Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A gaggle of cousins

My three young children, a posse on their own, happily expanded their whirlwind to include their California cousins last week for several days of mountain scrambling, river splashing, family dinners, and endless giggling.

Checking out the catch of the day.
The suburbs of Sacramento are a far cry from the country lanes and cool rivers of Franconia, New Hampshire, and the planned slate of White Mountain activities was filled to overflowing before the plane touched down in the Granite State.

In the four summers that my brother, a New Englander both by upbringing and at heart, has been returning “home” with his son, they have developed a few must-do items that are repeated each visit, along with a few new adventures every year.

The week in New Hampshire is a chance for my brother to give his son – and now his two vivacious step-daughters – a glimpse into his own boyhood summers. It is a chance for the kids – all aged 10 and under – to form bonds and explore new things.

The visitors get a taste of mountain living, being able to wander far and wide without the constant buzz of traffic, exploring dense forest right beyond the backyard, watching fireflies and stars in a night sky not obscured by city lights. The kids who live here year-round are inspired to go to some of the places that draw tourists here, but that we don’t think to visit because they’re simply part of the local landscape.

During past summers, we’ve ridden the tramway at Cannon Mountain (normally a winter activity for us, but just as spectacular in the summer), watched the bears perform at Clark’s TradingPost, joined the throngs of small kids and their families at Santa’s Village, and browsed the world’s longest candy counter at Chutters.

This year, as always, we began the week with the short trek to the top of Mount Baldy in Franconia Notch. This is my nephew’s favorite, and we don’t do anything else until we’ve scrambled over the boulders of Baldy to reach the breezy top and check out the view of Lafayette and the Peabody Slopes at Cannon.

From there, we moved on to more fun – and kept right on moving the entire week. We slid down the chutes at Slippery Rock, paddled the waters of Long Pond and Coffin Pond in canoes and kayaks, splashed happily in chilly Echo Lake, and squeezed through tunnels and caves at Lost River.

The kids hunted crayfish, dug in the sand, and watched a bear wander slowly across a ski trail high above the beach at Echo. At Long Pond, a lone loon braved the noisy bunch, floating near the canoe and then diving underwater to reappear in a new place, and every rock turned in the outlet stream revealed a salamander. At Coffin Pond we watched a heron fly over us and a painted turtle slip from a log into the water as we glided near.

Even at home, there was nary a dull moment. Soccer in the yard, searching for toads and inchworms in Nana’s gardens, finding green sticks with Poppy for roasting marshmallows, swinging on the old Peabody chairlift hanging behind the house, impromptu dance parties around the fire pit with Aunt Laura, and back-to-back-to-back evenings of gobbling up s’mores and watching fireflies.

It was everything summer should be, squeezed into a mere six days. As the cousins headed back to the other side of the country this week, we were all sad to say goodbye. Their visit left us a bit tired and filled with happy memories – and a list of things to do next summer. Let the countdown to next year’s cousin reunion begin!

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