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Travel: New England Traditions

Travel: New England Traditions
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by in Mar 2011

From swan boats in Boston to sugaring in Vermont, generations of New Englanders know these traditions mark the change of season. (Photo Credit: Carl Tremblay)

A Taste of the Growing Year
Flower shows give us our first blast of bloom.

For New England gardeners, flower shows are our sneak previews. We flock to the interiors of convention centers, warehouses, basketball arenas. Outside, the weather’s usually bad; indeed, we prefer it that way. We’ll wade through deep snow if necessary, our tickets already in hand, eager to get inside, ahead of the crowd.

A few feet past the entrance, though, we stop, stunned by a blast of bloom, overwhelmed by this tsunami of green. Add the burble of falling water, the cooing of doves, the scents of lemon blossoms and eucalyptus, rose geranium and damp ground, and we forget that the floor is concrete, the sky a maze of ductwork and spotlights. This is our first taste of the growing year, and it nearly chokes us.

What to look at first? Some turn left, others right; children disappear, to be found only later, happily watching butterflies or koi or Lady Amherst pheasants. There are scores of gardens, and every one, large or small, woodland or patio, vegetable patch or parterre, is perfect. Every leaf is in place; spires of delphinium and foxglove reach for the sky; streams cascade over rocks and magically return to their starting points.

We see it and we want it–that’s the exhibitors’ art. And the vendors’, too. When we’ve examined every rose-covered pergola, each flowering tree, the water lilies and the bonsai, when we’re sure there’s nothing we haven’t seen, or bent to smell, we wander off down the aisles of offerings. We stop and admire a greenhouse the way someone might a luxury sedan at an auto show, but, being New Englanders, we settle for buying a single gardenia blossom the way our fathers always did.

Finally, when our feet tire, we head back toward the door. Pulling on our coats, we step into the slush and drizzle. Some of us have bunches of pussywillows, an orchid, another dahlia. These aren’t souvenirs of the show–they’re our tickets to spring, the one we know now is just around the corner.
–Roger B. Swain

The Delicious Time
Maple weekends offer a taste of the sweet life.

Sugaring season is fleeting, and sugarmakers, those who rush to the woods to collect sap, know this. When leaf buds sprout, the sap gets bitter. And that’s it. But, for the rest of us, this year’s celebration of liquid gold has just begun. When the sap starts flowing, sugarhouses across New England open their doors to the public, sharing the tradition with young and old alike.

These days are a gift to our senses. White clouds billow from sugarhouse chimneys, dotting the rolling landscape. The air holds a faint scent of sweetness–the kind you pour all over a stack of pancakes–as 40 gallons’ worth of sap gets boiled down to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. The grownups sample the grades (depending on when the sap was collected, it might be fancy, grade A, or grade B), contemplating the nuances of the flavors, while the little ones sneak a couple of extra shots and start running circles around the maple creamie stand. We sample maple in all its different forms–sugar-on-snow, sugar candy, cotton candy, syrup on waffles. Our hands get sticky, just like the little ones’. Maple doesn’t discriminate. And we all smile with delight. Maple makes life more delicious.
–Heather Atwell

Going wild and woolly at the bottom of the slopes.

It’s pond-skimming day on this late-March afternoon at Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont. It may be 29*, but the sun’s out, and the fans arrive, wearing tutus and togas, bikinis and beads, leis and lace. They’re dressed as hot dogs, pizza slices, and Chinese takeout; lions and tigers, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Elmo; Darth Vader and Captain America. And they’re all wearing skis and snowboards as they slide down the 100-yard in-run at the base and brace themselves for a splash.

Sugarbush’s Lincoln Peak hosts the longest continually running pond skim in the Northeast. Back in 1968, and for many years after, it was held on a real pond, the snowmaking one. Now it’s at a temporary pool of turquoise water, as pretty as any Caribbean sea but nearly as cold as the air: 34°. Making it all the way across requires three parts speed, two parts stability, and one part fat boards underfoot.

That’s not always the point, though: Witness the belly flops, the pirouettes, and the spins. Those who skim successfully pump their fists and mug for the cameras; those who don’t will flounder, panic, and sputter until a ski patroller helps them out of the frigid water with a hook or buoy.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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