Recently, in 2017, U.S. News and World Report ranked New Hampshire the #2 overall state in its "Overall Best States Ranking." Important to New Hampshire's ranking was its placement among all 50 states in the categories of "Opportunity," "Education," and "Health Care." New Hampshire ranked #1 in Opportunity, #3 in Education, and #4 in Health Care. I can't think of three more important, or more American, categorical metrics. John John's mother, my wife, was born and raised in New Hampshire.
I, by contrast, am a California native born and raised in San Diego. Among the same U.S. News and World Report rankings, California ranked #23 overall. California's highest honor was #3 for "Economy," tempered by its "Opportunity" ranking of #42. 42 in "Opportunity" is a polite way of saying 9th worst. Assuming integrity in the rankings, it is bewildering that the 3rd best economy can also be the 9th worst place for "Opportunity." Of 40 million residents, it's painful to imagine all of the brilliant, young, hard-working Californians struggling through the rat race in order to fight upward through the 9th worst setting for opportunity.
Bankrate.com recently ranked my native hometown of San Diego the #1 worst big city to build wealth, and it ranked California the #1 worst state for first-time home buyers. U.S News & World Report says California is ranked 25th in education.
Populated with roughly 1.3 million people, New Hampshire is the 41st most populated state and the 46th largest by area, making it the 21st most densely populated state at 147 residents per square mile. By contrast, San Diego County alone has 3.3 million people, or 680 residents per square mile--that's over 4.5 times the density of the entire State of New Hampshire.
I distinctly remember living in San Diego 15 years ago when I graduated high school in 2001. The quality of life was much better than it is now for two main reasons--population and density. This meant less traffic, fewer elbows, more open space, more parking, more affordable housing, less noise, and--most importantly for any San Diegan--easier beach access. Without a doubt, since I graduated high school in 2001, the quality of living--both objectively and subjectively-- has gone down. Note to local government, more concrete doesn't mean a better quality of life.
In New Hampshire, the state is largely rural or untouched, boasting trees and fields for miles. Cold winters dump clean, white powder--a refreshing, rejuvenating blanket of atmospheric fresh water. The temperature is 11 degrees as I type this--it's cold. But, the cold winters bring family and friends inside, together.
Enduring the elements binds a common experience. Snow plowers are revered, and rightfully so. During even the harshest snow storms, through late nights and sacred holidays, the plowers clear the streets, laying salt and sand, saving lives mile by mile on state and interstate highways. Ice is more dangerous than snow, and sleet can be downright scary. What speaks of godliness in trees and nature, screams of prayer and appreciation in streets and neighborhoods.
Folks in New Hampshire have more time--more time to stop and talk, more time to learn this or that, to look at the ridge or notice the birds, to watch the lapping waves or the wind-driven slurries. Debbie works at the hospital, and Kristin is a Spanish teacher. Ken tows boats in the summer and plows streets in the winter. The Art Place is sold out of Lake Winnipesaukee wood-carved maps, which highlight the maximum lake depth of 212 feet.
Lone red barns pop in angel white snow, and tree branches bend with grace and humility under heavy weight. Rust is more common, and jacket sales are strong. All wheel drive is necessary, and icicles point downward. Heat is a topic of discussion, and so are the Patriots. Tom Brady isn't likely human.
Family is paramount--whether by culture or necessity--and North Main Street gets 400 Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween. Cold weather means coming together inside and making the most of the American experience when the opportunity arises--the consensus is that the best opportunity is the Fourth of July. And fireworks are legal.
John John is 6 months old, and the cold doesn't seem to bother him.
But, he lives in San Diego, in the Rancho Santa Fe School District, in the largest, most populated state in the union--the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world. He lives among some of the most diverse cultures and backgrounds in the world--along the Pacific Rim, where the sushi is fresh and the burritos are authentic. And, it takes 20 minutes to drive down the street.
When a young boy like John John comes into the world so uniquely joyful, so pristine and happy, I wonder what type of environment best suits his growth and development. I have always found profound peace and solace in nature.
It seems California can learn to strike a better balance between too much of everything and not enough of what matters most. New Hampshire provides a great example to follow.
John Paul Fiske, Sr.