Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Town Boy Moves to the Country

You learn a lot when you leave the village and move to the country.

You stop worrying about when you'll cut the grass – and start worrying about how to get the haying done. You're no longer picking up sticks and leaves from a small patch of yard. Instead, you're chainsawing giant aspens that have come crashing into the meadow.

Several years ago, when my wife and I moved back to Vermont after too many years away, we bought a dream house in town. We weren't sure how quickly we'd readjust to cold gray days after living in a sunwashed, soul-free suburb. So we opted for the sleek newness of an architect's design and the skilled craftsmanship of young builders. Oakley Smith and Owen McClain had put their hearts into creating the place, and it showed in our splendid new home.

Compared to where we'd lived for so long, it was a palace. Radiant heat, vaulted ceilings, a bathtub big enough for two, bamboo floors, warm lighting and deep carpet.

The Middlebury green was a minute down the hill. There were ever-changing views to the majestic Adirondack peaks. We were all set.

And yet.

And yet the old Vermont called us.

Early last year, my wife started longing for something different. We'd come back to Vermont, she said, but the house didn't feel fully like Vermont to her.

When a friend mentioned that a house with some land on the northeastern edge of Middlebury was about to go on the market, she looked at it once and proceeded to persuade me that we had to have it.

Within three months we had taken on a second mortgage, and three months after that we had moved to the freshly refurbished, early-ranch-style house. It looked like it belonged in some other soul-free suburb -- except for the views and the openness and the almost scary amount of privacy and quiet.

We were just 3 miles from our former home. But now we were out where the road and the sly collide, where the Green Mountains rise like humpback whales from the green valley.

* * *
I once remarked to my dad that, having grown up in a small town in western New York, every time I hear a car horn honk, I still instinctively turn to see who's waving to me. In that small a place, you pretty much knew person everybody.

“You can take the boy out of the country,” my dad mused in reply. “But you can't take the country out of the boy.”

And so in some ways I was already a country boy at heart when we moved out of town. Nonetheless, living amid woods and meadows is an entirely different order of magnitude of country living, compared to living in a small town.

These days I am learning, as Robert Frost put it, “the need of being versed in country things.”
For example:

· Splitting and hauling wood is a lot more involved, and a lot harder on the back, than sitting back to enjoy the results.

· The same goes for tending a sprawling garden, compared to having fresh salad every night.

· Getting snowed in isn't nearly as cozy as it sounds – at least not when it means you're missing a day of powder skiing.

· A woodchuck may look from a distance like a cute piece of scampering carpet. But give him half a chance and he'll turn your garden into compost.

· The same goes for deer.

· Addison County clay is stronger than any shovel.

· Having a septic system is vastly different from having town sewer services. When the state decides
to stiffen its septic regulations, get out your wallet.

· When people tell you to watch out for the poison ivy, they mean it.
Sometimes it feels like we've been adopted by angels. Steve and Nicole from QES, who helped the previous owner look after the property, have taken us under their wings, mowing and plowing and prepping the garden.
When the pipes froze after we got a new woodstove and didn't turn on the furnace for 10 days, the guys from Macintyre spent hours getting the pipes unfrozen and filled with fresh antifreeze. They barely charged us for all their hard work. Maybe they felt sorry for us.

As we watch the seasons revolve around us – meadow to lush summer green, then to brown and white, a nesting woodcock along the drive, a fox's den 50 feet into the piney woods – we revel every day in this splendid semi-isolation.

It's a rural way of life. But only truly rural because this world we live in is so cultivated.
We're hardly hermits out here. A great comfort of contemporary country life, to be honest, is that town is so accessible.

With Carol's and the co-op and college just minutes away, we often, though temporarily, trade the country for the pleasures of town.

Even Thoreau regularly left his cabin for the village.

“When tired of trees,” Frost said, “I seek again mankind.”


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Blogger Sarah said...

Although I am not hardy enough to be a Vermonter, I can enjoy the rural Vermont life vicariously, through your blog. I have been fortunate to enjoy Vermont's fall colors and mud, the latter you can have!

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Blogger Rosemary Carstens said...

Hey Greg--I've lost your email address and can't find a contact on this site--but I know it's YOU. Please send me an email if you have my email address as I want to invite you to be a guest blogger. Rosemary Carstens

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