Signs of Spring
By the middle of March, Vermonters are highly attuned to the earliest signs of spring.
Snowdrifts still line Mountain Hill Road here in Craftsbury Common, and my dooryard is a sheet of gravelly, wind-scoured ice. Even so, my attention is on the patch of blue sky above the Craftsbury Public Library, the clamor of crows as they wheel above the white pines, and the muddy ruts that have formed in the driveway during recent sunny afternoons.
Loyal readers will remember my fondness for Mud Season in Vermont, but it’s hard to stay patient during the cold and blustery days of March. For me, it helps to have plenty of dry firewood in the woodshed, a collection of Vermont guidebooks close at hand, and a tonic of garlic, horseradish, ginger, hot peppers, onion, and apple cider vinegar in the door of the fridge.
One of the aforementioned Vermont guidebooks on my desk at the moment is Off the Beaten Path: Vermont by Robert F. Wilson, a “guide to unique places” that was first published in 1992, although my edition was updated in 2009. The book is full of lovingly composed reviews of Vermont restaurants, most of which are either no longer in business or have seen several chefs come and go over the years, although write-ups of classic greasy spoon spots like the Blue Benn Diner, Al’s French Frys, and P&H Truck Stop could have been written yesterday. Perhaps a healthy flow of grease contributes to the longevity of Vermont restaurants? Sure seems like it might be so.
As I read through Off the Beaten Path, however, I was struck by the absence of information about the Abenaki people who are native to Vermont. In fact, one of the first lines in the book reads as follows: “It all started with the French Explorer...Samuel de Champlain.”
People, of course, were living in N’Dakinna, the place that we call Vermont, for millenia prior to European colonization, but although there are a couple of brief mentions of a historic Abenaki settlement near Swanton, the word Abenaki doesn’t even appear in the index of Off the Beaten Path. In all fairness to Mr. Wilson, he is far from the first writer to whitewash Vermont history and gloss over the rich traditions of indigenous culture in the Green Mountains. Indeed, lack of acknowledgement of Abenaki history and culture remains a problem to this day.
However, thanks in large part to the efforts of Abenaki leaders and educators like Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, and Melody Walker Brook, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, resources are available for folks who wish to learn more about Abenaki history and culture. One such resource is the The Abenaki Arts Association website, where you can find biographies of Abenaki artists, curricular resources, and information about upcoming cultural events. I would be grateful for advice about other resources and opportunities to learn more about Abenaki culture in Vermont.
Another Vermont guidebook that I’m devouring while pellets of snow whip past the windows is Fishing Vermont’s Streams and Lakes by Peter F. Camman, a thoroughly researched collection of fishing stories written in the accessible and engaging style of the legendary fishing writer Ray Bergman.
At the moment I’m savoring a chapter about the Battenkill River, one of the most storied brown trout fisheries in the world, and I even went so far as to browse through photos of this affordable 6-bedroom property in Arlington, just upstream from a deep, fishy-looking Battenkill pool. The house looks a little beat-up, but the photos show some gorgeous woodwork, there’s an attached apartment that seems perfect for rental income, and the whole property is listed for only $129,000. That’s a pretty sweet setup if your goal is to spend as much time as possible in the company of wild brown trout.
A more realistic way for me to indulge my love of fishing in Vermont this year would be a week in a lakefront cabin at Quimby Country in Averill, way up in the boreal forest of the Northeast Kingdom. The Quimby Country Lodge first opened in 1893, and the whole place is steeped in the rich history of an old-fashioned fishing camp. The lodge features an enormous stone chimney, and the lakefront cabins are named after vintage trout and salmon flies like Yellow May, Silver Doctor, and Parmachene Bell. These cabins are dog-friendly, and available for as little as $500 per week in early and late summer, when the fishing is at its best.
As I dream of long summer days that smell like brook water and garden soil, I also dream of being footloose, fancy-free, and able to contemplate a summer residency of simple living in a creative Vermont community. Some opportunities that I have my eye on include The Sable Project, which offers off-grid artist residencies in Stockbridge for $300 a month, and Birdhous, on 49 riverfront acres between Glover and Barton, an incubator space for farmers, artists, and digital nomads where you get an actual room and access to outdoor showers for $300 a month. Birdhous also offers forested tent sites via HipCamp for $18 per night - a perfect base for a pilgrimage to Bread & Puppet or Hill Farmstead Brewery.
There’s also A Center for Grassroots Organizing, in Marshfield, which is where I would head if I wanted to spend the summer growing massive amounts of squash, camping by a firepit in a meadow, and/or making plans to overthrow the carbon-fueled corporate kleptocracy while drinking yerba mate in the kitchen of a delightfully ramshackle farmhouse. In true revolutionary style, there is no mention of monthly rent on the Center’s webpage, though they are set up to take donations.
And yes, the skiing is still great this time of year. The resorts are running all kinds of spring skiing promotions. You can buy next year’s season pass for Bolton Valley and use it for the rest of this year’s ski season. Pond skimming contests are coming up soon. But - forgive me - this is a time of year when I’m tired of winter, ready for mud season, and indulging in fantasies of perfect Vermont summer days.
Do you have a favorite early spring destination in Vermont? How about a cherished warm weather Vermont activity? Join the conversation by using the hashtag #todaysvermont on social media. I’ll be back next month with a new edition of Today’s Vermont. Thanks, as always, for reading.