Late spring in the place named for a Penacook sachem, I watch my dad gather up his cross-country skis and head outside, although there seems to be no snow. Around the fields and forests of my Wonalancet, New Hampshire home, the snow has all but melted except on the high peaks of the White Mountains: Whiteface, Passaconway, Hedgehog. With mud season under way, the earth is like a bald, slimy newborn drawing its first breaths. So when Dad puts on his gear – ancient blue garters, suspenders and pom-pom hat he wears despite teasing – I wonder where he could be going.
I find out three days later by chance. His red Gore-Tex jacket catches my eye in the far yard near our sleeping vegetable garden. Dad glides atop a single patch of snow – perhaps 20 feet long – a white finger on the green grass near the shaded edge of the forest. He skis across the single patch, back and forth, cheeks flushed, his face a mixture of enthusiasm and determination. Watching for a moment, I am struck by the sight at once incredible, amusing and somehow sad: the voracious cross-country skier, clinging onto winter a little bit longer.
I have never doubted my dad loves this place near the Chinook Trail. I suspect that in raising his children here, he envisioned for us childhoods of contentment in the village named for a Native American who sought peace. My dad devours the history of the place: the early settlers who farmed here, built roads and bridges, and raised families. Many are buried just down the road in the small, shaded cemetery on the hill.
My parents have been married for over thirty years and perhaps this place will not mean peace for them in the end, because my dad wants to die here and my mom may not. She contends with long, wearying drives, the isolation of this rural area (population: 56), the lack of culture nearby. I ache for the two of them: Will there be one who stays and one who goes? I know, though, this: I will always return.