How New England Are You?
75 Things Every New Englander Should Do …
Here’s a life list for anyone who loves the region, native and visitor alike.
by Ian Aldrich, with the editors of Yankee Magazine and contributors from past Yankee issues: Don Snyder, Jay Paris, James B. McLindon Jr., Robert Sullivan, Tim Clark, Todd Balf, Dale Salm, Nicholas Howe, John Elder, Geoffrey Norman, Brook Dojny
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<icompiled by Ian Aldrich, with the editors of Yankee Magazine
1. Actually Climb Bunker Hill Monument
Two hundred and ninety-four steps doesn’t sound like that many at the bottom, but you feel it about halfway up the narrow spire. They should install inspirational signs along the way, like “How much do you love your country?” When you get back down, make sure to yell, “We made it!” at the park ranger. You’ve earned it, and he’s used to it by now.
2. Bet on Ice-Out
In Kent, Connecticut, spring is heralded not by the groundhog but by ice-out on the Housatonic River. Each year townspeople place bets on the actual day, hour, and minute; volunteer firefighters rig a network of ropes and pulleys, with a clock mounted on a tripod to record the exact moment when the ice breaks up enough to move at least 100 feet downriver. The winner gets as much as a thousand bucks–along with the confidence of knowing that soon that heavy parka can be put away until November.
3. Shop at 3:00 A.M. in Freeport
Although on a busy Sunday afternoon the crush and din of the L.L. Bean retail shop resembles that of a discount department store, you can still brush up against the past, you can still feel its old Maine heart beating, if you come in the middle of the night in the middle of winter, when the temperature is dropping to zero and big black clouds are shouldering in across Casco Bay.
4. Sleep with the Symphony
The Apple Tree Inn sits high on a hillside overlooking Stockbridge Bowl–a noisy neighborhood, what with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood right across the road. On summer nights in the Berkshires, retire early and let one of the world’s great orchestras serenade you to sleep.
5. Learn a Really Good Mud-Season Joke
“Two farmers are sitting on a front porch looking out at a muddy road. All of a sudden, they see a hat belonging to another neighbor, Frank, come sliding down the road. They go to investigate and lift the hat from the road. Sure enough, there’s Frank underneath, moving steadily through the mud. ‘No problem,’ says Frank. ‘I’m on my horse.’ ”
6. Go on a Flea Market Spree
In the gypsy world of the traveling flea-market circuit, any deal is possible. Legends of the Brimfield (Massachusetts) Antique Show include the Texan who brought his barbed-wire collection and swapped it for a lobster boat docked in Rhode Island. Brimfield can be irresistible and as memorable as a tour through a Middle Eastern bazaar, with the find of a lifetime just over there, at the next booth.
7. Negotiate the Braintree Merge
Leaving Braintree, Massachusetts? At the end of the entrance ramp to I-93 from Route 37 it’s ready, set, merge. In a mere tenth of a mile from the merge, a commuter must cross three of those lanes to catch the left-hand split to Boston, or else find work in Weymouth. Of course, everyone on I-93 knows exactly what you’re up to, and they don’t like it much, especially if it means touching that really wide pedal next to the gas. So stay calm–because you’ve got just a full two seconds per lane change.
8. Have Another Doughnut! Or Two, or Three
At Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, Vermont, the cider is pressed year-round. But the real reason to go there is the cider doughnuts. The recipe: a secret mix of fresh cider, whole wheat, cinnamon, and cloves. The machine: a near-round-the-clock contraption that drops rings of dough into vegetable shortening, lets them fry for a minute, then transfers them to a conveyor belt that lifts the cakes out of the fat and onto trays. The result: a crisp shell, a soft, slightly dry inside, and a tangy aftertaste.
9. Watch the Revolution Begin, Again
In truth, no one knows who fired first, and the Lexington production doesn’t seek to answer the question. But every April 19, before the sun has cracked the morning sky, the American Revolution begins anew. The British charge with bayonets leveled. It’s a mélée; there’s shouting and smoke, and in the gray dawn, it really seems dark and frightening. It’s over in a flash; moments after that first shot, the women of Lexington are on the green tending to the dead–there are eight–and wounded. The British are marching out of town, on their way to Concord.
10. Get Your Kodak Moment With the Big Indian
Since it opened in 1914, the heart of the Mohawk Trail–a 38-mile neck-craning stretch of road between the Western Massachusetts towns of Greenfield and North Adams–has forced drivers to take their time. All those hairpin turns … all those vistas … all those totem poles. And one Big Indian. It’s this 28-foot-tall icon standing in front of its namesake shop in Charlemont that has for the last 38 years reminded travelers that it’s not just about the destination–it’s also about the beaded belts, headdresses, and rubber hatchets you collect along the way. Say “Cheese.”
11. Know Where the Chowder Turns Red
The chowder line is that geographic boundary demarcating the place where creamy-style New England chowder asserts itself as top choice over tomato-based Manhattan chowder and clear-broth Rhode Island chowder. In the 1930s, one Maine publication went so far as to claim that the addition of tomato to clam chowder was “the work of the Reds,” who sought to undermine “our most hallowed tradition,” and suggested that housewives and chefs adding tomatoes be forced “to dig a barrel of clams at high tide as penalty.”
12. Weave Around a Real New England Frost Heave
Frost heaves, like the Lord, work in mysterious ways, casting down some parts of the road and exalting others. We memorize the smoothest routes, until they become automatic. We become Mississippi riverboat pilots, meandering down the road, subconsciously aware of every hidden snag and mudbank.