July 7, 2013
My visit to New Hampshire began with a slow, hazy drive out of Portland, Maine. Portland–what reminded me of Oz in my last entry–was so full of life, color and stimuli that I was content to stay on the backroads to let it all sink in. Fittingly, no major highway went from Portland to my destination of Castle in Clouds, New Hampshire. Just as Maine was like Technicolor Oz, New Hampshire was, despite the green hills, like a black-and-white Kansas. The pace felt slower. Maine’s coastal roadside attractions of lobster shacks and lighthouses had been replaced by antique shops and empty gas stations. Businesses were manned by elderly characters filled with, I imagined, years of stories I didn’t know how to ask to hear. There was a haunting, days-gone-by quality, witching and autumn-like, that rang through the otherwise quiet hills. I wanted to understand the libertarian billboards, the New Hampshire dialect, how life could feel so different from trendy, foodie Portland, yet be so close on the map.
Castle in the Clouds was a further step back in time. Named for majestic structure rising into the mountains, Castle in the Clouds is glimpse of what fortune used to look like. The “castle” or mansion was erected after Thomas Gustave Plant made his fortune in shoe manufacturing. Plant sold his business and settled down to build his new bride a majestic home. I toured the castle’s many nooks: dressing tables with pewter hairbrushes seemingly untouched since the bride, reading alcoves carved under stairways, and offices decorated with a suit of armor and justice scales. I let myself sink into a forgotten time, wondering what the shoe tycoon and his bride were like. Plants’ ghosts led me down the hallways of their romance and the corridors of my own. Ghosts of the past and future floated by, guiding me away from a relationship that wasn’t working toward one that might. To clear the cobwebs, I needed to run.
When I finished touring the castle I wound down to Portsmouth, an old seaport town and I was sure would be classic New England. I dove into the experience full force. I decided if was going to run with my ghosts I had to get a little tough. I covertly and quickly changed into my running clothes inside my car at the docks, lacing up my sneakers for the sixth run in New England, ready to take on those ghosts. First, I looped past the Point of Graves Burial Ground. Gravestones from the 16 to 1800s were marked with names like “LEAR” and “PITT.” Angels, skulls and crossbones merely whispered as I ran past. In adjacent Prescott Park a community production of Annie was underway. I wondered if kids today knew about Orphan Annie. Despite the cheerful din of the surrounding crowds, something about the play and that curly-haired girl in the little red dress felt antiquated and eerie. I followed a bridge to tiny Pierce Island and another to Four Tree Island. Along the banks of the Piscataqua River furry creatures (possibly beavers?) popped up from behind the rocks. They were swift flashes of brown, disappearing and then reappearing as if to say: “We see you. You are not unnoticed.” I did feel seen. That eighth day in New England I had been seen by ghosts of my past and future. I had seen them too. That beautiful, clarifying force of running had once again startled me awake.