Copyright 2002 by Jon Bondy, All Rights Reserved.
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Jon Bondy, firstname.lastname@example.org
When I first moved to Vermont, after 15 years living on the outskirts of Philadelphia, I thought that I knew why I was moving to Vermont. I was tired of the noise, dirt, crime, congestion, and total lack of nature that Philadelphia provided. I wanted quiet, clean vistas, low crime, a rural population, and nature, nature, everywhere. It stood to reason that this was why everybody went to Vermont.
Since I was not born and raised in Vermont, I am considered a “flatlander”. There is a saying in Vermont: putting kittens in the oven doesn’t make them muffins. The point is that just because you are a transplant in Vermont, you don’t understand what it really means to be a Vermonter. You don’t understand Vermont.
At first, I found this attitude to be annoying. I mean, I knew enough about Vermont to command respect, didn’t I? Well, as time has passed, it turns out that the answer is “no”. Vermonters are not nasty to flatlanders, but they may roll their eyes from time to time when flatland wisdom is expressed.
The first winter I experienced in Vermont was the winter of 93-94. When I moved up here, I figured I had moved to Alaska, so I bought the insulated boots, the leggings, and the layers of winter clothing. That winter, it did not snow until a few days after Christmas. In fact, it was not really that cold, until then, either.
I recall driving back to Vermont, from my parents’ place in Connecticut, just after Christmas. It started out around 25 or so, and by the time I was back in Vermont, it was below zero. The temperature fell the whole way north. And then it started to snow.
It snowed on and off for 90 days, and it stayed below freezing for essentially that entire period. There were a few days above freezing, but no real thawing. Flatlander that I was, I took it in stride. I had, after all, moved to Alaska, hadn’t I? It was only a few years later, when I was exposed to a less difficult winter, that I realized why the locals had been grumbling all winter long. That winter was especially difficult. But, as a flatlander, I had no clue. Silly me. Silly flatlander.
And that is the point: flatlanders really have no clue. It takes decades of winters to realize what the possibilities are. How much snow and cold in the winter. How much mud in mud season. The variations are not simple, and intelligence and imagination are not sufficient to prepare you for the experience.
For example, that first Spring, I saw a pretty vista. The grass on a farmer’s fields had just turned bright green, the dandelions had just come out, and the leaves on the trees were just budding. The result was stunning: bright dark blue sky, purple hills, green fields, with bright yellow flowers in the fields. This, I though, was how Spring was in Vermont. I have never seen such a Spring again: this is not how Spring looks in Vermont. It was a fluke, an unusual Spring. Silly me. Silly flatlander.
Flatlanders also seem to have an idealistic approach to live in Vermont. For example, I wanted wood cut from my land, but I didn’t want the land to be rutted by the skidders, and I didn’t want the forest floor littered by leaves and branches. So used to the neat lawns of suburbia, I didn’t realize that my concept was unrealistic. Silly me. Silly flatlander.
Much of the rural landscape of Vermont is owned by, and “worked” by, farmers. Drive around rural Vermont, and you are unlikely to go more than a few miles before seeing another silo approaching you on the horizon. But farmers cannot afford to buy land and then just let Nature use it for free. Fields need to be planted and harvested. And trees need to be cut down, for use as structural lumber, chipped wood, or fire wood. There is no free lunch. Only those with other financial resources have the luxury to allow Nature to just do its thang. Silly me. Silly flatlander.
Similarly, Vermont is full of hunters. Such people take the life and death of animals in stride. Killing and gutting an animal is no big deal to them. For me, never having done any of this, even thinking of it was a big deal. I had moved to Vermont to experience nature, to look at it, not to go out and kill it. I wonder if I could kill a rabbit if it was the only thing I could eat. I think not. Kill a bunny? Silly me. Silly flatlander.
And my idea of a pleasant time was to go out in the woods and watch and listen. Nature at its finest. It turns out that many Vermonters think that the way to pay their respects to Mother Nature is to race through it at high speed, on either a four-wheel All Terrain Vehicle (ATV), a ski-mobile, or a jet-ski. I was stunned: how can you experience Nature when it is flying past you at between 30 and 100 MPH, with the banshee scream of two-cycle engines whining in your ears? Silly me. Silly flatlander.
So, as happy as I am, living in Vermont, it would be fair to say that I was not really prepared for the Vermont I encountered. It is like much of life: a long, strange trip…