When and why should you come to Vermont? Native Vermonters don’t want you to come at all, except maybe to rent a summer cabin for a week or so and spend a lot of money at “country stores,” but no littering, no back-chat and you had better be polite. But let’s say you a brave soul and do want to jump into the Vermont ethos – the spirit of place – the mountain Weltanschau. You should approach Vermont as Ulysses did Ithaca. In fact you should read Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca” a few times. Come to Vermont after… after you have sown your wild oats. After you have enough of global politics and are ready to spend one day a year at the town meeting and six days a year reading your town’s booklet. (Do as the natives do – start with reading the list of people who are late with their taxes.) Come after you have pretty much said everything you meant to say in your life, because people here don’t want a lot of boring chit-chat. Come after you’ve had your kids and you are looking for a nice place to raise them; but mind that it’s AFTER the kids are born so you don’t have too much spare time to spend mucking anything already in place up. Come after the kids are grown when you just want to spend a lot of time fussing in your garden. Come after you’ve earned your pile and are looking for some place to cultivate your “natural side.”
It’s not a coincidence that the roads in Vermont go nowhere. They were built for people who either have no need to travel and/or who have already traveled enough. You want to get to New York, you have to sneak along back roads and watch for tiny signs. You can’t go across the state sideways because there is no need to. The only reason 89/91 was built was so that those damn fools who want to streak from Massachusetts to Canada would be kept carefully separated from the rest of the population. Quarantined as it were.
Let me give you an example. Deer. I drove the length of New York state over Thanksgiving weekend. I saw 14 dead deer in 8 hours of driving. I have never seen a hit deer in VT after numerous runs up and down 89/91, meanderings to Bennington, Brattleburo, Burlington, Barre, Bread Loaf, Brookfield, Brownington, Bakersfield, Bridpoint, Birdland, Blissville, and Button Bay. Why? Because New York deer have a purpose; they have a vision. “Run across a busy road” is in their daily planners and they have to stick to their schedule. Their hoof-adapted palm pilot will beep at them and remind them they are lagging behind in achieving their goals if they neglect road-crossing. New York deer aren’t chicken; they don’t ask WHY they have to cross. It’s on the to-do list, so they do it. And occasionally they get hit.
Vermont deer have no agenda. They walk to the road-side. They look. They contemplate the tarmac. They sniff the wind; they meditate. They ask Mother Nature, their guru, the gods, the wind, Buddha, the universe, the spirits, ancestral deer and/or draw a tarot card. Road crossing? Does it feel right? Does it seem appropriate? Would it be meaningful? Then they decide. Or don’t decide. Or decide to decide later. Vermont deer don’t have a timetable.
The deer are like snow. In Minnesota, the snow understands its purpose; it sees its function clearly. It is to fall from the heavens unto the earth. Quickly and in no measly amount. Vermont snow ponders. It questions. It decides that, since it’s falling anyway, might as well see a bit of the countryside before it settles. It visits other snowflakes. It goes horizontally. It comes in fits and bursts. A snow cloud will start and stop snowing six times in a day. I have seen it snow for eight hours and only have two inches of accumulation. I swear to you I have seen snow in Vermont going up.
And no one thinks anything of it. Far be it from a Vermonter to question, to complain. No, no. Vermonters are so understanding of such natural tendencies that they go ahead and use snow machines so the snow won’t feel PRESSURED or anything to come down and behave like goal-oriented Midwestern snow. Vermonters who want a white Christmas will rent snow machines to their front yards are white so as not to make recalcitrant, indecisive snowclouds from feeling guilty.
Come to Vermont when you are tired. Tired of being creative. Tired of having to remember things. Things like names. In Vermont all 59 towns are derived from eleven basic names (informally known as the STN – Sacred Town Names). Thus you have Craftsbury, Craftsbury Common, East Craftsbury; Randolf, Randolf Center; Stowe, West Stowe, North Stowe, Old Stowe, Stowe Corners, etc.. Vermont is a place where people name their business after themselves (Mandy owns Mandy’s Plumbing, Scott owns Scott’s Lumber), the streets after themselves (George Smith lives on Smith Lane) and sometimes they even have the same name as their town. This seem a bit eerie to you? Ernestine lives on Ernestine Lane, in the town of Ernestine (or South Ernestine or West Ernestine) and works at Ernestine Cement. Seems downright claustrophobic.
Vermont is also for people who are tired of doing things. Things like putting up the Christmas decorations and taking down the Christmas decorations. As I walked home from work in August, I passed at least five house which were still decked out in Christmas regalia. And in Vermont, no need to take that pesky ski rack off during the summer months. Vermont is utterly forgiving of people who feel ski racks are like doors, an integral part of a car.
Right by the border with Massachusetts there should be a statue, not of a person, real Vermonters would not want a statue of themselves, but of a tree. And underneath the words, “Give us not your flat-landers, not your New Yorkers, give us only the meek, the quiet, the recyclers, yearning to be free and pay a lot to throw garbage away.”