We were returning from visiting friends (our Nelson neighbors of 20 years ago, Rick and Denise!) in New York State, and chose the Mass Turnpike as our return route. As turnpikes go, it’s a fairly pretty drive.
At one point we felt quite elevated in the landscape. This was reinforced by a sign indicating that we were at the highest elevation (1,724 feet) on Interstate 90, anywhere east of Oacoma, South Dakota. Our momentary appreciation of this experience became tempered when we realized that our home in Nelson, at 1,848, towered 124 feet over this more prominent landmark.
Our home, in turn, looks up to Osgood Hill (2,240’). (see related article). Now it’s typical Nelson understatement to call this a hill. Several shorter peaks (Crotched, Pitcher, Gap) all incorporate the word “mountain.” What were our forebears thinking? Possibly it was a device to entice settlers, who might have been more intimidated by having a mountain as part of the town’s landscape. Conversely, it might have been a way to keep tourists out (“ain’t no mountains here!”).
Nelson is still one of those places that either makes a memorable impression, or is completely off the radar. Contra dancers in Seattle who have never been east of Oacoma, South Dakota, are astutely aware of Nelson as the contra dance capital of the world. Music students from all over the world carry lifelong memories of their time at Apple Hill. The writer May Sarton endeared Nelson to her many readers all over the country, many of whom continue to make pilgrimages here.
A few months ago, in too much of a hurry to return home, I ended up in conversation with the Henniker cop. Studying my driver’s license, he asked where Nelson was. I said “we don’t tell anyone.” Nelson was not on his radar, but apparently I was. Fortunately he was good humored, and I came away with just a warning.
I have noticed that there is a tendency for those of us who leave here to exude a certain pride about our town, while still embracing the idea of obscurity. We want people who are aware of Nelson to see our knowing glances that “yes, we know what a special place we have here,” but for those who don’t know, well, “that’s just fine too.”
I expect I’ll pass that elevation sign on the Mass Pike again, probably many times. I’ll appreciate the sensation, but I know that part of the satisfaction is that it means I’m on my way back to Osgood Hill.