My Love Affair with Vermont

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I can’t say how it began, but I know I’ve always had this love affair with Vermont, even though I’ve never lived there.  I suspect it has a lot to do with its mountain greenery, since I’ve always been partial to mountains, those silent sentries walling out an octane world fulsome with pursuit and possession, safeguarding neat valleys of Yankee towns and villages anchored by white steepled churches.

I grew up in Massachusetts with vistas much like this, and Vermont, New England at its best, not far away.  I can’t think of a wooded vista excelling that stretch of aerial road known as U. S. 9 connecting Vermont’s  quaint Bennington and Brattleboro towns in the south that I used to travel often.

A few years back, or 2005, I finally canvassed the state right up to the Canadian border before twisting back to the Massachusetts coast by way of New Hampshire’s lofty White Mountains.  One special delight was visiting Swanton, just south of the Canadian border.  My grandparents had called it home.

Retaining its small population contributes to the state’s Edenic luster, despite the continuous threat of emigres from New York and Massachusetts, not infrequently buying up commanding views, cutting trees, and building spacious palaces of material privilege.

In Vermont box store giants are rare, and thus town centers of mom and pop stores prosper and prove gathering places.  Smallness and simplicity turn back the clock.

I like the democracy of these towns with selectmen, not mayors, held to account by their  citizens in weekly meetings of equals.

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For many of us, Vermont means dairy farms, cradled among gentle hills, producing cheeses by the score; undulating countryside redolent with flaming fall foliage and winter’s maple syrup like no where else.  But it’s also a place of considerable waterways, despite being New England’s only landlocked state.  Every town seems to have its murmuring stream or running river, which sometimes menace human artifacts with storms like last year’s Sandy.  And then there’s Lake Champlain, America’s sixth largest lake, 120 miles long, 14 miles across at its widest point and 400 feet deep.  What grabs me most are its myriad covered bridges, more than anywhere else, archives of a past of horse-drawn carriages catching shelter from cacophonous clouds unleashing summer deluge.

Apart from scenic splendor and sanctuary replete with serenity, I like the state’s progressiveness.  Vermont, by the way, is the only state represented in Congress by a socialist, registered as an Independent.  Small as it is, no state ranks higher in promoting the welfare of its citizens.  It was the first to abolish slavery.  It was also first in granting women the right to vote in 1880.  Unlike neighboring Massachusetts which recently blinked under religious pressure, Vermont has now joined just Oregon and Washington in passing death with dignity legislation.  Vermont was the first state to allow civic unions and, later, gay marriage.   Looking towards the future, it’s promoting a single payer, non-profit health system akin to European and Canadian models.  Concerned about climate change, it has joined eight other states in offering rebate incentives to purchasers of electric cars.

At times, I think of Vermont as almost another country independent of the body politic. In fact, for fourteen years, it was just that–a sovereign nation before joining the Union.  Funny I should write this, but when I was in my twenties I had looked to New Zealand as my deliverance from a meaningless Asian war, burning cities, and assassinations of progressive leaders, including a president who gave possibility to Camelot.  New Zealand responded with immigrant status and employment, yet I didn’t go, for my American roots lay deeper than I knew.

A few years ago, I visited New Zealand and beautiful Taranaki which would have been my home.  I happened to meet several American ex-pats, one of whom shared that California had grown stale for him with its exponential growth in population and social burden, despoiled environment and plighted cities, accelerating crime and sky high taxes, inflated mortgages and a growing economic divide.

I wish now I had asked him if he needed to go so far, even as I had once thought of doing.  Why not Oregon, Washington, Montana?  Why not Vermont?

I wish I had asked myself that question when blessed with those options uniquely granted to the young.

–rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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