Reflecting

The three-day Columbus Day weekend is always a popular holiday for New England leaf-peepers, so as I was driving back to Keene from Massachusetts on Monday afternoon, I encountered stream after stream of cars with out-of-state license plates leaving New Hampshire, toting canoes, bicycles, and backseats full of kids back home. The drive between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was lovely, like driving through a yellow, orange, and red kaleidoscope shot through with golden light, and I felt honored to live (at least part-time) in a place other people only visit.

Overgrown

It was still light when Reggie and I arrived back in Keene, with the late afternoon sun already starting to settle toward the western horizon, so I stopped by the Ashuelot River on the way to my apartment, figuring Reggie and I had enough time for a dinnertime stroll before dark. The leafy banks of the river were more colorful than the last time we’d walked there, and the park itself was more crowded, with far more locals enjoying the park on a sunny afternoon than we’d typically see on an early-morning dog-walk, when Reggie and I typically have the trails to ourselves.

It felt good to be back in Keene, good (as always) to be walking, and good to be bathed in the deeply angled, golden light of autumn, New England’s prettiest season. It also felt odd to be back in Keene and yet among strangers, as if my erstwhile neighbors were invading a place that has always felt as if it were mine and Reggie’s alone. These days, I realize that I, not those other walkers, am the outsider: commuting each week between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I feel as if I have less and less claim to a landscape I see only three days a week, and then only hurriedly. When Reggie and I walked along the Ashuelot in September, we walked on a Wednesday morning when we had time to enjoy the solitude of the scene; on Monday afternoon, I was mindful of the setting sun and a long Monday night to-do list, preoccupied, like Robert Frost’s famous speaker, with “miles to go before I sleep.”

Virginia creeper

Walking is how I understand any landscape, whether I visit as a local or as a tourist, and these days in Keene I feel like both. Last Friday, I surrendered my New Hampshire driver’s license in return for a Massachusetts one; next, I’ll switch my car title and registration as well. Soon enough, I too will have out-of-state license plates when I venture into New Hampshire, thereby announcing myself as merely a transitory interloper in a state well accustomed to tourists. It’s been over three years that I’ve lived with one foot in two states, and it still feels strangely unsettling–not uncomfortable, but odd as I move between the alternating predictability of two different daily routines in two separate worlds. Where (if anywhere) do I truly belong; where (if anywhere) do I have the deepest roots? Or does my lack of lasting roots–my ability to migrate between two addresses, each with closets full of my things–point to the mobile nature of modern life, where our meals, our phone calls, and our personal interactions can all happen on-the-run?

Old man's beard

These are the in-between days here in New England as we transition between seasons, and these are the in-between days of my life as I migrate back and forth, back and forth, between my once and current homes. Where am I at any given moment or any given day? My home these days is perpetually “here,” wherever “here” happens to be.

The title of today’s post is one I’m particularly fond of. “In Between Days” is the name of an ’80s song by The Cure I’ve always liked, and it’s the title of two old blog posts and the implicit theme of a third.

The Wikipedia entry for that old Cure song describes its “lyrical themes of ageing [sic], loss and fear” as “not particularly reflect[ing] the upbeat tempo of the music.” Perhaps I’ve always lived, unsettled, between worlds.

You can click here for more photos of the Ashuelot River in autumn. Enjoy!

Ragweed in construction webbing

I arrived back in New Hampshire on Monday night, at the end of the first day of classes at Keene State. Because I teach on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I always get a one-day reprieve at the beginning of the semester: an extra day to move back into my apartment, stock up on groceries, and tend to last minute preparations before embarking on another academic year.

Ragweed with construction webbing

I wrote this time last year about the strange sensation of moving back into my apartment in Keene, where I live three days a week during the school year. It’s been three years that I’ve divided my days this way, migrating like a student between my summer and school-year homes. This, of course, is the first year I’ve left a husband behind in Massachusetts, thereby surprising those who believe marriage automatically means uninterrupted cohabitation, professional obligations and economic realities notwithstanding. Among academics, however, there is a long tradition of commuter marriages, and I’ve encountered more than a few long-married folks who get a far-off, longing look when they consider what it would be like to be married but with a place of their own to visit occasionally.

Coming back to Keene after a summer away, I’m always acutely aware of the things that have changed while I was gone. The house across from mine is inhabited by a new batch of college guys with pickup trucks; around the corner, two new houses harbor another throng of students, clogging the street with a new string of parallel-parked cars. Downtown, there is now a hotel in a boxy building I’d watched grow from the ground up: how strange to see a family pushing a loaded luggage cart to parking lot that used to be weeds and grass! And yet one thing I’ve learned from three years migrating between New Hampshire and Massachusetts is that change never changes. Every year, there’s always new construction, always new neighbors, and always a new crop of students, this set of replacements slipping into the places left vacant by their predecessors.