Whenever I travel, even just one state away to New Hampshire as I did yesterday, I always see something that makes me think. Sometimes, my thought is, Why aren’t WE doing things this way? And other times, it’s, Why ON EARTH are they doing THAT???
New Hampshire got its name from emigrants from Hampshire, England, who settled here in the early 1600s. It has the White Mountain chain running through it, many conifers, and eighteen miles of coast. It is known as the “Live Free or Die” state.
The phrase “Live Free or Die” was said by General John Stark, the state’s most distinguished hero of the Revolutionary War, and you might think that he said this to the British during the American Revolution of 1775-1783. Not so.
According to the official site of the state of New Hampshire, “the motto was part of a volunteer toast which General Stark sent to his wartime comrades, in which he declined an invitation to head up a 32nd anniversary reunion of the 1777 Battle of Bennington in Vermont, because of poor health. The toast said in full: ‘Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst of Evils.’
The following year, a similar invitation (also declined) said: ‘The toast, sir, which you sent us in 1809 will continue to vibrate with unceasing pleasure in our ears, ‘Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst Of Evils.'” So in creating the immortal phrase, “Live Free or Die,” he was proposing an anniversary toast in absentia, not eviscerating the Redcoats in the heat of battle. Still, a soaring state motto was born.
In New Hampshire, there is no state sales tax or personal state income tax. Consequently, quite a lot of people live in New Hampshire and commute to Massachusetts for work. This has helped give those of us in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts–who pay sales tax, personal income tax, as well as all the other taxes: property tax, federal tax, etc.–the nickname of “Taxachusetts.”
This great variation in tax-paying, among other things, from one US state to the next, will come as a huge surprise to many people who are not American and who are used to one central government.
In America, there is the federal government in Washington, D.C., as well as 52 mini-governments, comprising the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, which can pretty much go their own way and do what they want on most matters unless reined in by the federal government. Hence, micro-politics on a town-by-town and state-by-state basis.
New Hampshire has a not insignificant number of people who are Libertarians.
These are people who want “government off their back,” don’t want to have to pay any taxes, and believe that the only role of government is to “help individuals defend themselves from force or fraud.” They don’t like the “nanny state,” by which they mean the UK and Europe, which they see as controlling peoples’ lives.
Like Libertarians, Moose (meece?) are big in New Hampshire. By big I mean populous, or relatively so, and you often see signs saying, “Moose crossing.”
I love moose. I would love to see one on this trip, but haven’t, for decades, though my son who goes to school in NH says he knows people who have seen moose on his campus.
On the trip to NH yesterday, I saw a car with a license plate saying 1 MOOSE. I guess the guy likes moose, too, and is willing to pay extra for a plate saying so, unless he was referring to the fact that he once drove into or shot 1 moose and wanted to commemorate it. Hard to tell. More about moose at the end of this post.
In the White Mountains, I saw the sweetest little settlement of cabins that appeared to be for elves. Take a look at the two chairs in front and imagine how many people you could fit in the house–several children, or an adult at a half-crouch?
And how about this sign on the Visitor Center? Visitor Centers offer information to tourists on the area’s history, hotels, restaurants, etc., and they always have restrooms available. However, this visitor center on Route 93 isn’t sure which should take top billing–the visitor center or the restrooms. Clearly, the restrooms won.
In the category of What Were They Thinking?, it’s nice to see storefronts in rural areas in New Hampshire offering physical therapy, but you have to wonder about this one, called “Inertia.” You have to hope that it’s not the PTs (physical therapists) who are being “inert”! And, the little graphic of the figure in action looks the opposite of Inertia. Maybe someone has the tiniest problem with knowing what “inertia” means?
On Route 93, every 20 miles or so there are these signs on the highway:
The neon message flashes two commands:
MIND ON ROAD
HANDS ON WHEEL
It’s kind of weird that a state has to tell you to keep your hands on the wheel when you’re driving. It makes you wonder if a lot of New Hampshirites drive with their hands NOT on the wheel? And what do the Libertarians think about being told to do so? Too much of a “nanny state”?
Once you get to Massachusetts, the signs say something along the lines of No Texting and Let the Sober One Drive and Don’t Get Caught with an OUI–much more threatening and menacing, nowhere near as uplifting as being reminded to keep your hands on the wheel.
New Hampshire has the 3rd fewest fatalities per 100 million miles driven which I find surprising because although Bostonians are, in my opinion–and don’t get me started–some of the worst drivers in the US, the cars you see with New Hampshire license plates being driven in Boston put Bostonians to shame in the bad driver sweepstakes. Maybe, after all, it IS necessary to say to New Hampshire drivers, Mind on road, hands on wheel?
Of course, I had to take one hand off the wheel to take a photo of “HANDS ON WHEEL,” but please know that I quickly put it right back.
But, after several days of thinking about New Hampshire’s highway slogans, I have come to the conclusion that they are brilliant.
Because with your hands–BOTH hands–on the wheel, you’re not punching in cellphone numbers, talking on a handheld phone, or texting. And with your mind on the road, you’re not jabbering on the phone, mentally drifting away or, God forbid, falling asleep. It’s a very positive way of keeping you from doing something dangerous.
Now I think that all states should adopt New Hampshire’s method of trying to make driving safer.
The best part of the trip was watching my 17-year-old son playing lacrosse. Lacrosse is a truly original American game (the Brits and the Yanks have argued over who can claim baseball as their own since, well, the start of rounders/baseball, but no one besides the Americans can claim lacrosse). Lacrosse was invented by Native Americans and is a very fast, slashy-type of game which is a lot of fun to watch. Yesterday, despite it being April, there were still piles of snow around the lacrosse field: But a good time was had by all, and it was lovely watching my son’s team win their first game of the season over a much bigger school. And that’s a quick, and quirky, look at New Hampshire!
MORE ABOUT MOOSE:
There are some interesting aspects to Moose. As the National Geographic website says, “Moose have long faces and muzzles that dangle over their chins. A flap of skin known as a bell sways beneath each moose’s throat. . . . They are so tall that they prefer to browse higher grasses and shrubs because lowering their heads to ground level can be difficult. . . . their hooves act as snowshoes to support the heavy animals in soft snow and in muddy or marshy ground.” Despite their ungainly appearance, they can run up to 35 miles an hour over short distances, and trot steadily at 20 miles an hour.
One of the most famous American moose, after Bullwinkle, is Dr Seuss’s Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. If you haven’t read this book yourself, or read it to your children, you should (all the Dr Seuss books are, without exception, wonderful).
Thidwick, being a big-hearted moose, allows a bug to take up residence in his antlers. The bug invites a spider, the spider invites a–well, you get the idea.
Before Thidwick knows what’s happening, there’s a big party going on between his antlers.
You will have to read the book to see how Thidwick resolves this problem, but as a hint, I will tell you that everything turns out OK because of something that happens every fall:
And here’s a fitting end to Thidwick’s unwanted guests:
(They and the tossed-off antlers are now above the fireplace in the home of a hunter.)