385 Miles of Smiles
A Journey into the Happy Heart of the Granite State
Photography by John W. Hession
Popular long-time WZID radio personality Mike Morin smiles a lot while on the air. He knows even if people can't see his smile they CAN hear it. His musical selections and on-air banter with co-host Tracy Caruso bring smiles to his listeners too, but the faces on the other side of the radio are invisible to him.
With this in mind, we paired him with ace photographer John Hession and set them both on a two-week-long mission to discover the best smiles the state has to offer, asking people from Portsmouth to Orford: What's Your Reason to Smile?
The June adventure culminated in a day-long road trip from Concord through Keene and rolling up to Berlin in the heart of the North Country.
As they set out to discover the best smiles in the state, they quickly discovered they weren't the only ones on the move with a mission ...
Reason to Smile :) Cruisin' for a Cause
Pictured above: Yarrow Farnsworth (left) and Jennifer Densmore
Yarrow Farnsworth of West Lebanon could be feeling blue after the death of her husband last year. But these days, her two young sons and a dedication to breast cancer causes put happiness in her heart. When Farnsworth and friend Jennifer Densmore dreamt up the Pink Corset Poker Run, the idea clicked. They both ride Harleys and, says Farnsworth, "I love lingerie, so why not? I picked the National Breast Cancer Foundation. They pay for women who can't afford mammograms." Farnsworth believes that when it comes to coping with cancer, you only need to look at children for inspiration.
"You get the best answer from kids. They have undying faith in living for the moment. Open your heart and smile. Stay positive." Her own kids inspire her to do the same. "I have my boys and I couldn't do it without support around me. I smile. I know it's healthy."
Reason to Smile :) Moving On Up
Pictured above: Allie Babcock (left) and Dani Beane surrounded by family and well-wishers
In Exeter, we found someone moving on in a very special way. Allie Babcock will begin an exciting new chapter in her life this fall as a freshman at the University of South Carolina. The 2012 Exeter High School class president will take along memories that created smiles during her high school career.
"The biggest source of joy for me in high school was my very strong connections to the school," she says. "I was involved in sports, clubs, committees and student government — my friends [like Dani Beane, pictured with her] could always bring a smile to my face."
With no firm plans for a career, Babcock already knows what will generate a lifetime of smiles.
"The secret to happiness is a life surrounded by love, both that you give and receive."
Reason to Smile :) Acting Up
Pictured above: Emma Canty-Carrell (left) and Anna Petrova
Sometimes the thing that makes you smile is a relationship of trust, the kind that develops between teachers and students or actors on a stage.
Emma Canty-Carrell just graduated 8th grade from the Peterborough school after performing in the school's production of Guys & Dolls, where she played the lead character - a man, Nathan Detroit! To Emma, it's that kind of casting that makes performing fun.
"Sometimes it's a real challenge, like the last play I was in where I played a man. It's a lot of fun transforming yourself to another person," she admits. It might be considered a real stretch coming from a girl who first tried stage work when she enrolled at the Well School.
"At my old school I had never acted before but tried it at the Well School in the 4th grade where it's required and really got into it. Then went back in the 5th grade (not required) and kept having fun so I went back. It was really cool." Whether or not Canty-Carrell becomes the next Hollywood star remains to be seen as she enters Conval Regional High School in September.
"I plan on acting there, too."
Watching student Emma Canty-Carrell blossom as a performer has brought steady smiles to Theater Director Anna Petrova.
"Emma actually made me laugh the first night (in Guys & Dolls) which is really hard when I've seen a line done 50 or 100 times - to actually get the timing right and make me giggle. They (students) have so much energy, so much talent. The versatility that some of the actors can show in a lot of the roles is a huge stretch. They're able to channel this amazing energy and channel these characters that you'd think it would be impossible for them to portray," Petrova says. What makes these budding thespians smile while they become characters?
"They love getting a chance to shine on stage because every kid wants the chance to be a star. This is a little mini version of that even if you have a small role you can get out there and make a lot out of that tiny role and just having a moment in the sun."
Reason to Smile :) Playing Cowboy
Pictured above: "Slim 4 Eyes" (left) with "Callous Clyde"
Even adults love to play act from time to time. Sometimes, maybe a bit too much.
"We (cowboys) don't know our real names," said Slim 4 Eyes when pressed for his actual name. He even considered trying to have "Slim 4 Eyes" on his New Hampshire driver's license. The DMV would more than likely have declined Slim's request. Anyone still dying to ID our cowboy only need head to Groton where the former New Jersey resident is the town's planning board chairman. He actually signs "Slim" between his first and last names on some town documents.
Slim was bitten by the cowboy bug two decades ago and has a personality that had friends suggesting he try the entertainment field.
"I've been playing a cowboy on a horse and shooting off a horse since 1992, when I bought the paraphernalia and guns. In New Jersey, they wanted me to do a radio show," he adds. "I've been an extra in movies including one written by Ernest Thompson, the "On Golden Pond" guy. I'm still waiting to hear when it will be out."
In his previous working life, Slim was a Garden State letter carrier for the US Postal Service and found joy in that job as well.
"Best part of the job? Christmas. Everybody was so nice, especially seniors. They'd say 'C'mon in for cookies.'" Despite those many fattening treats, he remains "Slim" to this day.
Reason to Smile :) Fishing for a Living
Pictured above: Tom Daniels (left) with First Mate Chris White
It might be hard to believe when you are young and carefree, but sometimes the thing that makes you smile the most is work — even if it's strenuous work and at times dangerous. Just ask commercial fisherman Tom Daniels of Rochester. He's 48 and continues a decades-long love affair with the sea.
"I've been fishing 27 years. I started on the docks working 50-hour weeks at $300 and saw guys fishing making $1,000, so that's what I did," he says. "I love my job. Can't picture doing anything else. I've always been an outdoors guy. Not someone to be in doing paperwork. I've been doing it so long I got good at what I do." Despite decades doing the same thing, Daniels finds a way to stop and smell the sea breezes.
"When you're out you see all kinds of marine life like whales. Neat stuff." And when he's on land, he's always sure to smell the roses.
"My family makes me smile — my wife of 23 years and a granddaughter on the way. That's why I fish. I couldn't make this kind of money without a college education."
We Hit the Road : )
We had found plenty of smiles over the past few weeks but our deadline was drawing near so on a brilliantly sunny Saturday in late spring, we decided to hit the road on a nearly 400-mile road trip. With nothing more than a dog-eared map, camera, note pad and recorder, we began our tour in Concord, the political center of the state. Nearly 12 hours later, we wrapped our day along the Androscoggin River in Berlin. What happened in between point A and point B was everything from serendipitous to heartwarming.
Reason to smile : ) Long Friendships
Pictured above: Jim Baxter (left) and Rick Patch
Main Street is reluctant to wake up on this richly-beautiful Saturday morning. The first people we encounter at Concord's Bagel Works are locals Jim Baxter and Rick Patch holding court in the northwest nook of the restaurant.
"Is there one thing that makes you smile?" I ask.
Reason to smile : ) Making Music
Pictured above (from left to right): Tom O'Hara, Marty Holdin and Dave Kersting
There is a three-piece acoustic band playing live music in the restaurant. At 6:30 in the morning! "We've been doing this for like, seven years," says Marty Boldin. "Tom and I both get up early in the morning. We both have really busy jobs and we want to play and we came to Don [Brueggemann, the manager] and said, 'Would it be OK if we play?' And he said, 'Sure.'"
Do you guys get paid? "We don't even get bagels. It's a very clear deal. We get the coffee and they get the music," he laughs.
Reason to Smile : ) Free Enterprise
Pictured above (from left to right):From left; Unidentified customer, Nathaniel Reid Wilson, Keenan Wilson, Julian Lang and Maxwell Kerwin
At 11 years old, Keenan Wilson is the youngest vendor at the Hancock's Farmers Market. While other booths sell produce, plants and baked goods, Wilson and his brother and friends sell lemonade and iced tea to market regulars.
"I'm doing this with my friend so we can save up to buy two dirt bikes," Wilson explains. "It cost $7 to get a space and the first day we didn't know if we were going to make it ... but then it gets real busy at 10 o'clock and a ton of people came down," he smiles.
Wilson personally made today's baked good treat, a chocolate chip cookie cake that he slices into wedges. He takes similar pride in his sunbrewed tea. "It's called Addis tea. It's from Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia." Turns out his dad makes regular trips to Ethiopia on medical missions.
Reason to Smile :) Walking the Dog
Pictured above: Ryan Toomey with Mitch
But to really know what's contained in a smile, you have to go deep. So we found a guy with plenty of reasons not to smile and followed him around long enough to get some perspective.
At a time when jobs are scarce and even more difficult to get for those with a disability, Ryan Toomey has found his niche with a modest business that satisfies his love of animals. At 27, the Plymouth resident has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair his entire life, according to his mom, Darlene.
"He has persevered through many obstacles," she says proudly. "He started his business, Toomey's Dog Walking, after he finished a certificate program at Plymouth Regional High School. He loves being outdoors and loves animals so it was a natural match. He has multiple health issues but still keeps his joy for life and always with a smile. He has been living in a residential home for two years and does great."
Dogs and their owners love Ryan. He currently has one dog he walks five days a week (the one in the picture, Mitch) and two others that each get walked twice a week. Toomey puts posters up in area businesses, distributes business cards and has an ad on his van, so he's ready for his business to grow.
"He's always looking for another dog," says his mom. "He does all his own bookkeeping and invoices, with just a little help from a caregiver. He loves being on the computer so it is not a chore for him and he is quite diligent about doing it."
Reason to Smile :) Making Things Grow
Pictured above: Maggie Sauvain
Keene We scan a sun-dappled Keene Farmers Market in search of the best smile and agree it belongs to plant seller Maggie Sauvain, owner of Stonegate Farm & Flowers in Greenfield.
"People come by and look at the plants and smile and it makes me smile too. When people find just the one they want, my day is made," she says. "There are plantaholics, you know, [and I] being one of them can tell you that we can't pass up a good plant." Is there a 12-step program for this? "I don't know. I think they started one for Hostaholics."
Another hard-hitting question: Do plants smile? "Oh, I think they are happy," Sauvain says as if she knew the question was coming. "I talk to mine. They say to me, 'Take me, take me!' Then I just take them to the market."
She explains that the blooms she used to tend were young minds. "I taught for 30 years, everything from nursery to mostly high school the last 15 years." And which group is happier, nursery or high school kids? "It's hard to say. I taught special ed and a lot of those kids are as happy as can be."
Reason to Smile :) Taking Flight
Pictured above: David Park
As we drove north along Rte. 12 headed for Claremont and with Vermont on our left, a glance to the right nearly stopped us in our tracks. What at first appeared to be a gently sloping green hill littered with large butterflies turned out to be a field of hang gliders at Morningside Hang Gliding & Paragliding. Finding smiles here would be easy.
David Park of Claremont is a designer of Timberpeg post-and-beam homes. He talked with me while waiting for the wind to cooperate so that he could take another flight lesson on the 450-foot-high practice hill.
"I'm a thrill seeker (laughs). Anything that's an adrenaline junkie-type thing, I'm going to try it," he admits. "I've raced jet skis for about 10 years, which was a thrill. I got to compete on the circuit. Went to Lake Havasu and did the world finals. Then I was a fireman/EMT. for 20 years in my community. You can't get any more adrenaline junkie than that, you know?"
Reason to Smile :) Coming Home
Pictured above: Christine Balch
Christine Balch, owner of Bunten Farm in Orford, is living, smiling proof that you can go home again. After three decades away, Balch returned to her family's farm in 2005.
"My folks came in 1956 and then I went away, of course, for my 30 years. You know, you do your thing elsewhere and you come back. I took care of my mother first, took care of my father later and then we bought it from the rest of the kids (there's six of us total) and we've been trying to farm with heritage breed milking Devon cows," she says. "And we raised pumpkins 'cause my father always did. I grew up on this farm." So, why return to such a demanding lifestyle? It looks like hard work.
"It is. But it's fun," says Balch. "The animals love us, they're well taken care of, they're happy, they're clean, well-fed, love to be out on the green grass. They're a joy." She may be happy, but what about the animals?
"Their tails are wagging, they jump sideways, they leap in the air a little bit, smell you then give you a little kiss. They're sweet."
So, there's still nothing you'd rather be doing than farming, Christine? (She laughs.) "I'd love to run it with a little more capital in the background. It wouldn't be such a struggle. It's hard to make a living here."
Reason to Smile :) The Lord Provides
Pictured above: Jean Chaloux
Retired 59-year-old Jean Chaloux is a man of deep faith and a love of casting his line from the west bank of Berlin's Androscoggin River. On this particular afternoon there aren't many nibbles. After meeting Chaloux, we agreed he had a contagious smile and returned to the car so John could get his photo gear. When we returned, Chaloux was all smiles, thrusting a flapping trout in our direction.
"Would you believe I said, 'Lord, these people are here to take my picture. I'd love it if I had a fish (laughs)'. Then, just like that I had a fish! Out of nowhere, boom!" The former martial arts instructor enjoyed sharing his life philosophies through training young people but now his greatest joy comes from fishing."Me and the Lord have had some great fishing trips," says Chaloux.
Reason to Smile :) A First Smile
Pictured above: Steve, Emily and baby Ball
When we set out to capture the state's best smiles for this month, we'd made arrangements to capture the happy parental glow of Steve and Emily Ball at Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth as soon as their first child was born. There are some things you just can't schedule, so the shot was taken too late to make it into the print edition, but it how could we resist running it online?