Walking Our Way Home
You learn a lot walking a dog around the neighborhood every day. One lesson is that all creatures have their own favorite places to visit and enjoy.
My daily dog-walking duties were once a somewhat lonely business. Strolling with a leashed descendant of an apex predator is a bit like being on a spacewalk: You can’t really relax until you get back to the airlock. This spring, for reasons you probably understand, every dog owner in town seems to be out and about, turning my quiet spacewalk into a series of fraught canine encounters.
“Yuna,” the cheerful mass of fur-covered muscle who is the reason for my walks, doesn’t mind a bit, as long as we hit her favorite spots along the way. These consist of a few neighbors’ homes where she is engaged in ongoing arguments with small housebound dogs. They press their snarling faces fiercely against windows as we pass and Yuna either ignores or out-barks them. She’s also quite fond of the public gardens and the train tracks and underpasses where the homeless tend to camp. She finds so many interesting sights and smells to investigate there and she gets a lot of attention from the “residents” who often will offer a treat of some kind. Dogs remember things like that.
Chances are you have your own beloved places, stores and cafés that always lure you back, and possibly for similar reasons. The beauty and fragrance of a location can leave a lasting imprint, and the kindness of strangers is always memorable, even when they are shop clerks or waitstaff.
But the bustle that now accompanies dog walking has been a revelation. The once-quiet streets of Concord are festooned with chalk art, laughter echoes from driveways and backyards as kids, presumably on break from their home-based classwork, invent new games with their siblings and parents. I witnessed one tourney involving a grizzled dad in a wheelchair circling a netted trampoline next to a basketball hoop with a variety of balls being tossed about. I have no idea what the rules were (or if there were rules at all), but all seemed to be having fun. Teddy bears peer from porches and dangle in picture windows to provide a “bear hunt” for younger kids walking with their parents.
All this helps me to remember that those houses I’ve been walking by every day were filled with special people called “neighbors.” As I said, it’s been enlightening.
This special issue of New Hampshire Magazine was conceived last year and we’ve been working on it in pieces ever since. The concept of a guide to “best places” coming out just as the spring was turning to summer seemed perfect at the time. It’s a subject we know a lot about and one that people always find useful. Little did we know then that the people of the state and much of the world would be as housebound as Yuna’s bark buddies, just as we were prepping to go to press.
As a result, many of the places and businesses that we celebrate in this issue are hunkered down as well, and unlike people, who can get by on food, water and toilet paper while avoiding the microscopic enemy that’s plaguing us, businesses and attractions need people.
The sad truth that underlies our present reality is that the pandemic of 2020 will cost us some number of those people (neighbors) and businesses. It’s a sobering thought for us as we pull together the final strands of this issue and send it to print, but in one important way it only strengthens the mission of Best Places New Hampshire.
Crayon rainbow signs reading “Everything is Going to Be OK” or “We’re All in This Together” seem sweetly naïve in the age of a deadly virus, but from the mouths (and crayons) of babes comes truth.
And when we emerge from our houses, basement offices and sick beds, we’ll breathe some cleaner-than-usual air, visit friends and even embrace them, and then we’ll start looking for some things to do. And, just like Yuna, we’ll remember and seek out those places that gave us joy, excitement and fulfillment. We will keep this guide updated as much as possible online with changes, closures and other caveats, and hopefully it will serve as a map to us all as we walk our way back home.