10 October 2006

Growing up

I've been in Vermont these past few days, reliving the experiences and places that made me who I am today. My parents live in a small village in Vermont on the Connecticut River, and the schools I went to from age 4 to 17 are within a five-minute drive of their house. On Saturday, we went up to my grade school, and my brother and I went rambling through the trails where we both learned to ski, descriptively named things like "stonewall trail" and "the ravine trail". Everything seems much smaller than it did then, but we remembered many of the soggy spots to avoid, the places where the trails intersected, and the contours of the places that were most fun to ski.

The next day we went to the high school, a blend of fierce academics, fiercer art, and a busy farm, all concentrated around this classic dairy barn. The annual autumn festival was on, so it was a non-stop conversation the whole day with fellow alums, old teachers, and other people I hadn't seen in years. This school has been around since the 30's and is a steady provider of surprisingly talented alums, ranging from opera singers and well-known actors to academics. Whenever I return for a visit I'm astounded that this used to be my daily view from the parking lot, and that I was allowed to be so immersed in everything- to visit the pig shed during a free period, and then go skiing on the fabled trails that have produced so many Olympic-quality skiers.

After a full day there, I headed north along the most scenic interstates I know, rtes 91 to 89 that wind along the Connecticut River and then west over the spine of the Green Mountains to Burlington. My close friend A, whom I met the second day of college orientation, just bought a house in the Winooski River valley up there, and I had to see her and it. It's a classic old Vermont house, with sloping wood floors, funny corners in the upstairs rooms, and a porch swing out front. I arrived at dusk, in time for homemade pesto on pasta and a welcoming leg-rub from their gray tabbycat.

The next day we were up early (jet-lag is fun coming this direction) to drive a little more than a dozen miles upstream on the Winooski River, where we set up two inflatable kayaks and put in for a day of drifting, paddling, talking, and lunching on the little islands in the center of this shallow, smooth river. The day was clear and the cool burned off quickly for perfect weather. There was an occasional breeze that sent trails of maple leaves from the trees, sprinkling the water with color. Ones that had fallen slightly earlier hung suspended under the water's surface like insects in amber, backed by the clear pebbled bottom of the river. We passed through the occasional rapids that squeezed next to smooth rock outcroppings, drifted below pastures and crops redolent with the scent of cow manure, and everywhere, the frenzy of fall lit up the landscape.

We came ashore finally just below the house, and carried the kayaks along the road home. Our feet were muddy and my shoulders a bit sore from the paddling, but it had been a worthy day. This morning everyone had to go to work, so I took the leisurely way home along a road that passes through village after village, each one a cluster of 18th century houses crowding up against the narrow road. Vermont is laced with these places, tucked among the hills, rows of farmhouses, Victorian municipal buildings, grand old barns, and lots of woodpiles. I forgot how quietly majestic this landscape is, all fuzzy with trees, and hiding the views coyly behind the bends in the road and the stands of maples. It's perfect for slow exploration, and any skinny road on the map is sure to reward with great views. For example, I chose to end my drive home along rte 121, an Iceland-worthy road that looked and sounded important but ended up being an unpopulated dirt road through the sugarbush. Perfect.


Sarah said...

Beautiful! You went from one gorgeous place (Iceland) to another. By the way, on findyourspot.com there were several cities in Vermont in my top 24... hmmmmm.... :O)

Glad to hear that you're safe and having a nice trip!

-Sarah :O)

steffán said...

Have you realised that you've just made thousands of readers awfully jealous? ;-) You live between one of the most mysterious european countries and one of the most wonderful States in the US...
If I didn't live in "one of the most beautiful cities in the world" myself, i would fly away right now!!!

cK said...

Beautiful photos, especially that final shot of the road. You had the iconic cow barn, yes, but that road (and the field shot, actually) is iconic New England.

Whenever this time of year arrives I want to read Hawthorne and Melville and other New England writers. Fall does that to me.

Now, do you find your accent more or less pronounced after an extended absence? For example, sharper New England sounds but offset by a bit of Icelandic twists on the vowels?

Just curious.

jessica said...

where ever you live it is beautiful. have you ever been to boulder? i think you would like the scenery here too, especially in autumn. autumn is my favorite season.

welcome back to the states!

sb said...

New England is magnificent and nothing beats getting lost on those windy roads when everyone is at work.
I do that a lot, and just drive along to see the beauty!
Welcome home E - Enjoy and Love your stay

ECS said...

Sarah- you should have a look at Vermont sometime! It's really a lovely place, if you don't mind a bit of snow in the winter!

Stephane- I think you've got plenty of things to make others jealous of, based on the amazing photos you've gott on Flickr of places you travel. I'm so curious about Croatia, and yo'uve been there already!

ck- I took that photo from the car so I could remember the view later. I can't believe it really looks like that here sometimes. As for the accent, I don't notice a difference but a musical friend with a well-tuned ear has noticed a slightly differnt lilt to my English.

Jessica- I actually was born in Boulder, so the similarities in the landscape are probably part of why my parents chose to live here after moving from Colorado. I've not returned since we left when I was 3 though, so I can't really remember it.

SB! Long time no see here. I'm going to be in Boston over the weekend and I'll try to stop in.. not sure how it's all happening yet though so I can't guarantee...

Liz said...

New England is gorgeous in the fall- sounds like you know just how to enjoy it. You've definitely got the best of both worlds.

tsduff said...

Your descriptions of our homeland sound as beautiful and detailed as the ones you paint for us from Iceland. I enjoyed hearing about the east - as I'm not familiar with that side of the US. It sounds so delightful. I hope your stay is thoroughly and entirely fun and relaxing.