With all the craziness in our world, especially these days, my corner seems rather benign. I know I’m lucky to say that.
I suppose I’m sounding more like a Vermonter every day, but I’m a newbie. Not a newbie in the sense that my ancestors were newbies when they first conquered Vermont. I’m a newbie because I moved here with my family almost two and a half years ago. I’m not a flat-lander however. Flat-lander; an old Vermont term for a person who farms on flat land, or in this day and age it usually refers to someone from a state south of Vermont. There’s very little of that in our Green Mountain state. Flat land I mean. Rocks, on the other hand, spring up everywhere like the stoic dandelions. I think there are, or definitely were, many old farmers proud of their ability to make a living in the bony (another Vermont word meaning “rocky”) glacier swept soils of Vermont. Yankee pride for having it rough and tough and still stubbornly surviving is an ingrained characteristic around here, it’s probably what kept the first white Vermonters in a place like this with eight months of winter. Anyway, I come from a small farm in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state, definitely not flat there.
The sun is high in the sky, so close to the spring equinox it shines brighter and warmer than it has since last fall. The weather, however, seems to have other plans in mind. It’s 20 degrees outside right now, with six inches of frozen snow on the ground. Last week we had a bit of a warm up though, in the 50s and 60s even, practically t-shirt weather! More importantly, the warm up signaled the beginning of two of the most important mini-seasons in New England; Mud season, and Sugaring season. Not to be confused with black fly season, the first week of lawn mowing, or when the flowers acknowledge it is actually spring.
You probably know a bit about mud season, or maybe you live in a place where it is a yearly experience. It’s very simple really; at least half the roads in Vermont and the rest of New England are made from dirt. Well, technically gravel, but they look like dirt. Anyway, this gravel and dirt is quite nicely frozen all winter, but when the snow starts to melt, so do the roads. The result is part of the reason why cars with low bottoms are strictly summer vehicles in Vermont. The roads melt, the water has nowhere to go because it just so happens everything else is also melting, and so it remains, mostly, in the road. In bad years, it is not uncommon to get stuck in the mud on a fairly regular basis. That’s why it’s so handy to have lots of tractors in your neighborhood to pull you out of a mud pit. I’ve found the best method personally is to pick a rut and don’t be afraid to use the gas. The worst thing you can do is stop.
Sugaring season, on the other hand, has a much more romantic image, and if I’m being strictly correct, actually comes a bit before Mud season. The story of the Sugar maples awakening goes something like this: When the early spring nights are below freezing, and the days above 40 degrees, the sap in the trees begins to flow up from the roots bringing energy to the canopy. In the case of maple trees, but most importantly the sugar maples, their sap is extremely full of sugars from last summer’s photosynthesizing. At this point Sugarers throughout New England, be they backyard hobbyists with a couple buckets, or huge operations with 5,000 taps, intercept some of this sap with all manner of collection systems. These range from your traditional buckets with metal taps, all the way to miles and miles of electric blue tubing on a gentle vacuum system strung through the trees like some aggressive Christmas decoration set-up. The following boiling process removes most of the water, leaving you with the sweet maple syrup so famously used on pancakes, bacon, and just about everything else.
But these two seasons do not fully encompass the worth of 50 degree weather after six months of snow, biting wind, and icy driveways. When the sight of bare ground makes you so happy you could cry, you know why spring is arguably one of the best times of the year.
When I picture my corner of the world, I picture all of Vermont. This tiny state is nearly as small as the county I used to live in, with half the people. Perhaps its small size is part of its magic. Vermont is more like a large town than a state. Everyone knows everyone else. This is handy when you want to talk to the secretary of state, you call up her office, and lo and behold she’s the one who answers the phone and you have a great conversation about each other’s kids. Then you figure out that your cousin actually went to school with her brother, and the smallness of this state starts to sink in. It’s actually pretty cool. Having this access to my government is so different for me, I went into the Vermont statehouse within a year of living here, but I never even saw the Washington statehouse. The other thing is, people here have time to talk, it surprised my whole family how everyone expected you to take at least five minutes to talk about the weather, the snow, tips for keeping the salt on the roads from rusting your car too badly. We’ve adapted quickly though, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time.
One new thing (among the three hundred new things) – I was used to more racial diversity. Vermont is a very progressive state, the first state to abolish slavery, the first state to give same-sex-marriage all the legal benefits of straight marriage, yet we are also the whitest state. I don’t think this means we shouldn’t be progressive, or anything stereotypical like that. What I mean is that many of us are still babies in the world of openly and equally discussing race in all it’s connotations. Coming from another, much more diverse state, it is an interesting concept to think about, but that is Vermont for you, we’re a state of contradiction and comparison.
How can I share with you everything that makes my home unique? I want you to be able to know the quiet, kind logger who takes care of his five year old grandson, bringing him to work, letting him sit in the big logging truck and honk the horn, because his parents are in and out of jail. I also want to share our adorable capitol city, Montpelier, the smallest in the nation, which doesn’t have any McDonalds, Walmart’s, or Burger Kings. Maybe you would understand my home if you went on a cross country ski in the powdery snow through the woods filled with maple, birch, spruce and fir, and suddenly a grouse burst from the snow directly in front of you from where it hid during a snowstorm, scaring you silly as its wings thumped loudly against the cold air. No, I know what it is. You would understand if you saw the sky. Blue. The very epitome of the word blue, spanning the horizons on a cloudless day. The clearest, deepest blue sky I have ever seen. Less pollution than Washington, no smoke from the fires, nearly unobstructed communication with the heavens. Have you begun to wonder when I’ll stop rambling yet? Will this girl ever tie together what she is saying.
Well, I know one thing now. As I racked my brain to describe the world outside my window in a reasonable way, I realized that it is because we are unique, that in the end, we are the same.