Sensibilities: A long Upper Valley trail comes to an end

The author with his dog, backpacking in the Pemigewasset wilderness.

The author with his dog, backpacking in the Pemigewasset wilderness. —Courtesy Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson and his wife, Wendy, at Stone Soup in Strafford.

Steve Nelson and his wife, Wendy, at Stone Soup in Strafford. Courtesy Steve Nelson


For the Valley News

Published: 01-12-2024 9:00 PM

In the early 1970s, my wife, our baby daughter and I, traveling from our Ohio home, arrived by ferry in Burlington. We were intent on seeing New England and I was considering UVM for graduate school. We drove down I89, marveling at Camel’s Hump, enchanted by the sparkling White River and the rich, green forests stretching to the horizon. I recall saying, “Can you imagine living here?”

In 1988, traveling from our Michigan home, we followed a similar route down I-89, to drop our 14-year-old son at Whaleback to begin an Outward Bound course. Two weeks later we returned to pick up a young man who had been transformed by the experience. I recall saying, “Can you imagine living here?”

In 1991, we moved to Sharon when I was offered work at Vermont Law School. It took a while, but we found our way at last.

In 1997, I began sending several essays every week to Marty Frank, the Valley News’ editorial page editor at the time and for many years thereafter. He published a few and soon agreed to make me a regular contributor. Thus was Sensibilities born. Now, 27 years and nearly a million words later, it is time to put Sensibilities to rest. Perhaps some of you will wish the column goodnight. Others, perhaps, good riddance.

It has been a great privilege to have this platform. I have never taken it for granted.

It is a very odd thing to send nearly a million words into a mostly silent world. I am grateful to those who have responded from time-to-time, but, for the most part, I can’t know how or where my words landed. I can only hope that I had some small effect on readers.

As I depart, two particular reflections:

The Upper Valley is fortunate to have the Valley News and you should not take it for granted either. At a time of great challenge for print journalism, particularly small papers, the Valley News persists in producing a remarkable product with the highest journalistic standards. I should know. For 27 years I’ve been entitled to my own opinion, but never my own facts.

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Every day for these 27 years I’ve read the Valley News and find, for example, the local paper in Boulder, Colo., sorely lacking by comparison, despite a much larger market and budget. I’ve had only a small window into the strain of sustaining the paper, but the community has benefited from the commitment and dedication of a great many superb writers, editors, publishers and production staff over the years. Support them. It matters.

Despite moving to Colorado in 2017 to be near grandchildren, the Upper Valley will always be our “home.” Distance and my 2020 spinal cord injury conspired to keep us away and we finally sold our home in Sharon. When we walked away I had unexpected tears.

For 33 years we explored nooks and crannies of Vermont and New Hampshire in all seasons. I’ve spent frigid nights in three feet of fresh powder in the Pemigewasset wilderness and watched the summer sun set over the Adirondacks from Lincoln Peak. There is hardly a trail or road in our valley or the mountains to the east or west that doesn’t bear my footprints, ski tracks or faint tread marks. I miss it inexpressibly.

I know the Upper Valley is not idyllic or immune from poverty, homelessness and other conditions arising from an increasingly inequitable society. But I’ve said many times, and still believe, that I’d rather be poor in the Upper Valley than rich in Manhattan. (I’ve been neither and I am acutely aware of the white male privilege that allows this romanticism.)

I can see distant snow-capped Rockies from our house. I’ve hiked a bit despite my infirmities and acknowledge the majesty of these mountains, but they are relatively barren and unwelcoming compared to the Greens, Whites or Adirondacks. I feel at home anywhere in the valleys and mountains of the East. In the Rockies I feel alone.

My fondest memories include playing music with my dear friend the late Bill Coffin in Strafford, convertible rides with my wife and a Dairy Twirl at dusk after pasta at Three (Sweet!) Tomatoes, hearing Grace Paley in Chelsea, skating with my granddaughter under a canopy of stars on our precious Standing Pond and, well, too many things are flooding my heart at the moment.

For anyone so inclined, and I hope there may be a few, here’s the link for subscribing (free) to my blog:

I would surely appreciate any final thoughts from friends or readers:

“Can you imagine living here?” Yes indeed. And we did.

Steve Nelson is a retired former educator and a longtime Sharon resident. He now lives in Colorado.