As I drove into Franconia Notch State Park, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I was experiencing everything for the first time. Yet, in a way, every visitor, whether a veteran or a first time explorer, is gazing at new scenery every minute, hour, or day. For, The Notch is forever changing.
As a Floridian, I never truly experienced a drastic seasonal change. Observing spring for the first time, while living at Bear Brook State Park, opened my eyes and captivated me more than I ever imagined. I felt honored to observe the forest and its remarkable day to day changes. It seemed that, with every turn of the trail, I was witnessing the rebirth of the plant and animal life; rousing my senses, imagination, and child-like curiosity. As summer is still upon us and my backyard is a splendorous playground, I am going to make a promise to myself – and I urge every visitor and passerby to do the same- : I promise to hone my observational skills and truly appreciate the forest while hiking, biking or frolicking. For, it is exciting to say that you climbed all of the peaks or rode all 10 miles of the trail, but it is another entirely to take time to look up from the path, explore/marvel at the beautiful, surrounding habitats and to notice the unique properties of every season. After transitioning to The Notch, and graciously greeting summer like an old friend, I cannot help but wonder what amazing adventures and sensory surprises fall will bring.
Many of you may recognize me from the Hiker Information Cabin. I was a little skeptical of spending abundant, tedious hours indoors; but, I have very much enjoyed this aspect of my job! I absolutely love guiding people before their big adventures and hearing about their journeys after their return. Although the hikers vary in personality and experience, Vicky and I, encounter the same two questions before every departure: Do you have a bathroom? And What is the weather going to be like? After all, without these questions answered, it could be quite an uncomfortable trip. The first question is answered within seconds, but while answering the second, we try and instill a sense of caution in every traveler; one, so that they can always be prepared and two, the weather in The Notch is unpredictable and changes quickly.
William Lowell Putnum once said, while defending the weather on Mt. Washington, “there may be worse weather, from time to time, at some forbidding place on the Planet Earth, but it has yet to be reliably recorded.” This sentiment seems apply to the entire White Mountain region.
So, if the weather changes from clear to gloomy during your trip, I assure you that, those days are just as special, if not more captivating, than any cloudless forecast. True, you won’t be able to have the best views at the top of Cannon, but you have the opportunity to witness the forest seemingly burst to life! I am biased, for the rain brings fond memories of afternoon thunderstorms in Florida; but, while hiking the Pemi trail after and occasionally during a storm, I am reminded of its majestic powers. Your senses are quickly drawn to the fragrant, Christmas-esk aroma of the fur trees, and the sweet smell of recently fallen rain. The moss and lichen flourish as they use each droplet to their photosynthetic advantage, providing the eye with a beautiful display of colors. Not to mention the amphibians and other wildlife that seem to spring from their homes to also enjoy the multi-use trail!
My favorite scene at the park happens to occur when the weather is deemed inopportune. I always feel humbled, enchanted, and in awe while watching the fog roll through The Notch. This can be experienced while driving South on I-93 off of the 34C exit. I have tried many times to capture this on camera but the photo has never done it justice.
Therefore, no matter what the forecast predicts, try and appreciate your surroundings by imagining what benefits and unique properties weather of all types can bring to the park and to your experience.
In addition to the natural wonders the park has to offer, it also provides a change of social environment for families. People have been drawn to this special, unique, mystifying park for generations and today, as it probably did before, can be seen as a safe haven for children of all ages. As you drive into Lafayette Campground, the park allows you to travel back in time when children were free to ride their bikes until sunset, explore without constant supervision, and enjoy electronic-free family bonding time. It is a place of such high importance because it allows humans to feel close to nature as well as to their loved ones. I for one am very grateful that it is different from the modern view of entertainment, and has changed the way some families approach vacations and their general life style.
In conclusion, our Earth is in a constant state of flux due to plate tectonics and other geologic events that have been shaping its surface for millions of years. The Notch has experienced many different faces and continues to evolve with a little help from weathering, erosion, human development, and recreational impacts. This was seen after the local, some say national, tragedy of the falling of the Old Man of the Mountain in 2003. Many people felt as if they had lost an old friend and were deeply shaken by the sudden change. Although the loss could be seen as insignificant on the geologic time scale, human ingenuity (the sculpture and memorial site, the work of Shelly Bradbury and Ron Magers) helps us all to adjust, move on, but never forget.
The seasons, landscape, staff, and guests may change, but the spirit of the park, and in turn our spirits, are everlasting.
“We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.”
-T.S. Eliot, Four Quarters, 1943