Big Impressions from Littleton, NH
Go north, middle-aged man. On the morning of September 9, 2022, I did just that, zooming straight up I-93 to a place I had only been once before: the cutely-named town of Littleton, population 6,000. Typically when I head north in September, it's for a hike in the White Mountains, but this time I wanted to give this Lilliputian outpost its due. Spend more than a few minutes strolling around. Maybe even...gasp...relax a bit.
Perched beyond the White Mountains (and 101 miles north of home), Littleton charms with its compact, orderly downtown and almost-off-the-beaten-path locale. The irony is, it's extremely easy to access, sitting less than a mile off New Hampshire's jugular, I-93. However, when folks from the unnamed states to our south visit the Granite State in droves, a great many are siphoned off to the Lakes Region, and scores more to the White Mountains. While this is just anecdotal, I presume that the majority don't take the time to advance this far north. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
I had stopped here once before, a mere three years ago, on my way to a solo adventure in Montréal. Despite limited time, there was something exceedingly pleasant about the downtown area that I couldn't quite put my finger on.
After the always-inspiring drive through Franconia Notch (I literally turned off the music to properly reverence the mighty, magnificent scenery), the 2022 visit began around 9am with a leisurely stroll down Mill Street to a handsome covered bridge that bore the somewhat eyebrow-raising inscription of 2004 upon it. I took my time with photos, smiling as the September sun warmed my face through the sturdy wooden slats.
The weather was absolutely exquisite, in the 60s and expected to rise into the high 70s later. My decision to visit on a September Friday was intentional, and I was rewarded with sparsely-peopled streetscapes to explore. Would this area have been more crowded on an August weekend? Undoubtedly.
I then made my way back to Main Street and proceeded west, past handsome historic structures and attractive storefronts. At one point, there was a concrete staircase that had been painted brightly, with multihued umbrellas floating overhead. When life gives you concrete, I thought, you might as well dress it up. Multiple murals and quirky Pollyanna banners* decorated downtown further.
The author of the 1913 novel Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter, was born here in 1868.
Proceeding back along a lovely Ammonoosuc riverwalk, I spotted the Inkwell Coffee and Tea House and made a pit stop for a cappuccino and everything bagel.
If you've been reading this blog for the last two years, you might have noticed that I sometimes (OK, almost always) have a hard time slowing down. Today, for some reason, that issue was conspicuously absent. I sat, sipped, and munched, for longer than normal, alone but content to be here on such a gorgeous morn. I paid attention to details, as I'm known to do: a customer's crisp white sneakers. The small wooden less is more, unless it's coffee sign. The assured elocution of the neatly-dressed car salesmen, perhaps to impress the attractive - and much younger - help.
I realized, then, that Littleton sets itself apart from so many other New Hampshire towns because it pays attention. More accurately, its people pay attention and truly care about making the community welcoming and enticing to residents and visitors alike. In my experience, it's astonishing how rare this is. Many, if not most communities - in New Hampshire anyway - take more of a laissez-faire approach, doing the bare minimum to beautify and make efficient use of public spaces.
In any case, spending more than the minimum amount of time here allowed me to notice and appreciate this. Littleton, of course, is not perfect. Nor must we be. But I do wonder how much better other towns - and the world at large - would be if we just paid better attention and made efforts to not only tidy up, but go the extra mile to enhance public space, and the attention we pay to others.
My morning wasn't quite over yet, however. I didn't drive all this way not to appreciate nature, even if it was just a tiny slice of it. I wheeled out of town and found the laughably puny parking area for the Kilburn Crags. The empty gravel "lot" was 2.5 spaces wide, and I intentionally parked way off to the side to allow a third car in, nearly striking a large rock in the process.
This minuscule hike - really, a slightly uphill walk in the woods - was the perfect postscript to my time downtown. I was alone on the trail, and made it to the overlook in short order. The downtown I had just gushed about spread into the distance, backed by the broad-shouldered White Mountains to the east and south. It had to be one of the best reward-for-minimal effort hikes I'd ever done.
My third and final stop for the morning was at a viewpoint overlooking Moore Reservoir. Never heard of it? I don't blame you, I hadn't either until recently. Its ~3,500 acres would qualify it as the 7th largest lake in New Hampshire, larger than Ossipee and Massabesic, and about 15% smaller than the more famous Sunapee.
I pulled into the "picnic area", which amounted to a giant gravel clearing that was extremely raw and unadorned compared to the refined areas I had just visited. There were no picnic tables or any other facilities I could see, leading me to wonder what qualified this as a place I'd be able to have lunch. It looked like the bulldozer operator also planned the layout, which is to say did his 'dozing job and went home. Despite the refinement of earlier, it was right back to the "Live Free or Die" mentality that permeates this enigma of a state that I love. The view of the lake was impressive and sweeping, but after a few snapshots I saw no reason to linger.
Some might wonder why I'd drive 3+ hours round-trip for a relatively short sojourn in a small town. My response is "why not"? More relaxed explorations resulted in Littleton vaulting up my list of favorite New Hampshire downtowns; I hope to visit again before too long. In the meantime, I'll continue paying attention to what makes other places in my home state (and beyond) special.