There are many reasons for relocating; jobs, children, divorce, retirement. We had another reason. Our land in the Pacific Northwest was getting hemmed in by malls and traffic lights. We wanted quiet, rural life, back roads, vistas. Go east! East, to the first settled land in America, now packed with malls and 15 million people?
My husband and I found our new home on a dirt road, up a long steep driveway, 1700 feet in elevation, in Vermont. A tiny A-frame camp became our small one bedroom house with help from my brother, a contractor. The house faced northeast looking out over the Green Mountains, with a 35 acre field (not ours) as our front yard (we pretended we owned it).
During the first summer we were busy winterizing the house, chopping wood for our woodstove and exploring the land. We went to farmer's markets to buy fresh produce and art galleries to look at art. It was all enchanting. Until the smell.
A local farmer rented the field in front of our house and hayed it three times a summer, keeping it mowed and sleek. He also, after each haying, spewed manure out the back of a big truck, like a flume from an oil well, thirty feet away from our living room window. So that was why our field was so green!
Autumn arrived with shocks of yellow, orange and red. We had our first fire in the woodstove with the curl of smoke dancing in the crisp clear air. Flea markets and garage sales and church 'suppas' serving gummy chicken pot pie, while the geese, with their mournful cry, migrated away from here and the bear dug in deep.
We stacked our six cords of wood under sheets of tin roofing. All we had to do was go out the back door, pick up an armload, and bring it into the house. Easy enough. But come winter the wood froze to the ground and we had to pry it out with a crowbar. We also had no mudroom and stomped in snow and ice onto our brand new pine floor. Snowfall was above normal our first year -'over 100 inches; 6.3 inches above the previous record set in 1970. "The worst winter in 50 year," Dick Avery explained, plowing our driveway 28 times that first winter, an added expense we hadn't accounted for. We were learning to be Vermonters (although you weren't one according to the old timers, unless you had at least four generations of Vermonters in your family tree).
Because we had no shed, we stacked all the ladders and tools under tarps. My brother, who'd lived in Vermont for the past thirty years, told us if we wanted anything before April we best get it now. We laughed. But come January, ice dams formed on our roof and a bubble the size of a baseball bulged out the living room wall. When we went to get the ladders, the tarps were frozen solid to the ground. Borrowing ladders from neighbors, we set up an infantry around the house. My husband hacked away at the ice, six inches thick, while I held the ladders, trembling, the snow swirling around my crusted hair. He resorted to an axe. We were doing all this because Dick, after I asked what we should do about the ice on our roof, said, "Best do somethin'."
Spring came round -' the season of the syrup. Every day we watched as Dick, with his four generations of family, came trundling down the soggy dirt road on his tractor to set the taps, check the maples, then gather the syrup. After he drove away, our hard-packed dirt road was mush, and near impossible to turn out of our driveway. The one-foot-deep ruts of mud soon hardened into steep walls. My brother said, "Watch out for your bearings!" We got to know the town mechanic real well.
I learned to ride the ruts and was proud (after it was all over) that I'd never gotten stuck. The snow melted, the happy chattering birds returned, and skinny porcupines, woodchucks and black bears wandered through our front yard. We'd made it through the winter and were rewarded with dramatic thunderstorms and parcels of pink glowing clouds and buds bursting through.
We've been here for eight years now and this past winter was the coldest yet. Month after month the temperature never reached about 10 degrees F. Mostly it was below zero. We have photographs of our thermometer reading minus 20.
Winters are cold, dark and long. They're also beautiful with a crystal white expanse against a shockingly clear blue sky. Most days we snowshoe with our two cats leaping after us in the wide footprints. It's the outdoors that's the balm in winter.
When my husband and I moved to Vermont, friends told us we were crazy. "Acid Rain in the East!" "The black flies in summer!" "The winters that never end!" "There are only two seasons in Vermont -- winter and mud season!" We heard the warnings but when we arrived we also heard the silence, so thick you could cut it with your ski pole. We came because we could walk for miles out our front door in all seasons and always find a new view, a new path, or an old towering ash tree we had never seen before.
Vermont's land was once decimated. Now it is preserved.
When the "Apocalypse" comes, I want to be in Vermont. These old timers know how to take care of everything, at any time, in any season. And if they don't, they make it up.