Travel | Fall Comes to the Lake Country of New Hampshire
First thing in the morning, I heard the loons.
It wasn’t the maniacal laugh, that “crazy as a loon” sound, but the birds’ other voice, that calm staccato ululation that tells you that you could be nowhere else in the world but on a northern lake. And on this northern lake, on this tart autumn morning, the mist rose to reveal the incandescence of birches and maples brightening the shore and reflected in the water. Could any soundtrack better fit the scene?
I was in Holderness, New Hampshire, listening to the loons from my deck at the The Manor on Golden Pond, a sumptuous hostelry located on … well, not on Golden Pond, because there is no Golden Pond, but on Squam Lake, which sprawls just off the northwestern corner of Lake Winnipesaukee and is far too big ever to be mistaken for a pond. The Manor got its name because Squam Lake starred in On Golden Pond, the much-loved 1981 Katharine Hepburn/Henry Fonda vehicle that was surely Hollywood’s first recognition of loons. Well, real ones, anyway.
Squam can be tantalizingly elusive, as I learned when I left my lake-view quarters at the Manor and set off to enjoy its foliage-dappled shores from the roadside. Sure, there are dusty little lanes that trickle off from the blacktop, heading down toward the water, but I shied away from those, as I figured they’d all lead to genteel summer homes where crabby old guys like Fonda’s Norman Thayer character would shoo me away. Instead, I stayed on Route 113, heading northeast out of Holderness, looking for the pulloff for the trail up Mount Percival. I found it, and followed the two-mile trail–a pine-needle carpet at first, then a steeper challenge–to a vista that took in far more of Squam than I could have ever beheld by braving old Norman.
New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is as much about woods as water. Continuing on 113, I tunneled through deep forest, a hardwood kaleidoscope in autumn. The white clapboards of Center Sandwich, the next town I reached, were more starkly chaste for the contrast: Did early New Englanders paint their villages white as a foil for October foliage? I entertained this unlikely possibility as I stood before the 1793 Old Baptist Meeting House (today part of the Federated Church of Sandwich), one of the most photographed churches in New England. By itself, it would be a pretty white church; framed in fall colors, it was like the serene little jewel inside a Fabergé egg.
The Granite State’s own Faberges have a home in Center Sandwich: Since 1926, when it began as Sandwich Home Industries, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen has maintained its flagship showrooms here. As I browsed textiles, jewelry, woodenware, glass, prints, and ceramics, I noticed just how much the colors of autumn had influenced the work of the state’s artisans, especially the potters.
I walked across the street from the League shop, to get a coffee at a place called Mocha Rizing, and encountered another local phenomenon. Here was a shop selling exotic blends of java, along with free-trade organic chocolate bars and fresh-baked scones–all hallmarks of small-town New England’s brave new world–and in the back room, hunkered into easy chairs, were the same quartet of decidedly unhip townsmen you’d have seen at any general store a generation ago.
At North Sandwich, I faced a choice: Should I stay on 113, connecting with Route 25 to cut down faster toward Winnipesaukee, or loop farther north, toward the foothills below Mount Chocorua? I chose the emptier road, Route 113A (a.k.a. the Chinook Trail), and was rewarded with bright woodlands alternating with the more muted, almost melancholy, hues of marshlands and stubbled fields. And if I hadn’t swung north, I wouldn’t have come upon the loneliest little church in New Hampshire: the white, side-steepled Wonalancet Union Chapel at a bend in the road near nothing whatsoever. If I’d blinked and found it had vanished, I would have been no more surprised than I was at seeing it at all.