In the early hours of Saturday morning we crossed the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge into New York State. Our goal was, as Arenda put it, modifying a quote from a famous book, to “tread the path of literature that doth to Portsmouth lead.” That path was the path of the Ox-Cart Man, who many years ago carted the handmade goods of his family to the seaside market in Portsmouth, where he sold them to buy supplies for the following year.
It isn’t clear from the story to which of the eight American Portsmouths the Ox-Cart Man walks, so there was some contextual geographical work to be done. In the first place, the period is too early to be happening anywhere other than the Atlantic coast. This cuts the number of candidates in half. The town in the story is a sizeable market town, so this excludes the small North Carolina settlement. It must be admitted that each of the three remaining cities, in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Virginia, do match the scant criteria from the story. I decided against the Virginia Portsmouth, though, because parts of the story are quite snowy. That, and there’s a decidedly New England-like feel to things. I also decided against the Rhode Island Portsmouth because the Ox-Cart Man journeys across mountainous terrain, and there are no mountains in the vicinity of Rhode Island. This left the New Hampshire Portsmouth, and this is where we went.
You cross New York State on the I-90, one of the handful of interstates that crosses the whole of the fruited plain from sea to shining sea. You would begin at Seattle and end at Boston, or vice verse, of course, but neither of the termini is significant to this trip. That being said, there are stretches in the western half of New York that remind you of the drive from Vancouver south to Seattle. The Cayuga River, for example, looks a lot like the Snohomish, and the stretches of farmland aren’t all that different from the Skagit River valley. So you do need to remind yourself that you’re ten states away and driving in the wrong direction.
There’s a Lockheed Martin complex at Syracuse, and as you drive past the radar domes, army trucks, and weapons plants you get a sense of SR-71 awesomeness and think to yourself, ’Merica. This is also the point at which the kids start protesting, having been up since 4:30, and when the first three songs of U2’s The Unforgettable Fire don’t calm them down, you resign yourself to readjusting your auditory comfort levels. Eventually, though, at the height of your ten-month-old daughter’s rather emotional appeal, your three-year-old son dozes off. Your daughter realizes that she’s lost her audience, and gives herself up to sleep as well. There’s peace and quiet, and you go back to thinking about D.A.R.Y.L.