I thought it would be nearly dawn but it was not midnight yet as I came out of the Notch. The snow had stopped as suddenly as it had begun. I saw I had not been far from the Old Man of the Mountains, very near to where the trails up Lafayette began. I was not in the middle of the road but not so far to the side that I could not have been hit by some vehicle trying to get through.
The road was of course slippery now. I had not even thought about getting snow tires, and did not even know if people in the north country still used chains. So I moved ahead very slowly. Almost immediately a big noisy plow was coming the other way with chains clanging. It was the first vehicle I had seen or heard since entering the Notch.
There was a moon a few moments later as I passed Echo Lake and the turnoff for the Aerial Tramway. And then I was off the interstate and on the remaining segment of the old Notch road that came down Three-ile hill and went into Franconia Village. Gaga, who was not one of the family's alcoholics, had joked about drunk guys taking a car down Three-Mile Hill after skiing and one of them saying “But I thought you were driving.”
On past Lovett’s Inn which seemed closed for the winter, on past the dimly lit Aldrich family’s supermarket that had replaced the old Aldrich IGA store. The supermarket had gone up in the early seventies, The old wooden store building, which looked abandoned now, had been rented in the early seventies to young people living communally while they went to a short-lived institution named Franconia College, which never got beyond the old summer hotel that had been meant to be only its temporary headquarters. When it folded, the hippies who had converged here quickly disappeared.
Past the old Esso station, then across the rushing Gale River and the turnoff to the remains of an old iron smelter, and up the hill towards Sugar Hill, passing old Iris Farm, which was clearly visible in moonlight, as was the mountain panorama behind it. And I am thinking not so much of death in a white out as of how this place is always as beautiful in sight as in memory.
And I drive on, and if feels more like I am a passenger than the driver and I turn off into the woods and worlds of the past, Davis Road, on to the old family houses, and there is Terri’s mailbox with the silhouette of the murdered Greyhound, and the lights are on in the left wing of White Wings. This comforting sight in the early winter night. As comforting as our imagined inn by the side of the road. This wing that has been turned back to a time before family history.
And Terri is awake and waiting, a bundled up house owner who may be as old as me but in whom I still see the young girl – despite the wear of the years. The young girl who had been here when it was first bright and white and shiny, so different from now with the dogs and the pot belly stove and the bare wood and the paintings – the sister of Milton Avery, who seemed to do only Milton Avery’s, and some watercolors by someone else, including one in which the birches and the snow and the shadows from the birches on the snow, the snow whose light has been captured, which is so very close to what I have just seen outside. And it is like the interplay between the Metropolitan and Central Park, and the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Like but not the same. For this is Sugar Hill.