Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Things We Don't Love

Video Vulture -- The Bristol Police Department has a surveillance camera allowing the cop shop to oversee large parts of the Bristol downtown without even leaving their desks. Big Brother in the Sky. Not only is it bad policing, it stinks of 1984. There's no place for that kind of thing in a rural areas such as ours, and the town should hold a public cermony in which it destroys the camera.

Obsessive Mowing -- The world is heating up and running out of oil, and the small engines used on lawn mowers are big greenhouse-gas polluters. Yet many Vermonters insist on having giant lawns and cutting them obsessively. Take Saturday off. Let the meadows bloom! And if you have to cut, get an electric mower. I bought a Newton electric mower from DR Power in Vergennes. Powerful and highly recommended. More info: http://www.drpower.com/prdSell.aspx?p1Name=Catalog&Name=CEMSellGroup&BC=0%3aHome&LinkType=2.

Idling Engines -- While we’re on the subject of unnecessary pollution and oil usage, since when was it OK to idle your car while you're talking on the phone -- or just to keep cool on a hot day? At a time when motor vehicles -- especially pickup trucks and SUVs -- are primary contributors to dangerous climate change/global warming, people idling their engines are only making things worse. Cell phone users running their engines while in a parking space to have a conversation ought to just hang up and drive, or turn off the engine and talk. And for those of you running the AC while a family member darts into the store – you’re not gonna die of heat prostration in Vermont, so please just turn the car off and roll down the windows. Your lungs will thank you.

"Coming to Middlebury" (well, maybe) -- In a full-page ad on the back of the summer 2005 issue of Middlebury Magazine (the college publication), Shelburne Bay Senior Living Community says something called "The Lodge at Otter Creek" is "coming to Middlebury, Fall 2006." Don't get out your wallet just yet. This "elegant retirement living" development is still being considered by the town and doesn't yet have the necessary approvals. Even if the town does approve the project, a source at Shelburne Bay acknowledges, the earliest anything would be available would be in spring of 2007. So, two questions -- what made the folks at Shelburne Bay think they could get away with such a questionable claim? And couldn't the college be a little more careful in screening the claims of its advertisers? This is a high-profile, controversial project, and anybody who reads the local papers would know it's not "coming to Middlebury, Fall 2006."

Things We Love

Eat Good Food -- Vergennes' classic yet highly original café lives up to its name. The best lunch in Addison County, friendly staff, and scones to die for. Tara Vaughan-Hughes has created a wonderful place for her little city and those of us who appreciate good food enough to drive 20 minutes for it. Recently covered in Vermont Life, http://www.vtlife.com/vtlife/current_issue/su05-table-talk.htm.

WMUD-FM -- "There's mud oozing from your speakers!" This iconoclastic, eminently listenable radio station, at 89.3, sparkles with more than just its clever station ID's. Where else can you hear ducimer music, Billie Holiday, and Richard Thompson within 10 minutes? One quibble -- there's still some dead spots in its coverage area in Middlebury. Maybe that's why they don't call it WMUD-lebury. www.wmud.org. I don't know how these folks do it all for free, but I hope they keep it up.

Middlebury College in the summer -- The campus is at its most beautiful, flush with the green of summer. And the language-schools students are a much more diverse group to watch. Plus it's amusing to watch them trying to speak Chinese .

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Gallery: Visitors to Vermont

We've been fortunate to have a number of visitors to Vermont in the past few months. We're honored they took the time to come north. From top:

* Ross Eisenbrey (my college roomie), right, and his wife Barbara Somson, along with the Blogster.

* My brother, Kevin, and his wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Clara, at Bristol Falls. They were here for a lovely weekend in July that included golf, fishing, biking and multiple swimming holes.

* Karen with Roz Avnet (center) and her daughter, Judy Avnet Murphy, on the Middlebury College campus. They celebrated their birthdays with an April visit.

* Kathi Olsen with Karen, at Eat Good Food, in Vergennes. Kathi was here to celebrate her birthday for several hot June days. Also here overnight were Kathi's daugher, Ahna, and Ahna's beau, Robert. No pix of them. It was hot and we were brain dead.

* Donna Todd and the Blogster, on the bench outside the Warren Store. We jointly celebrated Donna and Karen's birthdays. (Do I see a theme emerging?) For more on Donna's visit, see http://donnainvermont.blogspot.com.

Coming soon: Susie Panitz Fillion and hubbie Tom. No pix of Susie's July visit due to further heat-induced brain-deadness. But she and husband Tom will be back in late August to deliver their son, Abel, to Middlebury College where he'll be a first-year (as his parents and Ross and I were in 1970, back when they were called "freshmen.").

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Blogel

What's a blogel? It's a novel in blog form. The word recently popped into my brain, though I doubt I invented it. Having no aspirations to write the Great American Novel, I've always thought it would be fun to try to serialize something in novelistic fashion. Stay tuned for the actual story set in Centerville,Vt. In the meantime...

Notes on blogel characters:

Gustavo Deadhead -- He once had a promising journalistic career. But he flamed out in his late 30s and has been struggling to find a writing identity ever since. Or just an identity, period. He's hoping that his recent move to Vermont will provide professional inspiration, but most people don't think he still has it him (not that they ever did). A PR hack and generally likable muddlehead. If all else fails, he can always make a living growing Vermont Green.

Ira and Tracy Tantrum -- A former artist, Irate Ira has settled down to a life of curmudgeonly opposition to all things progressive. If a Democrat once advocated it, he's against it. She's moved on from midwifery to growing organic food, but most of their cash comes from mutual funds invested in tobacco companies. The latest advance in their life is indoor plumbing in the old farmhouse where all five of their kids -- and a number of their cows -- were born.

Daniel Dickinson -- Once known as the student at Centerville College most likely to commit three axe murders, 30 years later he's recently returned to town but no one really knows why. He's inclined toward uninvited five-minute rants espousing whenever Rush Limbaugh's latest cause is. Everyone in Centerville is just glad he hasn't committed any murders.

Judd and Anna Meetings -- He went from being an environmental lawyer to a judge appointed by Sen. Layme, Vermont's reigning progressive politician. But now Judd -- yes, he was Judge Judd -- has retired to a farm in Sanctuary, north of Centerville, where he raises sheep and makes smelly cheese that sells in high-end Boston markets, the kind that are patronized by failed presidential candidates' wives from Brookline. Anna spends most of her time supervising a social service agency, where she pretends that she doesn't feel superior to her agency's poverty-stricken and poorly educated clients.

Henri Verlaine -- A third-generation Vermonter whose family came down from Québec rather than starve to death, Henri makes his living picking up odd jobs. He loves Dale Earnhardt Jr. and would much rather be watching NASCAR than actually working. In the winter, his favorite hobby is driving across frozen Lake Champlain to the Wal-Mart on the New York side of the lake.

Harley Hazard -- Previously a network radio executive, he's retired to a farmhouse and small pond up in the hills of the town of Polk (named after one of the nation's several fourth-rate presidents). From Polk he broadcasts down onto an unsuspecting populace using the airwaves of WDRT (slogan:"We Love to Roll around in It"). WDRT features a mix of reggae, rural funk, folk singer types (in Richard Ruane's memorable phrase, "well-meaning folks with guitars"), and obscure discs from the 1920s that sound like one of Harley's goats chewed on them before he put them on the air.

All this and more as life unfolds in and around happy Centerville, Vt.

Think Globally, Eat Locally

PHOTO 1: It doesn't get any more local than having your own garden. Eliminate transportation costs and the air pollution associated with getting food to your mouth. Clean the air with green things. Eat healthy. This is a goldfinch's-eye view of a portion of my garden. Giant zinnias keeping company with broccoli and eggplant.

PHOTO: 2: Next-best local option, the Middlebury Farmers Market. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Marbleworks. Great food and crafts, free music and magic. My current favorites: Blue Ledge Farm goat's milk cheese, from Salisbury, and the lamb from Doolittle Farms, of Shoreham. (Vergenes also has a small Saturday morning market.)

There's a bumper sticker that declares, "Be a Local Hero: Eat Locally." It's on the car of my friends Winslow (http://www.windesign.net/) and Joanna Colwell (http://www.ottercreekyoga.com/). He's a talented graphic artist. She's the latest in a string of several outstanding yoga teachers from whom I've been lucky enough to take classes. Together they are, among their many community activities, promoting the Middlebury Farmers Market.

Once a vegetarian, Joanna has taken the position that, given what is happening to Vermont (being carved up into 10-acre estatelettes as 200 years of agriculture goes down the drain) the responsible environmental and land-use thing is to eat locally. The more we can consume of what's raised and grown here, the more likely we are to keep the beautiful openness that surrounds us, rather than see it turned into Connecticut.

This section is a resource for how to Eat Locally and Digest Globally -- whether it's locally raised lamb and goat cheese, Chris Granstrom's mid-Vermont wine (http://www.lincolnpeakvineyard.com/ ), Bill McKibben's excellent new book, Wandering Home, on walking from Ripton, Vt. to the Adirondack Mountains (http://www.billmckibben.com/), or just the local farmers market.

Here's author and blogger James Howard Kunstler, who lives in upstate eastern New York not far from Vermont, on how even the New Urbanists don't understand the pressing need to grow and eat local, especially as the oil runs out:

"I gave a talk at the closing session of the annual Congress for the New Urbanism in Pasadena on Sunday. My message was one that readers of this blog are familiar with -- namely, that we are sleepwalking into desperate circumstances largely determined by our addiction to oil, our supply of which mostly comes from distant lands full of people who hate us, et cetera. I will not bore you by rehearsing this theme further today. Now, the CNU members have generally been among the most forward-looking citizen-activists on the scene for a decade. They certainly recognize the many deficiencies of our drive-in dystopia, apart from the oil issues, and have been working to remedy it. But they don't really believe what I said to them.

"The sad truth is that they are addicted to the same economic mechanisms as the sprawl-meisters: the production home-builders (so-called), the great mortgage mills of the conglomerate banks, and the real estate "industry" (also so-called.) So they don't want to hear that these "sectors" of our economy are not going to make it. They don't want to hear about the necessity to downscale America anymore than the grifters who develop the WalMart power centers want to hear about it.

"But we are going where circumstances are taking us whether we like it or not. We have to make other arrangements -- and I mean really different from the way we live now, not just tweaking the municipal codes and building slightly better housing subdivisions and squeezing chain stores under the condominiums and hiding the parking lots behind the buildings. I hope the New Urbanists come around. They have a whole lot of very useful knowledge that will allow us to make our derelict towns habitable while we re-assign the remaining countryside for growing the food that we need locally." [more at http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/clusterfuck_nation/]

Between the Lines

[This is a regular column of musings on Vermont life. Here's the latest]:

I’ve spent most of the past 30 years driving in Southern California, where the traffic is thick as a Vermont icicle in January. But because most of San Diego County was built for automobiles rather than people, the traffic flow there does have a certain pleasing logic, when it isn’t undergoing outright atherosclerosis.

So let’s get this out of the way: My qualifications for expounding on Middlebury’s traffic woes are negligible. I've been back often on vacation, but I haven’t spent the past 30 years waiting to turn left across Route 7 traffic outside the Middlebury Inn, as I’m sure some Midd residents must feel they have. My hearing hasn’t dimmed over time as my ears take in the echoing roar of bulk-milk trucks thundering through downtown, their diesel drone echoing off the brick walls of the visually pleasing but traffic-challenged Main Street.

Yet it must be said: While Addison County has become an even finer place to live in the 28 years I was lost in the SoCal wilderness, the one thing that has quite obviously grown worse is the traffic.

It’s especially striking that in a town where civic involvement is regarded as a birthright – and is blessed with an informed and lively body politic –no one even seems to be talking about the traffic these days. There’s virtually no recognition, or at least no current discussion, about how the infrastructure to deal with the seemingly endless parade of vehicles is crumbling right before our eyes, and beneath our tires.

It’s as if the traffic was even more intractable than the weather. At least people still talk about the weather.

A bit of perspective: It’s still, usually, possible to make your way through town in predictable fashion. A stop here to let a parked car out into the flow; easing back on the throttle there to wave another care car out into what would otherwise be an impenetrable intersection for a driver who could wait for 10 minutes before she could turn left. We generally struggle through.

By comparison, a friend of mine who lives north of San Diego reports that it recently took him more than 4 hours to make the trip north to Los Angeles – a journey that’s under 2 hours without traffic -- for a Bob Dylan concert. (Worst of all, they missed Merle Haggard’s opening set).

But I have to say that I’m scratching my head over the fact that the only apparent traffic
improvement since 1976 is the addition of a single stoplight on Route 7. and the light wasn't even added where it was obviously needed, in front of the Congo Church where drivers risk dismemberment when they turn from Main Street north onto Route 7.

Instead, the light is north of the Green near the Swift House. Its presence doesn’t do anything to ease the glacier that is Route 7. But it has the signal advantage of making it easier to get back out onto 7 -- after you’ve completely circumvented downtown from the college side (Weybridge Street to Pulp Mill Bridge Road, across the shaky wooden bridge, past Greg’s Market – no relation – and back onto 7 courtesy of the “new” light.

Other than that, it’s the same old tangle. Court Square poses a particularly galling mess as cars and an interminable parade of big trucks (the price of country living) wend slowly around the square, past the inn, splitting and merging around the Green. On busy days for the College, this tangle mixes with the slow-and-go along Main Street across the Battell Bridge and up toward campus. It often takes 10 minutes to cover a stretch you could easily walk in 5.

So what? Everybody’s got traffic problems, right?

True enough. But it is the Curse of Middlebury, even more than in big-city Burlington and certainly more than most other Vermont towns, that the traffic detracts significantly from what is otherwise an utterly beautiful village.

It’s not just the long trek to cross town. It’s not just the noise or the visual blight of cars backed up halfway to East Middlebury. It’s the sense of humans overwhelming their natural surroundings in a way that separates and alienates us from that environment. That’s a blessedly rare phenomenon here, and therefore all the more ugly when it’s a frequent feature of local life.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who lives here that the real mess is south of Court Square. When the elementary and high schools let out, the mistimed lights, school kids, trucks, shoppers headed for the supermarket, and all manner of other human intercourse combine in one giant, inert worm of vehicles.

The folks who plan local highway “improvements” have also been doing their fair share to worsen the Midd version of Nightmare on Court Street. This spring the highway crews have been repaving Route 7 toward the south. And in their wisdom – recognizing the highway is already too narrow to handle the load to which it is regularly subjected – they’ve gone about *further narrowing* the highway so the traffic will back up even farther.

Are there any solutions out there?

To her credit, Select Board member Peg Martin (who ought to get a crown for all the work she’s done on Middlebury’s behalf over the years) had the guts to say at Town Meeting this year that it really was past time to plan and build another bridge over Otter Creek. Without some serious spending that the town isn’t prepared to undertake, the wooden Pulp Mill Bridge will one day soon be a charming and unusable relic. And the Battell Bridge, the magnificent falls beneath, is for miles to the north and south the only other way across Vermont’s longest river. Another bridge is an obvious necessity but it’s years away. Necessary but distant.

It used to be that the easiest way to start a fistfight here was to campaign for a Route 7 bypass around Middlebury. Its attraction in terms of (at least short-term) traffic relief is obvious, as Manchester, Vt. residents will tell you. But the options are limited and the political will just isn’t there. Everyone seems to have given up on such a Big Fix.

The College still holds enormous sway here, and to preserve the stunning views from campus, it has bought up much of the land to the west of the campus – geographically the easiest route for a new highway around town. The College won't sell that land for a bypass, and no local Slect Board would condemn it for a highway. To the east, Route 116 is slowly filling in with new homes as the farmland goes fallow and is sold to out-of-staters such as myself. (For the record, we bought a home just west of Route 7, an empty in-fill lot for which no farmland was tortured killed.)

And so we sit here stewing in our own fumes, and the fumes produced by visitors who have come ironically, come here to get away all the traffic.

[Any thoughts on all this? Please post yours to the blog by clicking the link.]

Vermont Travel Stories


1. Norton Latourelle of Norton's Gallery (see "In the Middle of Leaf Season," below the first article.)

2. Exploring one of Vermont's many swimming holes. (See first article)

[These are old travel stories of mine that appeared in various Sunday newspaper travel sections around the U.S. I think they're mostly still accurate, but your mileage may vary.

Down by the Old Vermont Swimming Hole

WARREN, Vt. -- Vermont is better known for its frigid winters than its balmy summers.

But from early June through late September, the Green Mountain state is a summer playground. And what better place to play than down at the old swimming hole?

Thousands of streams have carved out the spectacular mountain countryside that typifies Vermont. These same streams, coursing coolly through from peaks to valleys, offer hundreds of easily accessible places to while away a hot summer day.

Point to any spot on the state map, and you're probably within a few miles of a respectable place to swim.

But few other places offer the combination of rural delights and sophisticated accommodations that can be found in the Sugarbush Valley villages of Warren and Waitsfield, and over the mountain spine in nearby Bristol.

A (mad) river runs through it

Route 100, the main north-south road through the middle of Vermont, follows the twisting course of the Mad River (so named, according to local lore, because it runs north rather than the usual southerly direction).

Not surprisingly, the region's best swimming holes are on the Mad River near this two-lane blacktop.

The Lareau swimming hole, named after the nearby Lareau Farm Country Inn, is among the best known spots for a dip. But even on the hottest days, a "crowd" constitutes eight people and a couple of dogs.

The most popular activity is diving off the eight-foot-high rock on the opposite side of the Mad River, which is here perhaps 30 feet wide and from two feet to 10 feet deep.

The second-most popular activity seems to be throwing dogs off the diving rock. And it must be said that the dogs appear to enjoy it.

Guests at the Lareau Inn and the Featherbed Inn just up the road can walk to the swimming hole. Others will have to bike there or drive to the turnoff on the east side of the road, about a mile south of Waitsfield.

Six miles south of Waitsfield lies Warren and the charming Warren Store.

The falls there are popular for a quick dip and a picnic of comestibles from the store's excellent deli.

Bristol Falls, another fine swimming hole, lies over the top of the Green Mountains and down into Bristol. It's well worth the drive for the swimming at the end, the deep greeny silence of the woods along the way, and a meal at Mary's, which many rate as among the best restaurants in New England.

There are two ways to get to Bristol Falls. The longer route (about 15 miles) is over Appalachian Gap on Route 17. Where Route 17 meets Route 116, turn left on 116 toward Bristol, then about two miles down, turn left again onto New Haven River Road. The falls lie a few hundred yards upstream, accessed from several turnouts.

The shorter, steeper and altogether more satisfying route (about 10 miles) is to go from Warren up the Lincoln Gap Road. From the gap, drive down through the lovely high-country town of Lincoln and along the New Haven River Road to just before the junction with Route 116.
Bristol Falls offers gentle paddling areas for kids, a long stretch of river to swim in, and the challenge of swimming upstream against the current near the falls.

Again there are two daredevil options: diving off from the top of the falls (near the remnants of old water wheels that once supplied mill power) or walking up into the long, cave-like area behind the falls. For the latter activity, river sandals or sneakers are recommended on the slippery rock.

Whatever option you choose, make sure to allow time to stop at Mary's at Baldwin Creek, just north of the intersection of Route 17 and Route 116.

The menu features innovatively prepared meals, often with Vermont touches such as maple syrup seasoning, along with vegetarian cuisine.

The current form of the establishment represents what is, in Vermont terms, a startling break from tradition: The restaurant moved out of Bristol village some years ago to its present, larger location.

Unchanged except for the slow wearing away of the rock, however, are the old swimming holes that make this part of Vermont so appealing in the heat of a New England summer.


The Featherbed Inn, near the Lareau swimming hole on Route 100, is a nicely restored, centrally located farmhouse with attractive rooms.

The Lareau Farm Country Inn is a bed-and-breakfast that also serves popular meals of flatbread pizza (about $10 per person including a beverage) in a converted barn on Friday and Saturday nights. Inn guests can access two semi-private swimming holes on the Mad River, including one for skinny-dipping.

Another good choice is Beaver Pond Farm Inn, in a converted farmhouse adjacent to the scenic and challenging Sugarbush Golf Course, with especially good breakfasts.

In the Middle of Leaf Season, in Middlebury, Vt.

By Gregory Dennis

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- A riotous display of changing leaves, which ignites Vermont every autumn, tempts travelers to wander the entire state.

But savvy visitors stake out a home base from which to discover the nooks and crannies of the Green Mountain State.

There's no better base for exploring Vermont than Middlebury. This lovely, lively town is, appropriately, in the Middle of Vermont, about four hours from Boston and six hours north of New York City.

The shire town of Addison County -- which bills itself "the land of milk and honey" -- Middlebury provides easy access to "leaf-peeping" in the nearby Green Mountains, or to splendid drives through the quilted patterns of farms and forests that make up the Champlain Valley.

Mid-September to mid-October is the classic time to visit Vermont, and for good reason. The intense reds and yellows of sugar maples shine forth with a luminescence that film cannot capture, and every last warm, sunny day seems like an extra gift from the gods before the onset of winter.

Vermonters celebrate the season with special fall events, which draw upon their rural heritage and a modern tradition of fine arts and crafts.

The agricultural way of life that has shaped Vermont's long history still flourishes around Middlebury. Side-by-side with the farms that preserve Vermont's open spaces live many people from "away," former flatlanders who have come to love the rural way of life -- and who have brought with them a taste for the arts and city-style sophistication.

The blending of these two cultures is what makes the Middlebury so special -- backcountry New England charm just around the bend from fine food and stylish accommodations.

The town has been shaped by an influx of people drawn by the presence of Middlebury College, one of the nation's best liberal-arts schools.

The college is one of several reasons why Middlebury is included in "The 100 Best Small Towns In America," published by Simon & Schuster.

The village grew up around the mills along Otter Creek, which cuts through the center of town, and daily life still revolves around the creek and the nearby green.

The Vermont State Craft Center is housed in the old Frog Hollow building, with an eye-catching view of the thundering falls that once turned mill wheels. There's excellent shopping for gifts, clothing and books, in restored mill buildings along the creek and on two sides of the village green. Walks from downtown lead to small parks or into neighborhoods with nicely restored 19th-century homes.

When you're tired of walking, you can retire to one of several restaurants along Otter Creek. The outdoor decks at Mr. Ups and Tully & Marie's are favorite haunts in fair weather, where lucky diners might even catch a glimpse of the otters that have returned to the creek in recent years

The town is the jumping off point for many activities that are easily accessible to visitors.
The nearby college golf course, for example, is open to the public.

Outlying villages such as Cornwall and Shoreham are favorite destinations for bicyclists who enjoy the moderate terrain, and for motorists looking for antique shops and galleries. In Shoreham, visit woodcarver norton Latourelle's marvelous studio in farmlands near Lake Champlain and the ferry to For Ticonderoga (www.nortonsgallery.com).

The poet Robert Frost spent many years in the Middlebury area. His land is the site of a lovely nature trail that has signs featuring excerpts from his poems. To get there via a lovely 25-minute drive, take Route 7 south from Middlebury and turn east on Route 125 up into the mountains.

For a taste of Vermont mountain charm, head from Middebury to the Sugarbush Valley towns of Warren and Waitsfield. It's about an hour's drive, through Bristol and then up over the spine of the Green Mountains. Most travelers ascend Appalachian Gap on Route 17.

The Warren Store near the little town's covered bridge sells stylish clothing and that day's edition of the New York Times, in a century-old building with creaky wood floors. A food case that would do a New York deli proud is located near a display of wool socks, hunting caps and other general-store items.

The Md River and Sugarbush Valley has enough antique shops and crafts stores to keep even the most avaricious shopper busy for several days. But the best pleasures are to be found outside.

The Sugarbush Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. with tree-lined fairways and challenging water holes, is not far from the Sugarbush South ski resort. Reservations are recommended on autumn weekends.

Sailplanes soar aloft from the Warren Sugarbush Airport, weather permitting. A favorite soaring route passes over the top of Mt. Abraham, one of the state's highest peaks.

To reach the summit with your feet on the ground, take the Lincoln Gap Road from Warren to the Long Trail, which runs the length of the state. A moderate three-hour climb will get you to the top of Mt. Abe. The views from the top are especially breathtaking on a clear fall day.

For general information on the Middlebury area, contact the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, 2 Court St., Middlebury, Vt. 05753 (800) 733-8376. For information on the Sugarbush Valley, contact the Sugarbush Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 173, Waitsfield, Vt. 05673 (800)-82-VISIT (U.S. and Canada).

Mary's Restaurant near Bristol is highly recommended. Dinner (reservations suggested) features seafood, game, and pastas, with a meal for two $25 to $50. Lunch offers crepes, vegetable entrees and salads and ranges from $15 to $30 for two. Mary's also has a full vegetarian menu, and the chocolate cheesecake dessert is worth the trip in itself. (802) 453-2432.

In Robert Frost's Footsteps:
Exploring Vermont's Northeast Kingdom

WESTMORE, Vt. -- As the autumn leaf-peeping season approaches, the Northeast Kingdom of the Green Mountain State is the best place to see what's left of old Vermont.

One early visitor to the Kingdom was the poet Robert Frost. In the summer of 1909, Frost and his family traveled north to spend the summer on the shores of a remote lake. An amateur botanist, Frost wanted to explore the untrammeled forests of northern Vermont and find some relief from his asthma.

An inn now occupies the property on Lake Willoughby where the Frost family spent that long ago summer in a tent.

If Frost were to return today, he would find much of the Lake Willoughby area to be as it was then. Lake steamers no long ply what Frost called Willoughby's "fair, pretty sheet of water." But the lake's fjord-like beauty, guarded by the towering heights of mounts Pisgah and Hor, continues to draw a small but dedicated coterie of visitors. Deep, untouched forests still line the edges of the five-mile-long lake, and the area has long inspired writers.

Though I had once lived for six years in Vermont, the Northeast Kingdom was largely unknown territory for me until several years ago, when my wife and I spent a few days there.
We decided to return again recently to revel in Lake Willoughby's lonely beauty. We also wanted to explore the wooded countryside of rivers, lakes, bogs, and hardscrabble dairy farms. The land is lined with valleys and villages that mix the state's rugged Yankee heritage with the gentrifying influences of flatlanders.

As on our first visit, we chose a lakefront cottage at the WilloughVale Inn for our base camp. It was on this property that Frost and his family had stayed, providing inspiration for "A Servant to Servants" and other poems.

We had ambitious plans to explore the countryside that Vermont novelist Howard Frank Mosher ("Where the Rivers Flow North") has called "one of the last best places."

On our list were all the things we never got to during that first visit, including the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, a museum filled with 19th-century treasures and more than 3,000 stuffed animals in glass cases. We also hoped to amble down to Waterbury and take a tour of the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory, and we thought of crossing the border into French-speaking Canada for the day.

After seeing that cozy cottage on the lake with private dock, however, we grew immediately unambitious. We never did make it to any of those places, but we didn't regret it, either.

We had arrived on a warm day with a gentle breeze stirring Willoughby's fair sheet. Within minutes of unloading our bags, we were charging off the end of the dock and into the cool water.
Watching the light play across the twin peaks at the other end of the lake, we spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing and settling in.

Setting the pattern for our stay, dinner on our cottage's screened-in porch consisted of red wine and steaks. We used the inn's canoe to paddle the calm lake as darkness fell. Bats swooped harmlessly nearby, their faint sonars charting our craft's unusual shape.
By the light of a warm white moon, we guided our craft home, then topped off the day with dessert and a drink in the inn's nicely appointed taproom, across the road from our cottage.

While sticking close to Lake Willoughby's simple charms, over the next few days we did manage to sample a bit of our surroundings.

I spent part of every day fly-fishing. The lake itself is known for its landlocked salmon, but I was out for different quarry: the small denizens of Mosher's "icy trout streams draining north toward Quebec." The trout proved small but hungry.

One afternoon, inspired by Mosher's writings featuring a fictionalized version of the actual Brownington, Vt., we drove 10 miles to visit what was, long ago, one of Vermont's busiest hill towns. Brownington now consists of a few old buildings on a dirt road.

One of those buildings, however, has a special place in American history.

The Old Stone House was built by Alexander Twilight, believed to be the first African-American graduate of an American college and the nation's first black member of a state legislature.

Working largely alone, Twilight built the four-story stone structure to resemble the buildings at Vermont's Middlebury College, his alma mater. He used the building as a grammar school, and it now houses a terrific collection run by the Orleans County Historical Society.

The walking tour of the quiet Brownington Village Historic District begins at the Old Stone House and includes the Congregational Church, an old hotel, and the windswept but strangely welcoming graveyard where Twilight and his wife now reside.

When it came time to leave the Northeast Kingdom, we stopped at the lake's end on our way south to climb Mt. Hor. The summit is reached by a trail past beaver ponds and up through a verdant forest known for its autumn colors.

Heavy rain chased us off the slopes as we reached the top. Rather than be discouraged, however, we took this to be one more sign that we needed to go back again soon, to see more of Vermont's glorious Kingdom.


Events and attractions:

The Old Stone House Museum in Brownington (http://oldstonehousemuseum.org) is open daily in July and August, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Wednesday and Thursday in May, June, September and October. (802) 754-2022.

Ben & Jerry's 30-minute factory tours begin at 9 a.m. There's a $2 per person charge. Information: 866 BJ-TOURS, www.benjerry.com.com.

The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury is open daily year-round, with a $5 admission charge, $12 per family. The main hall housing the preserved animals features a 30-foot-high, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Info: (802) 748-2372 or www.fairbanksmuseum.org.


For information on accommodations including various lakeside cottages, contact the Greater
Lake Willoughby Chamber of Commerce, Box 578, Barton, Vt. 05822, (802) 525-1137.

To learn more about accommodations and attractions throughout the area, including a number of bed and breakfast inns, contact the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, 357 Western Ave., Suite 2, St. Johnsbury, Vt. 05819, tel. (800) 639-6379.

The WilloughVale Inn is in Westmore. It has four nicely decorated cottages, each with private dock and deck, perched on the lakeshore. The one- and two-bedroom cottages rent from $229 to $249 per weekend night, and from $1,398 to $1,478 per week.

The inn also has 10 comfortable rooms ($149-219 per weekend night, including an ample continental breakfast), a cozy bar, and a popular restaurant with good views of the lake and mountains. www.WilloughVale.com, R.R. 2, Box 403, Westmore, Vt. 05860, tel. (800) 594-9102.

Books and films:

"Willoughby Lake: Legends and Legacies" by Harriet F. Fisher tells the story of the lake's history and Robert Frost's visit. The book is published by the Orleans County Historical Society, tel. (802) 754-2022.

One of Howard Frank Mosher's novels, "Where the Rivers Flow North," was made into a movie, now available on video and starring Rip Torn, Michael J. Fox and Treat Williams. Mosher's other books include "A Stranger in the Kingdom," set in a fictionalized Brownington and inspired in part by Alexander Twilight's life. http://www.authorsontheweb.com/features/summer03/mosher_howard_frank.asp