Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vermont Revisited, Part II

It's hard to explain the effect Vermont has on us when we visit. Just understand that we tend to slow down, quite a task for New Yorkers . . . indeed, we're becalmed by an environment that is so quiet, uncluttered, and unhurried compared to Manhattan. Oh sure, this is a gross generalization, because Vermont possesses no immunities against the myopia and waste of sprawl and suburbia, from the strip mall shopping centers and fast food franchises that represent the advancing homogeneity of life in America, to the outlet malls and "big box" retailers in the state's largest cities. Still, there seems to be so much less of it in Vermont than in other places I've visited. One can still shop in "mom and pop" stores and eat in family-run restaurants and diners. One can drive without the assault of billboards and mega-sized gas stations. And, as we observed during an unplanned detour on Sunday, one can step away from it all, literally, and live "off the grid," if that's one's goal.

We had finished lunch at our favorite diner and were about to turn back onto Route 9 when we encountered the kind of traffic jam - cars stopped, people milling about - that more often than not signals a nasty accident up ahead. Noting locals pulling off the road and heading onto back roads, I pulled out our detailed atlas of Vermont roads - showing everything from interstates down to seasonal dirt tracks that are impassable in winter - and plotted a route around the delay. We ended up spending about a half hour on unpaved roads, winding through the mountains of southern Vermont. It turned out to be a detour worth the effort. We drove through beautiful forests and saw homes tucked into the hillsides, most with large piles of wood stacked carefully and a curl of smoke rising from a chimney. We also saw homes that had no obvious electrical or phone lines. Were these people living "off the grid" in a pioneer fashion? I don't know if I could go quite that far with the isolation theme, but there were several times my wife and I spied a cozy log home and acknowledged feelings of envy for the solitude these people doubtless enjoy.

On Saturday night we enjoyed the hospitality of our friend Margaret - proud owner of Kip the border collie and shepherdess to the sheep of Scott Farm. (If you're a knitter, check out her beautiful, hand-dyed yarns at Mostly Merino.) At dinner Margaret noted that when people move to Vermont they have a hard time leaving. With each trip we're beginning to understand its pull. Some people make the same argument for living in Manhattan: once here, it is hard to leave. One grows accustomed to its pace, its opportunities, and its energy. And at this point I'm torn. I would miss New York City if we left and find it difficult to entertain the prospect. But I'm likewise sure that if we moved to Vermont - or just acquired a vacation retreat - I'd find it equally challenging to step away from that polar opposite environment.

After dinner on Saturday evening I went outside for a walk with Kip. It was supposed to be a full moon night, but clouds left the landscape darker than I'd experienced in a long time. What struck me - immediately - was the near silence. Tucked into the hills outside of Brattleboro, a few miles up a dirt road, I stood on a rock in the front yard and just listened. I could look to the valley below and see the tiny lights of cars navigating Route 5, but heard no sound. All I could hear was Kip exploring the brush beyond the yard and a breeze in the trees. No cars. No stereos. No rumble of subways. No white noise-like hum that I associate with the City at even its most hushed moments. It was a quietude I could grow to enjoy. And standing in the cold air, I even heard the faint voice of the poet that once resided in me in the years before that calcifying dread of middle age hushed the spirit.


One Wink at a Time said...

This was a beautifully written post and evoked all sorts of lovely visions in my head... but the last sentence is amazingly poignant and brought a little choke deep in my throat.
I think Vermont has wrapped itself around your heart, big time.

Isabel said...

Scott Farm sounds like a wonderful place to listen to oneself.
I always wanted to explorer Vermont. Now, more than ever.