Column: You Have to Hustle to Catch the Best of the Upper Valley’s Short Seasons

  • From left, Marilyn Dickinson, her grandchildren Kaylei, 8, and Cam Cardona, 7, all of Etna, Al Fisk, Lindsey Best, 10, her sister, Hannah, 5, and their mother, Denise Best, all of Charlestown, buy soft serve ice cream at the Dairy Twirl in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2009. “We love it,” Dickinson said. “I wish it were longer open in the season. On a hot day like this, you have to have it.” (Valley News - Jakob M. Berr) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Patrons watch a movie at the Fairlee Drive-In in Fairlee, Vt., on Aug. 5, 2012. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • George Longnecker, 7, picks up his ball while playing miniature golf with his grandmother on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Fore-U Golf Center in West Lebanon, N.H. "I've been really close to a hole-in-one on a few holes," Longnecker said. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Saturday, June 09, 2018

My visiting aunt didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. “It’s just an ice cream window.”

But to me, it wasn’t just an ice cream window. It was the ice cream window that, for months, had been closed as community members waited for the snow to melt. It was the ice cream window whose opening symbolized the unofficial start of warm weather. It was the ice cream window whose soft serve cones filled my cravings for sweet treats after a long winter hibernation. It was the ice cream window that I was determined to visit on opening weekend, even if it meant canceling other plans.

I’m not sure I’d be so enamored with soft serve if it were readily available throughout the year. But there is something special about the local twist cone (with rainbow sprinkles) that made me want to clear my schedule and wait on line in a parking lot. (Obviously, I wasn’t the only one counting down to opening day.)

The ice cream itself was average by culinary standards. But the seasonality of the treat made it appealing.

I love living in a place that has such distinct seasons — although some, including me, might argue that we didn’t have a spring this year. I enjoy not only the changing of the weather but the rotation of community entertainment, food and activities. The “get it while you can” mentality makes everything a bit more exciting, a bit more special, a bit more obsessive.

Growing up in New Jersey, our local ice cream stand was open 10 months of the year. The outdoor farm and flower stands lasted weeks longer than the stands here in Vermont and New Hampshire. And the local outdoor amusement park boasted admission from March until November. (Upper Valley kids are lucky if they can find more than a visiting carousel in August.)

Yet, when I moved to the Upper Valley 15 years ago, “for a limited time” developed a new meaning. Our weather-dependent seasonal businesses had shorter seasons — with the exception of the seemingly never-ending winters, which favored cold-weather companies. The more limited the product’s availability, the more obsessed I’d become.

Right now, I’m making the most of June activities. I’m a frequent visitor to the drive-in, a regular rummager of the pick-your-own farm, and a mini-golfer extraordinaire. But come September, when I tire of

hitting a small ball on artificial turf, I’ll pivot my Saturday afternoons to family tractor rides at the pumpkin farm. When the pumpkins rot, I’ll pull out our ski gear for some early season turns at a nearby mountain. And when I’m sick of cold chairlift rides, my money will be better spent at the local spring-season batting cages.

At the precise moment I need a change, the Upper Valley is happy to give me one.

I give credit to our local friends and family who run these businesses. Calendar-based companies are known for short, intense seasons followed by long stretches of closed doors. Folks I know who own these seasonal shops often seem to parcel together various other employment opportunities. One friend, a park ranger, lends a hand as a baker when the parks are closed. Another works odd internet jobs when she’s not planning and planting flower beds for commercial spaces. Still another spends his winter as a local ski coach and the summer as an Alaskan fisherman. (At parties, I’m always attracted to these folks. Their diversity of talents makes for interesting conversation.)

Our community’s willingness to hustle for the season makes the Upper Valley an exciting place to live. Our neighbors are often on the move, guiding the river, pressing the apples, grooming the snow, tapping the tree. And we’re right there with them, taking advantage of every (short-lived) opportunity.

The rhythm of life in the Upper Valley is always changing, always shifting, always dependent on the time of year.

Around here, summer feels like a short season. Come September, there will always be more lakes I wish I’d swam, more campfires I wish I’d lit, more lightning bugs I wish I’d chased. But somehow, every summer, I get my fill of soft serve. By the time the ice cream window closes, I’ll be ready for another door to open.

Becky Munsterer Sabky lives in Norwich.