Sunday, August 1, 2010


I had learned in the summer that Vermonters born in Vermont often refer to outsiders as “flatlanders.” People who are not from the mountains. But we in New Hampshire, back when I was very young and distinctions were important, we knew that the green mountains themselves were flat. As when compared to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The peaks of the White Mountains the coldest and windiest places in all of northeastern America and probably eastern Canada too. It made us proud. I once impressed Mickey’s mother by referring to the Rockies as “upstart mountains.”

Now when Gillian and I cross over for the first time from Vermont it feels not like we are going from one mountain area to another but that we are going from meadowlands into cold granite.

And now entering this place that haunts me I feel I am in a torrent, or cataclysm.

I take her first to the hill with the lookout point that is in front of what was the Sunset Hill House. That big old wooden hotel with its simple ballroom and its circular rocking chair porch, a part of everyone’s self definition in the these circles, in this place that everyone says never changes. The Sunset had burned down not long ago in one of the suspicious fires that strike old summer hotels that have gone out of fashion.

To our far left we can see the crumbing roof or the Pioneer, which had been a rakish dancing and necking place, going full swing when I was not quite old enough to buy alcohol on my own. Bottles would be passed to us by the older young people from the outside world who were our benefactors here. Pretty college girls, who worked as summer chambermaids at the Sunset. Confident young men who worked as summer bell boys.

Straight ahead of us is the rock strewn field that leads to the woods that lead to the mountains. Again I note the slight indentation remaining form the ring where we used to take English style riding lessons. Down to our right is a large clapboard building, three stories high in the front, and maybe five in the back, that clings to the side of the drop-off from the road. The older people spoke often of the time when this was called the Bachelors’ Quarters. When our parents were young, the right sort of young men could stay free in the Bachelors’ Quarters for they were so in demand as squires for the daughters, mostly from the South, of mothers who came to the Sunset Hill House, by tradition, in each summer’s long hay fever season. The fathers might make it too, but only for a week or so at the summer’s end. That was in my parents' day. In my day, which was after the Depression and after the war, the Bachelors’ Quarters had become the lodging place for those college boys, and girls too, who had summer jobs at the Sunset. These older kids, whom we sometimes saw at night necking with great skill in shadows on the Sunset’s porch.

But now the old Bachelors’ Quarters building has been spruced up and transformed. Freshly painted. Dark shutters and dark window boxes added where there had been no shutters, and certainly no flowers, before. The flowers in the new boxes seem more tidy than cheerful.

The place is across the road from the short nine-hole golf course that was part of the Sunset Hill House in the past and now goes with this miniature Sunset version. Yes, the old Bachelors' Quarters building now claims to be the Sunset Hill House. Two golfers, one in plaid, the other in bright orange trousers, are coming across the road back to what they may think is real.

This version is more formal than I remember the real Sunset as being. And now Gillian and I enter and it feels as quiet as death. Dinner tables with everything correctly folded and arranged. Heavy silverware lined up in the precise order, from outside to inside, in which it should be used.

In the lobby there are brochures promoting this new Sunset version. The brochures make us laugh. They say nothing about the beauty of the mountains or the pleasures of summer sport. They do say golf is good for you. And that the White Mountains is where you should go for your health. As if it is your duty.

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