I never thought I would live in New Hampshire. Vermont maybe, but not New Hampshire, that crusty old place that has rightfully earned the nickname the Granite State. I was a city girl, first of all, from the city of cities — New York — and a Democrat, neither of which made me suited to the most conservative of the northern New England states. I was also a nomad. From the age of 21 to the age of 35, I moved almost every year, able to fit most of what I owned into a Nissan hatchback.
As a writer, I felt it was important to travel light and travel often. If I stayed too long in one place, I would get stale. The best way to gather material for my writing was to keep moving, observing people and places with the eye of the newcomer and the outsider. Think of Ernest Hemingway or James Joyce or Gertrude Stein. Wasn’t their genius linked to their being exiles and wanderers, people whose homes, if they had them, were temporary or adopted? They were not weighed down by living in small towns and having neighbors and serving on committees.
Fifteen years ago, my romantic dream of living like Hemingway and Joyce (not in Paris, admittedly, but in garret apartments from Baltimore to Boston) came to an end when I got married and moved to Portsmouth. I quickly discovered what it meant to stay in one place. Before long, I could not walk through Market Square without stopping to talk with someone I knew. I admit that at first I found this unnerving. Everyone knew everyone in this town. Gone were my city days of walking crowded streets and being anonymous, even invisible, one of the unknown millions. I was asked to serve on committees and reluctantly agreed. I had neighbors who checked on my cat and watered my plants when I went away. One of my neighbors even arrived at the door one day with something called a “friendship cake.”
On a recent spring night, as my husband and I walked into town, I thought of my initial qualms about moving to New Hampshire. The surface of South Mill Pond shone in the moonlight, and the warm smell of mud and new grass filled the air. In the square, the café tables were full, and the teenagers were playing hackey sack in front of the North Church. I was struck, as I am whenever I walk the narrow streets of Portsmouth, by my good fortune. I live here, I find myself saying with a certain wonder, awed anew by the beauty of this town, and its energy, and the friendliness and goodwill of its people.
Contrary to what I had expected, settling down did not zap me of all creative juices. In fact, it did just the opposite. Now that I sit at the same familiar desk each morning, looking out at the same familiar view, I find it easier to write. With the security and stability of staying put came an understanding that should have been obvious but eluded me for too long. The practice of any vocation is enriched by its being one piece of a full life, a life made of connections to people and place.
My husband and I walked past Prescott Park on that spring night, stopping to watch the drawbridge rise as a tanker nosed its way up the river. I said a silent thank you to the lights reflected in the dark surface of the water, pointing the way home.
Originally published in New Hampshire Home magazine.