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02 October 2005

Vermont

Yesterday, my aunt told me that I hadn't updated this blog since September 19, so I better hop to it!

Ok, I'll finally tell you about our trip to Vermont. I guess I've been slow to post about it because, well, I don't have too much to say. Vermont is nice. It's lovely. There's not much else to tell.

Its beauty didn't stop our hearts. It didn't even make them beat faster.

Not to say Vermont isn't lovely - it is. It's perfectly lovely. But there's no drama in its beauty.

Before you think I'm dissing Vermont, you have to understand that Alaska is heart-stopping beautiful.

Here, take a look. These pictures were taken the first week of October, 2003 - 2 years ago from this week - when we left Fairbanks for Maine. This is what we drove by.

paco

mountain

river

waterfall

river


Ok. So can you understand that Vermont isn't as dramatic?

But I'd be lying if I said that was the only problem. It wasn't just lack of drama. I knew there weren't huge mountain ranges in Vermont. They don't have any peaks over 4500 ft, so I wasn't expecting mountain drama. I was expecting something warm and cozy. I've always thought of Vermont as the place where you set up a bed and breakfast amidst of forest of maple trees in a quiet little village and you chop wood and bake bread and work hard and live well. It's sort of a Vermont fantasy I've always had, and this trip quickly dispelled it.

Do you remember the Newhart show from the 80s?
newhart

Not the first Bob Newhart show, where Bob played a psychiatrist, but the 2nd one, where he played Dick Loudun, a NY author-turned-innkeeper in Vermont, and there were the 3 dirty backwoodsmen brothers, two of which never spoke. "Hi, I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl."

Ok, so maybe this is what I was expecting. On the show, which took place primarily in different rooms in the inn, people were always walking in wearing warm coats and soft scarves and flannel shirts and loads of plaid. There was talk of chopping wood and shoveling and the town hall. I guess Fairbanks has all this, but it was a smaller place than Fairbanks; the kind of little town that is steeped in history where families know each other. Indian Killing families, as R insists I point out, but I think when my mental romance with the concept of Vermont began back in the 80s, I wasn't thinking about the Indian killing that certainly took place in Vermont. No, I'm certain I wasn't thinking of it, although I was quite aware of it this time. More about that in a moment.

So I pictured warm little inns surrounded by trees with gentle mountains rolling in the backdrop.

One problem - in the summer it's really hot in Vermont. Cozy and hot don't mesh. At all.

stable snow

inn

livingroom-300

I scoured the web, and I couldn't even find pictures to show what images I have. These came the closest, but they don't fully reveal what my idea of cozy is. You'll notice, though, that they are all winter shots. Hmmm. Perhaps we've hit the core of the problem.

Anyway, the reason we wanted to go to Vermont is rather silly: we wanted to follow Rt. 302 from our house in Portland to its end, near Montpelier (which, by the way, they pronounce Mon-pil-yer). Not much is happening there, so we decided to continue to Lake Champlain. We had seen this really neat special earlier in the summer on the Travel Channel about the old lodges on the NY side of Lake Champlain, and since then, we've been wanting to visit what looked to be a beautiful lake. Since gas prices were ridiculously high that weekend, we opted to say on the VT side of the lake.

We stopped in Burlington first, and it's a hip little town. Lots of bohemian-types wandered around the cobblestone streets lined with neat little shops. We stopped at the market to get some Friexenet, as we had this great idea to drink Champagne on Champlain. Corny, I know, but how often do you get the chance to live out such a great rhyme? Anyway, the market was really cool. It's an organic co-op called the City Market, and it's the kind of store a person feels good about shopping at.

We picked up our champagne and got back on the highway. We had reserved a campsite at North Hero Park, about an hour north of Burlington. The park is located on the Champlain Island, and if you take a look at the map, it looks like it's sure to be lovely.
lakechamplainnorthmap780

And it was lovely, but a wee bit dull. Ok, incredibly dull.

There is no hiking on the Champlain Island. They're flat. They are popular for bike riding, and everyone we saw was biking around. We saw several bike tours, in fact. However, we didn't bring our bikes b/c we had the dogs, and we wanted to hike.

We must admit this wasn't a well-planned trip, but I'll blame R b/c she was in charge of organizing it. The hiking, we found out, is 2 hours to the south. Gas was about $3.50 that weekend, and this was the only campsite available in the state, R swears, so that took care of that.

"What do you do here?" we asked.
"Bike riding is really popular," the campsite ranger answered.
"Where can walk with our dogs?"
"It's real pretty just to walk along the roads," she shrugged.

Walk along the roads.

Sigh.

So we did. We walked along the roads, the very flat roads. And it was pretty, real pretty even. But it was dull. Now I do have to say that Gamma and Seamus had a smashing time. They really don't care where we walk as long as we walk. It's all the same to them, but they do prefer grass/dirt/sand to pavement. We found a short trail that led to the beach on our campground, but the area is boggy, and we were ankle deep in wet marsh, which was not fun. Of course, the dogs loved it, and they darted after every single frog they saw.

On Sunday we decided to drive around the islands. There are several little parks and points of interest on the map, and the island is only about a mile wide, so water views and beaches abound. We assumed that we'd find some great hike for the dogs. Remember what they say about people who "assume," though. They make an "ass" out of "u" and "me."

champlain map1

The yellow line shows where we drove on Sunday. This was probably the prettiest part of the trip. The Isle of Motte is mostly comprised of cottages along the lake and a few really big farms. I wouldn't mind getting hooked up with a cottage on Lake Champlain. I could deal with that. On the west side of the isle, you see NY across the lake, and on the east side, you looking at North Hero in Vermont. Not a bad view anywhere. Very lovely (there's that word again).

Our first stop was St. Anne's Shrine. As a Catholic, I feeled compelled to stop at every shrine I come across, which made European travel unbearable for many of my companions. Luckily, R's Catholic, too, so there was no need to plead and whine.

Fort St. Anne, Vermont’s oldest settlement, is also where the first known mass in Vermont was celebrated. Samuel de Champlain landed here in 1609, and the lakes were named a second time. The Mohawks who were living there called the lake by a different name. There is an outdoor chapel, cafeteria, picnic grounds, stations of the cross, and of course, a gift shop. Leave it to the Catholics to never miss an opportunity to make a buck.

What do you remember from your history lessons? Does the Battle of 1609 (Champlain/Mohawk> ring a bell?

1609

Basically, on July 30, 1609, Champlain encountered at the lake (which he named after himself) a party of nearly 200 Iroquois warriors, under 3 chiefs. In a skirmish in which he shot two of the chiefs dead and wounded the third, he defeated this party, which was mostly Mohawk. Dismayed by the firearms of the Frenchman, whom they now met for the first time, the Indians fled. Things went from bad to worse for the Mohawks after this.

So there's a shrine here, but nothing is mentioned about the Indians who were here first.

The stations of the cross are set up in a big semi-circle along the lake. Raf and I leaned against the fence, looking out over toward New York.

"I bet those Mohawks really liked it here," she said.

I bet they did.

We drove around the rest of La Motte then head back to the campsite, where we drank our chamagne on Champlain.

Both nights the sky were exceptionally clear, and we saw shooting stars both nights. Each night, we built a big fire and watched the sky until about 1am, consulting the constellation guide every few minutes, trying to figure out what was what. We're really good at finding the big and little dippers, but after that, it's troublesome for us. We made some headway, though, and were able to find Orpheus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Boötes, Canes Venatici, Pegasus, Draco, Cygnus, and the summer triangle. There were some other stars that didn't fit in with the book, so those were probably planets or satellites, but we're not sure which.

On Monday, we had to head back to Portland, so we drove down up towards the Canadian border and then down toward Burlington so we could maybe see what I've had in my head all these years. We didn't.

champlain map2
The yellow line on the map shows how we drove to the campsite on Saturday, and the blue line shows our departure route.

We stopped in Burlington for about 3 hours before we continued home, further exploring the town. We really liked it. It seemed wonderful, and while we both liked it better than Portland, it didn't speak to us and save "MOVE HERE," either. New England just isn't a welcoming place. What can I say?

Ok, now you know why I've been putting this post off for so long. Yes, we had a good time, but are we itching to go back? Not really. The Vermont in my head is a much more magical place, and I don't have to use any gas to get there!

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