television”. Then she railed on about the Duck Dynasty folks and Swamp People, that she couldn’t believe so many people would actually want to watch a show about them, she then complained about one of the Robertson’s going to the RNC and I was like ahh, she doesn’t like that Republicans and conservatives have these shows that people like.

    We live so differently in different parts of this country that we can never have a one size fits all government that just caters, to folks like that Fairfield County snob.

    • #11
  12. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    I grew up on a little dairy farm in the mountains of western Wyoming. The highway that went past our house was the main route to Yellowstone Park, just 150 miles away. Then, as a married adult, I lived in Southern Cali, in two difference coastal communities, for 20 years, till my husband’s job transferred us to Maryland, where he worked at a Navy base. I was completely astonished at the vast differences between the East Coast and the West. Yes, yes: trees! Wow. But not just that, it was the whole mindset. No one in the D.C/Boston metro-plex has any idea about the amazing vastness of the West.

    Last week, I came home from a great vacation. My son is in the Navy, on a sub in Bremerton, WA. His wife is from Worcester, MA. So I invited her mom to fly to Salt Lake City, and then I drove up there from Las Vegas, where we live now, and we traveled across the West to go visit them. (We did little stops to fulfill some of her bucket-list items, like ride horses at my sister’s home in Wyoming.) She commented over and over about the astonishing largeness of western states, and how there was so much open-space, so few people living in most of it. We were traveling the Oregon Trail most of the way, and we both expressed our relief that we weren’t doing it in a covered wagon.

    But, until a person sees the amazing contrasts in our fabulous country, it is almost impossible to appreciate it. The very idea that a small group of privileged people in D.C. should have so much power over all of it is equally impossible to believe.

    I just wanted to add: I’ve LOVED everywhere in the United States where we have lived. Each one of the completely different places where we’ve made our home has wonderful, unique characteristics and quirks. Even the desert. Even in the summer.

    Here’s a little Wyoming Rocky Mountain summer for you:

    100_2264

    • #12
  13. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Matthew Hennessey:Yet somehow it always comes as a shock when I haul my wife and kids the 225 miles from our southwestern Connecticut home to the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire to visit my mother-in-law. Most years we do it three times: at Easter, in August, and at Christmas. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a short hop. But if you’re paying attention, it’s another world.

    I prefer going just a little further north, at least up to the Kangamangus and into the Whites. I’m pretty sure I’ve sung the praise of the former here before, but the views are stunning and there are trailheads that start right off the highway.

    IMG_1021

    On the trail to Sawyer Pond.

    View from the Kancamagus Hwy.

    Actually, it’s spelled “Kancamagus”.  Allegedly, it’s pronounced “Kank-uh-MAW-gus”.  But I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it that way, at least not in my extended family, many of whom vacation in the Lakes Region.  We always say “Kank-uh-MANG-gus”.  Which brings us back to your spelling!  Why don’t they spell place names the way they’re pronounced?  “Grenich,” Connecticut, anyone?

    • #13
  14. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    I love this post, and this a kind of diversity we don’t celebrate enough.

    However, I’d like to say a couple of words in praise of similarity.  We live primarily in Chatham, NJ, but we frequently vacation in the Lakes Region of NH, in part because that is where our kids go to summer camp.   (My wife attended the same camp, and her father still owns the family vacation cottage near the camp.)

    One aspect of small town life that is similar from state to state is the Independence Day Parade.  Whether we are in Chatham, NJ or in Ossipee, NH, we see Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, fire trucks, ambulances, antique cars, politicians, dogs, marchers throwing candy to children, and spectators lining Main Street in folding chairs.  Is it a thrill-a-minute event?  No.  But it is glorious just the same, and I wouldn’t miss it.

    Footnote:  As I think I once discussed with Matthew in a private message, I grew up in southwestern CT, and since I now live in northern NJ, my geographic progression has been the mirror image of his.  As a New Englander, I was an anti-NJ snob, which I now acknowledge stemmed from nothing more than ignorance.  The Garden State has many charms.

    • #14
  15. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    Johnny Dubya: As a New Englander, I was an anti-NJ snob, which I now acknowledge stemmed from nothing more than ignorance. The Garden State has many charms.

    Oh I disagree, my distain for New Jersey is most definitely not stemmed from ignorance. I grew up on the border and know much about the state, and I still turn my nose up at New Jersey, mainly from the previlance of Guidos, which is also why Long Island gets my distain.

    • #15
  16. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Typical Anomaly: But the curious thing was the wind. Here, it wasn’t a meteorological possibility. It simply was. Day, night, whenever, the wind was there.

    That ever present wind is part of what moved us from Oklahoma to Kentucky to build our retirement home outside Glasgow, KY Pop. ~14,000. The county population is around 40,000 so more folks live outside Glasgow and a few smaller towns than inside the city limits, one thing I like and appreciate- it gives the place a great country-folks flavour. That means the people are super-friendly, ready to help anyone who needs it while at the same time very independent minded.
    The main impetus for our 800 mile move was getting out of the City. Since nowhere appealing was within half a day’s drive we decided moving further wouldn’t matter much and we have always liked our visits to Kentucky. We enjoy the country drives and Mrs. OS’s flower gardens thrive with little to no watering and minimal weeding, in other words Gardeners Heaven.
    We plan to visit points East more than we were able to do from OKla. as we like to go by car, taking back roads as much as possible. We like to avoid touristy areas and take time to stop when we come across local interest sites that many will never hear of much less visit. Let  me know if you are coming through this area, the guest room is ready.

    • #16
  17. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    I don’t want to get in the middle of a @matede @johnnydubya border brawl, but I have to say I have a significantly higher regard for my home state than I do for my adopted one. When you go forth into the world from the Garden State, you do so with a Turnpike-sized chip on your shoulder. It has served me well so far. New Jersey and Connecticut both have personality, but there’s truly no place like home.

    • #17
  18. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    Cow Girl:I grew up on a little dairy farm in the mountains of western Wyoming. The highway that went past our house was the main route to Yellowstone Park, just 150 miles away. Then, as a married adult, I lived in Southern Cali, in two difference coastal communities, for 20 years, till my husband’s job transferred us to Maryland, where he worked at a Navy base. I was completely astonished at the vast differences between the East Coast and the West. Yes, yes: trees! Wow. But not just that, it was the whole mindset. No one in the D.C/Boston metro-plex has any idea about the amazing vastness of the West.

    100_2264

    Great stuff. I wish I’d spent more time out West. On a cross country jaunt with some pals when I was 20 or so, we pulled the car off the road in Utah or Colorado and just jumped into an ice-cold stream to cool off. A great memory, and not something is ever consider doing here in the East.

    • #18
  19. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    Matthew Hennessey:I don’t want to get in the middle of a @matede @johnnydubya border brawl, but I have to say I have a significantly higher regard for my home state than I do for my adopted one. When you go forth into the world from the Garden State, you do so with a Turnpike-sized chip on your shoulder. It has served me well so far. New Jersey and Connecticut both have personality, but there’s truly no place like home.

    Ha, maybe because I’m a New Yorker I have a superiority complex when it comes to New Jersey (although it is all in good fun, most of this is tongue in cheek). Connecticut does have its charm once you drive west to see the old New England farm houses and nothing can beat us when it comes to foliage come the fall. Also the close proximity to things makes the Northeast attractive to many people, most things are only a few hours drive away unlike the enormous states out west where things are much more spread out. Although those beautiful open spaces of the western states are amazing I think the enormity of it keeps the majority of the citizenry on the coasts.

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Mate De: Also the close proximity to things makes the Northeast attractive to many people, most things are only a few hours drive away unlike the enormous states out west where things are much more spread out. Although those beautiful open spaces of the western states are amazing I think the enormity of it keeps the majority of the citizenry on the coasts.

    This reminds me of something I noticed on our extended to visit to Texas for some bicycling this February.  I’m talking about the region between San Antonio, Austin, and Houston.  Not only were things spread out, but the small towns — the smallish ones just big enough to have a post office of their own — were themselves were spread out, to the point where it was hard to tell whether you were in town or not.  And the old stores, some of them still active, weren’t necessarily packed together in a compact downtown.

    I was born in North Dakota and spent my first eight years there.  There, too, the places are spread out.  But in North Dakota there is usually a clear demarcation between town and country.  In this part of Texas there was not, and I don’t think it had anything to do with modern sprawl.

    At this point I could digress on the spatial arrangements discussed in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce but I’m out of words. And to a visitor it wasn’t like hell, anyway.  Just the opposite.

    • #20

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