Sunday, November 4, 2007

Autumn in Vermont (Part 3)

We drove South on 95 and then north on 91 - straight on for Brattleboro, Vermont. As we made our way North. the weather improved. Rain gave way to cloudy skies and then peaks of sun. The cold front had stalled along the coast, but further inland, cool winds were blowing down from Canada.

Within a few hours we had reached the Vermont border and the Interstate 91 Welcome Center. In Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania the state recently re-built their welcome center in the floodplain of a tributary to the Delaware River. They graded all around it to give the landscape a nice, bowl affect. Then it rained. Several months later, after it dried out, transplanted NYC gangs "tagged" it with graffiti.

The Vermont Welcome Center was everything the Pennsylvania center was not. The architecture was similar to a barn, with post and beam construction. There were plenty of exhibits inside and outside, even a sign that instructed pets to "Walk Your Owner Here'. Under a separate pavilion, there was a volunteer organization offering hot cider, coffee, brownies, Vermont apples, and other treats for a donation. Sweetie Angel tried the hot cider. "It was the best hot cider I've ever had." Waterbunny walked up with a huge, red apple- half eaten. "I haven't had an apple this good since Washington State." Welcome to Vermont, the state that never disappoints.

I hadn't been to Vermont in over 30 years, yet was hoping the best cure for a terrible road trip would be one day in Vermont. Yes, I was hoping for a miracle. After Brattleboro, we drove West towards Bennington on Scenic Route 9, and the true beauty of Autumn in Vermont began to reveal itself. The view from Hogback Mountain was tremendous. We also wanted to stop in Wilmington, the town looked eclectic and fun, but this was a one-day tour and the Skipper had a plan- West to Bennington, North to Burlington, then West again across Lake Champlain on the ferry. After that, the New York Thruway on a beeline for home.

We reached Bennington late morning and began our journey North on Route 7. Beautiful mountains and quaint villages passed by as we stayed on course until our hunger pangs outgrew our desire to keep moving and we found the Silas Griffith Inn in Danby, Vermont and they were serving lunch! What an excellent family-run place, with sisters and brothers and parents and kids all putting their resources together to purchase and operate the Inn. We found the restaurant nearly by accident (it is always OK to drive around the bend in the road). The food and service was excellent and our spirits brightened considerably. One sister knits colorful scarves and sells them for a good price too. Rhode Island? Where was that, anyway?

North of Rutland, we found the Pick-Your-Own Pumpkin patch. Sweetie Angel went happy-crazy, running through field looking at hundreds of pumpkins, and wanting to bring home all of them. We settled for two large ones, a few tiny ones, and a pint of fresh cold apple cider. Sweetie giggled when she read the manufacture date- Sunday, October 7th-the same day we were buying it. You can't buy fresher apple cider than that.

All through the trip North on Route 7, the green mountains of Vermont loomed to our East and the Adirondacks of New York beckoned to our West. As we neared Burlington, we would catch small glimpses of Lake Champlain. Once in the town, we were surprised to see hundreds upon hundreds of young people, students from The University of Vermont and Champlain College. We drove around and looked at the campuses, which were lovely. We drove downtown and realized this was a true college town- with a view of the lake and mountains that was simply stunning.

Burlington, Vermont is tucked onto the side of a hill facing Lake Champlain. The colleges are at the top of the hill with center of town down the hill, and closer to the lake. The lake shimmers and shines in the sunlight, with the distant Adirondack mountains rising up from its Western shores. The mountain air is crisp with a hint of moisture from the lake, the air temperature is cool off the lake, with a steady breeze blowing from the North. This was the coldest air we had felt on our faces since April. It was a delicious, a gourmet meal for the senses.

Sweetie Angel saw the possibilities - a college near skiing, close enough to home to drive to, yet far enough away to have freedom and personal space. A town that was dominated by kids her own age, with cafes and bookstores, skateboards and bikes, boys and more boys. She smiled as she looked around. Perhaps, just perhaps this crummy trip to Rhode Island had a greater purpose? Is it possible we suffered and sacrificed in order to discover a new direction that far exceeded a single weekend trip?

Life is like that. You take a trip and are forever changed in ways you could never expect or realize before you began your journey. You expand your horizons and new possibilities are laid before you- like pumpkins in a field.

We drove to Burlington because Angel had pointed out, way back in Newport, that she had never been on a large boat longer than the Jamestown ferry River in Virginia- a quick ten minute trip. She wanted to sail on a schooner, and there were plenty of those available for hire in Newport. It wasn't meant to be, but the next morning, while driving North on 91, I provided an alternative. The ferry across Lake Champlain takes an hour. It is no schooner, but it will be a lovely boat ride. Sweetie angel agreed and so we ended our day in Burlington, Vermont, a college town, with our mood completely reversed. We were falling in love with Vermont.

It was 6:00 p.m. when the ferry pulled out from the dock. After watching an incredible sunset over the mountains, we braved the cold wind at the bow of the boat and talked and laughed and bonded. We may not have had the best trip, but we bring our home of serenity along with us and all it takes is a moment of discovery or natural beauty, and we are snuggled tight again within our love. Parents who choose not to share these moments with their children only live half a life- a mere existence- for there is no greater joy on Earth, friends.

We arrived at Port Kent, New York at 7 pm and began the torturous 6-1/2 hour drive home. It was dark and we were tired. By the time we arrived in New Jersey, we caught up to the stalled front along the coast. It was cloudy with a light drizzle, and the air was warm and muggy, just like we left it in the morning. Just like Connecticut and Rhode Island. Was Vermont a dream?

In retrospect, we have laughed over the lowlights, and talked in awe over the highlights. We sure do cram a lot into a two-day trip, sort of like putting 10 pounds of manure into a 5 pound pail. It always seems to be worth it. A review of Champlain College's degree programs is encouraging-plenty of majors in the area Sweetie Angel wants to study. Earlier this week, she was wearing her University of Vermont tee shirt (bought on the ferry). She looks awful good in Vermont green.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Rhode Island, 15 foot waves are battering an old clam shack as the remnants of Hurricane Noel slam ashore. The paint peels off from the spray of sand and salt, the sand erodes underneath. The local folks huddle by the fire, waiting out the storm, and the one coming after that.
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