Stonington Harbor Copyright 2005 Jeff Wignall
I've always been a wanderer and I blame it partly on my mother who also liked to explore any place that she'd never been to before and I blame it partly on two writers: John Steinbeck for writing "Travels with Charley" and William Least Heat Moon for writing "Blue Highways." If you've never read those two books and you have a soul full of wanderlust, you should head out to the library today and find them.
I was about 16 when I first found Steinbeck's book and it changed my life (hopefully for the better) in many ways. I was bored one night and desperately looking for something interesting to read when I first found Steinbeck's wondrous travelouge. I had read most of his fiction by then but I was really surprised to find that he wrote nonfiction as well. The brief description on the book jacket flap sent my young mind reeling: Steinbeck, who felt he was a bit out of touch with the country he wrote so much about, decided to pack up a small pickup camper and head off on the backroads of America for three months to reconnect with America and Americans. The idea of just taking off in a truck and wandering is one that I should never have been introduced to--it became a fever in my soul.
I read "Travels with Charley" in just a few nights and I was captivated both by Steinbeck's adventure and his incredibly warm and human personality.
About 20 years later a writer with the unusual name of William Least Heat Moon went on a simlar journey--he too spent about three months wandering the "blue highways" of the United States and he wrote an incredibly beautiful and interesting journal of his travels.
Anyway, blame my mother, Steinbeck and Least Heat Moon for the fact that since I was about 17 I've always owned a van and have spent 30+ years wandering the backroads of New England to the point where there is hardly a diner or gas station or scenic lookout that I haven't ate in, gassed up at or photographed. And during those years of wandering I've found some incredibly pretty places to photograph. Since summer is almost here and a lot of you will be taking off on your own wanders, I thought I'd make a list of my top five favorite areas in New England to photograph:
1. Stonington, Maine (see photo). If you were to ask me what the prettiest town in New England is, I'd whip out a map of Maine and point to Stonington (on the Blue Hill Peninsula) immediately. A small lobster fishing community with virtually no signs of tourism ruining the landscape, Stonington gets my vote for the prettiest town in the six-state region.
2. Rangeley, Maine. If you're looking for big lakes and big moose, this is the place to go. In late June the lupines are not to be believed.
3. Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. If you've never been to the "Kingdom" as the northeast corner of Vermont is known, you will find a place of rolling hills, pretty barns and small towns that will melt your heart. If you see a sign for a pot luck supper, pull over and join in--this is the true heart of New England's community.
4. Vermont's Rte 100. Route 100 runs from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian border and it winds you through a beautiful part of Vermont that time has forgotten and commercialism hasn't ruined.
5. New Hampshire's Rte 16. The section of Route 16 that runs from the northeast corner of New Hampshire to the western edge of Maine winds you through some of the best wilderness that New England has to offer. You'll see moose, loon and drive for hours without seeing anything more commercial than a general store. You'll also travel along the Androscoggin River where for a hundred years New England loggers floated their logs to the mills.
The great thing about New England is that it's so relatively small that you can't get lost and every road will take you someplace. Despite the old Vermont addage that "you can't get there from here" you can indeed get almost everywhere if you toss the map aside and just wander.