Back South

Back from a long stay in Vermont.

This is the first time as a family that we’ve rented a house for a long-term vacation. We’ve been thinking about trying to find a place to go in the summers for three weeks or a month, and northern New England has been high on our list of preferences. I don’t really like Mid-Atlantic beaches in part because of the hassle involved (traffic to and back plus crowds when you get there). I’d love to spend three or four weeks every summer in the high mountains of the American West but I don’t want to get on a plane more often than I have to at this point in my life.

So we thought we’d try the northeastern part of Vermont for our first go, and we picked a farmhouse along a quiet gravel road near to the town of Craftsbury. The house was great, the result of about 15 years of steady work by the owner. He has a small herd of beef cattle in the 35 acres around the house, and while we were there he added two young goats, which my delighted daughter was happy to goatherd around. (Also some geese who took a few days to settle in and find the pond in the pasture.) Fantastic southern exposure and view all the way down to Mount Mansfield, about 50 miles south. There was also a great barn that was set up as a workshop. (The house is for sale: if I had the money, I’d seriously consider it.)

At night, you couldn’t see any lights at all. If we turned off all the lights in the house, it was completely dark everywhere, in all directions. No planes overhead. During the day, there might be one car on the road outside about every 90 minutes or so. At dusk, we heard screech owls calling bloodcurdingly to each other at the tree line. Lots of local lakes with good swimming, and supposedly good fishing in the area, though my own experience with several highly recommended rivers was pretty disappointing.

There isn’t as much of an artisanal food scene in this part of Vermont as there is in southern Vermont and western Massachusetts. This is not to say that people aren’t producing great produce, meat and such for regional consumption, but it’s mostly flowing south and eastward of the area itself. (Reminded me a bit of how you couldn’t get really good coffee in some coffee-producing parts of Africa I’ve been in: it’s all packaged for export, because there’s hardly anyone nearby who will pay a comparable price for it.) The owner of our house was a really interesting, smart guy and we talked quite a bit about the local economics of farming. Upshot: not much, if any, profit in it unless you’re doing it at a large scale. (Though the profit on grass-fed organic cattle seemed a bit better.) If you’re not working for the government or for one of the few local businesses, you basically have to have a bunch of different small entrepreneurial ventures going at once.

It was also fun to take the dog along on the trip, another first for me. He particularly liked Stephen Huneck’s Dog Chapel. After reading the numerous moving eulogies of beloved dogs (and a few cats) put up on the wall by visitors, I thought of Chris Clarke for some reason–his dog Zeke belongs up on that wall, I think.

Our dog’s a little less happy now as he got a bad wound on his eyeball from a cat when we stopped overnight in Western Massachusetts on the way back. (He was just trying to have a friendly sniff of the cat, but the cat didn’t see it that way.) So he has to wear a cone around his head for a while. I’m cautiously optimistic but he may end up losing the eye.

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6 Responses to Back South

  1. back40 says:

    “it’s all packaged for export, because there’s hardly anyone nearby who will pay a comparable price for it”

    The cobbler’s children go barefoot.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful vacation for all; thanks for sharing all the photos. I hope things turn out well for the dog!

  3. withywindle says:

    Glad you enjoyed it. FYI, my family had a summer house in nothern Vermont for two generations–although sold recently–where father Anduin spent many of his summers growing up, bought by grandfather Sirion. Grandfather Sirion a Columbia professor, part of a little colony of Columbia professors and other academics nestled in northern Vermont during the summers–did you know you’re part of an academic tradition? If you didn’t get to it, and if you return, I recommend 1) cheese at Cabot and maple sugar at St. Johnsbury; 2) a day trip to Franconia Notch; 3) for name reasons alone, a trip to Mt. Burke. (4 would have been a trip to the Old Man of the Mountains, but I understand that’s gone now, alas.) And do come up at least once in the fall for the leaves!

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    We went to Cabot. The tour was sort of eh, but I did pick up some (non-Cabot) cheeses there. We went to Smuggler’s Notch, which I thought was pretty great. Burke Mountain we naturally went over to, though we didn’t hike there. Still, there’s a lot more to see in the area, and I think we’ll return.

    It *does* seem to be the place for Northeastern academics to go–I have colleagues here who have summer places up in the area.

  5. miz_geek says:

    Next time you might visit the Montpelier Farmer’s Market if you’re looking for interesting food (and check out their co-op, too).

    My folks just retired from Texas to Vermont – they love it up there (and my dad’s a retired prof – there may be something to this pattern!)

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, we didn’t get down to Montpelier this time.

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