There’s fascinating stuff promised in some of those dots
For me, it commonly begins with a mark on paper; or more recently, on a computer screen. They’re just tiny spots on maps – old-fashioned, unfold-and-spread-out-on-the-hood-of-the-car maps or those accessed courtesy of the internet – but they often end up irresistibly fascinating me. I’m talking about dots denoting localities around New Hampshire I’ve never before noticed. From the moment they first grabbed my attention, these venues wind up being practically magnetic to me, insisting I make the effort to discover what they’re all about.
There’s the time, awhile back, my gaze happened on a particularly Native American-sounding site called “Wonalancet.” “Hmmph,” I wondered. “What’s that?” Hard up against the White Mountain National Forest, just-north of roughly what would be the center of the state, “Wonalancet” is actually an “unincorporated community,” part of the town of Tamworth. My instincts proved correct: It’s named after a seventeenth-century Penacook Indian sachem who hailed from what is now the Lowell, Mass., area, eventually decamping to Canada.
A couple buddies and I devoted a springtime Saturday to eyeballing this village up close. What did we find? A smattering of domiciles and a Currier-and-Ives worthy chapel, evidently open for business only seasonally. Said house of worship backs up to a stereotypically babbling brook emerging from bosky shadow. It’s all ranged along what apparently is the hamlet’s main drag, a narrow, two-lane affair called Chinook Road.
That “Chinook” piece is significant: After peeking through the church building windows, we found ourselves striking up a conversation with a trio of Wonalancet regulars who came ambling out of the surrounding woodland. They proceeded to tell us about the Chinook – a hefty, Mastiff-related dog breed developed a century ago right up the street from where we stood; since 2009 New Hampshire’s official canine.
Wonalancet, New Hampshire, – Wwho knew?
Slightly southwest of that secluded niche, any decent state map should indicate Ellsworth.
“Ellsworth?” you say. “Huh?”
Well, yes – exactly my reaction when I first saw the name. I’d never heard of it, although I generally regard myself respectably familiar with this region’s geographical nooks and crannies.
So, not long after, my fellow Granite State gadabouts and I struck out for another exploratory trek: Breakfast followed by Ellsworth, New Hampshire.
En route? Rolling byways, rivers, mountain vistas, country homesteads – and the husk of a formerly sizable structure: Exposed foundation, piles of charred rubble, the forlorn stalk of a chimney. A little research revealed it had been a popular inn and restaurant, burned down in 2015. The slumbering owner? Rescued by a local cop and neighbor.
Turns out Ellsworth is a town – unlike Wonalancet, not just an “unincorporated community” – accessed by a largely unpaved road. It’s reportedly eighty-or-so residents occupy an assortment of homes, cottages, bungalows. There’s a town hall, I’m told, but I admit I missed that. Also, no super-market, no mall, no Dunkin’ Donuts. Lots of solitude and a photo-ready waterfall, however.
It, too, is named after a “Chief,” only not the traditional kind. Oliver Ellsworth (born 1745) was third Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was, moreover, a lifelong Connecticutter – so how’d he come to be associated with New Hampshire’s hinterlands? You got me.
Anyway, how many people can say they’ve driven through both Wonalancet and Ellsworth, New Hampshire?
Either locale interests me because, like any community, they represent human beings; and human beings are reliably interesting.
I’m reminded of Johnny Carson’s interviewing comedian George Carlin decades past. The famed late-night host asked the joker where he got material for his observational-style humor. I don’t particularly recall Carlin’s response, but the question answers itself, doesn’t it; a reply echoed in one of my favorite maxims: People are complex. That is, they’re endlessly hilarious, exasperating or intriguing; rarely boring on a permanent basis.
Our vast planet, all by itself, is inescapably diverting. Throw in a human being or three? Things get a whole lot more captivating. Just watch them or their accomplishments and all manner of stuff – witty, mesmerizing, depressing, inspiring – makes an appearance.
Which accounts for some of the allure of places like Wonalancet, Ellsworth, wherever. Much more than mere longitude/latitude co-ordinates, they represent people – nearly guaranteeing something meaningful, something to learn, something surprising is likely in store.
For those, that is, willing to take a drive and take a look around.