Born in Massachusetts, raised in Vermont and then Maine, I am a New England girl. But I didn’t relate to the lifestyle, the fashion, the mind frame, and so I moved West. I wear Chacos, have a nose ring, shop at thrift stores, and prefer my hikes without a paved path and with no fellow hikers. The West is my home now and it’s where I’m happiest and most myself. But something still stirs within me when I step out of Logan International Airport, catch a glimpse of the Boston skyline, and get a whiff of the Atlantic. Home, but the old home.
Visiting the East Coast with a “true” Westerner has been eye-opening. There are cultural idiosyncrasies that I wouldn’t notice on my own, explored below by Kevin. There’s something magical about New England. There’s a romantic air to the density of history, and though it’s campy, it’s fun to see people dress up as pilgrims, the Salem witches, or Paul Revere at various times of the year. I feel comfortable around the to-the-point people who are dubbed as “cold” by outsiders. Sometimes the extreme friendliness of the West makes me uncomfortable; it feels like an invasion. Kevin and I stumble along the brick sidewalks, warped with age, and giggle at the way that the ladies with their matching cardigan sets eye us.
It’s the people who I love that live in New England that bring me back these days. I feel a little claustrophobic when I come: trapped by the overhanging trees, stifled by the humidity, strained by the different lifestyles. But my Dad and stepmother, my 4 year old twin siblings, the group of girls I went to high school with… they are what keep me coming back.
We don’t spend much time in the United States these days. When we do, it is usually a whirlwind cross-country tour trying to visit as many family members and friends as we can. Upon our return this year, our first stop was to New England.
Going to New England is always interesting to me because it makes it very clear to this born-and-bred-in-the-West boy how vastly different regions of the United States can be. Driving down the narrow, winding, tree-lined roads of northern Massachusetts is nearly like being in a different country. The houses are different, the food is different (what is a ‘whoopie pie’?), and the people nearly speak a different dialect. The age of the region shines through from the decaying and overgrown stone fences scattered through the woods, to the 400-year-old grave stone mossy and forgotten on the side of the road. The thick, lush deciduous forests crowd in around everything, combining with a population density not found in the rural west to make for an overwhelming sense of closeness. People interact with each other differently, making less eye contact and keeping conversation direct and to the point. Nature seems to be kept at a distance, so that a visit to the local conservation lands seems more like a walk through a huge botanic garden rather than a wilderness. Wearing convertible cargo pants, hiking boots, a beard, and a ponytail, I pretty easily blend in with the culture of my hometown Denver. Here, in New England, the land of polo shirts and boat shoes, I suddenly feel like some unkempt beast that just crawled out from a cave in the woods. While on a train to Boston from Maine, I overheard a guy in a Red Sox jersey complaining about being ‘too far from the bar car” in an accent so thick that I was certain he was an actor, the modernly dressed version of the ‘travel ambassadors’ in the powdered wigs and frock coats that you see on the Freedom Trail placed there to make tourists feel certain that they’re actually in Boston.
I’ve been to New England before, but it always strikes me as a fascinating and different place from my own, but part of the overall same. The gorgeous old colonial homes, the rocky fogged-in coastlines, the colorful old buoys decorating mailboxes and porches, the stoic lighthouses, and rusty lobster cages. It is such a lovely place. It feels dignified, intellectual, and well storied. The coasts speak to a relationship to the sea that remains a relic of our nation’s past. The centuries old brick sidewalks, heaved and disfigured by unrelenting tree roots, hark back to a romantic age when this country was new and unstable. Oh, and you can get a whole, freshly caught and cooked lobster for $5. Yeah, I like New England.