I popped into the Village Restaurant in Hardwick for a late lunch the other day and took a booth by the big window with a view of the Lamoille River. The midday rush was winding down, and a waitress had a hot cup of coffee ready as soon as I took off my gloves.
I was pretty sure that I recognized my fellow State14 contributor Brett Ann Stanciu finishing up her lunch in a booth across the room, and so I went over to say hello. Sure enough, it was Brett Ann - we shared a few compliments about each other’s writing, and I returned to my booth feeling grateful for this website, and for small Vermont towns.
A fellow about my age was also eating alone, facing me in a booth at the far end of the window. We chatted as we ate our cheeseburgers and fries, comparing notes about winter compost, garlic mulch, and the sudden, unseasonable thaw that had the Lamoille up in its banks and roaring with snowmelt.
I lingered a bit over my second cup of coffee. After a while, a man with a white beard sat down in the booth next to mine. He ordered coffee and four cookies - one for here, three to go, and when the waitress came by with his cookie she gave him a loaf of homemade zucchini bread and a Christmas cactus to take home.
I’m always touched by the warm-hearted hospitality of Vermonters, especially when folks who are hard at work make the extra effort to offer up some special kindness during the coldest time of year. This generosity of spirit is part of what I love about the culture of Vermont, and part of what I hope to share and celebrate each month in this column.
Here’s another example. On a cold winter night just before Christmas my family traveled all the way up Interstate 91 to the northern edge of Vermont for a holiday dinner at the Derby Line Village Inn, just down the road from the Canadian border. Fritz and Paula Halbedl reopened the 125-year-old inn in 2014 after Chef Fritz wrapped up an illustrious career as the senior executive chef for Royal Caribbean International cruise line. Fritz and Paula now live on the third floor of the inn with their chubby boxer dogs, who dine handsomely on restaurant leftovers. There are five elegant guest rooms on the second floor and the first floor is devoted to food and drink, with multiple dining rooms and a bar that serves the finest Austrian, German, and Vermont beers.
The place was packed when we arrived, and sparkling with decorations. Appetizers were as hearty as a full meal - German style potato pancakes, luscious slices of house-cured gravlox, pickled herring in cream sauce, house-made chicken liver pate, and spinach and goat cheese strudel. I ordered the wiener schnitzel as a main course (how could I not), and shared bites of maple-glazed salmon, tender swordfish, and homemade pasta with my family. I can only imagine how hard Fritz was working in the kitchen, but as we considered the dessert menu he emerged with his accordion and traveled from table to table, checking on each of his guests and playing Silent Night while everyone in the restaurant quietly sang along.
Generosity of spirit between neighbors is a Vermont tradition that I especially cherish, and I’m deeply fortunate to have wonderful neighbors here in Craftsbury Common. Last summer we had new neighbors arrive on Mountain Hill Road - Matt and Paula Moodie - who are moving to Craftsbury from Cabot with their two sons in order to be closer to skiing and mountain biking at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
Matt is a meticulous builder who specializes in fine timber-frame homes, and Paula is an expert organic gardener. The Moodies plan to build a small off-grid timber-frame just north of our land close to the spot where the Catamount Trail emerges from a stand of white pines. First, though, they hope to find the right buyers for their exquisite solar-powered homestead on 29 acres of land in Cabot, where they have lived and gardened for almost two decades. The property is for sale by owner at what I think is a very reasonable price: $309,000, especially when you consider the incredible care and attention to detail that Matt and Paula have put into every inch of their home and the surrounding orchard, chicken coop, workshop, no-till garden beds, and mature perennial plantings.
The photos on their website - Happy Homestead in Cabot - could be published as a stand-alone photo essay about the beauty of organic homesteading in Vermont. Heck, if I wasn’t so looking forward to having Matt and Paula as neighbors I might be inspired to move to Cabot myself.
I hope you’ve enjoyed “Today’s Vermont” and will return each month for more musings about special Vermont destinations and intriguing real estate listings. I certainly enjoy writing this column, and would love to hear from you with comments or advice.
Next month I’ll be heading to southern Vermont to explore the area around Stratton Mountain. Any travel tips for this Northeast Kingdom resident? Please let me know on social media by using the hashtag #todaysvermont. Thanks for reading.