ORFORD, N.H. — Standing on Peter Thomson’s back porch, you have a spectacular view of Mount Moosilauke, a 4,802-foot-high mountain at the southwestern end of the White Mountains.
Across the road is Mount Cube, a 3,661-foot mountain that contains a portion of the Appalachian Trail. It is a popular place with hikers.
Thomson, the son of a former New Hampshire governor, is a friend of mine. He retired a couple of years ago as the highway safety director of New Hampshire. Not only is he a friend, he is a mentor.
Peter is the Sugar Daddy of Orford, N.H. That’s my term, not his.
At 74, he may be the most eligible bachelor in the village of 1,200. But he is Orford’s largest producer of maple syrup. He tends 800 acres on the side of Mount Cube with 9,000 of the most beautiful maple trees you’ve ever seen.
On a fall morning, he looks like a stereotypical New Englander with a red plaid wool jacket and a ball cap casually resting on his head. He could be a model in an L.L. Bean Catalog or an extra on the set of “White Christmas.”
His home is a New England cottage built in 1790. To give you a little perspective, George was president. That’s Washington, not Bush. Some of the oldest trees on the Thomson place are about that old.
It is standing in the autumnal crispness of a morning last week that I looked at the dazzling colors ranging from a ruby red to near pink and a deep burnished gold to a vivid yellow. It is like driving through a picture postcard.
His dad, a staunch conservative, bought the place in the days when syrup was tapped into galvanized buckets and brought to the sugarhouse by young men wearing a wooden shoulder yoke. Today, the process of collecting tree sap is done through a network of nearly 10 miles of tubing attached to a vacuum pump.
It’s pretty amazing.
A few years ago, before his mother died, Peter’s syrup won the coveted Carlisle award, a silver bowl honoring the year’s best syrup.
Back in her heyday, Anne Thomson welcomed hikers off the Appalachian Trail and offered them a place to sleep in the back of the sugarhouse. The next morning, she cooked pancakes for the hikers, complete with their homegrown maple syrup.
Today, Peter Thomson continues the shelter tradition, minus the pancakes. He has had more than 100 visitors stay this year. While he doesn’t fix pancakes, he does offer her special pancake mix in the store, next door.
No one operates the store. Peter or his helper, Little Joe, open the door around 8 a.m. and lock it back before dark. You can pick out your bottle of syrup ranging from a half-pint to a half-gallon. Folks put the money in a box and serve themselves. It’s all on the honor system, and there are regular customers who Peter never sees.
The incredible color at this time of year and the incredible product of nature that is yielded from these trees is one of those times you realize this didn’t happen by accident. It’s like God just pulled out his paintbrush and dazzled us with the magnificent array of colors.
Then, I open a bottle of this wonderful nectar and I see and taste his handiwork.
On a cool morning, it’s enough to make you feel warm all over.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.