The deer are bold this time of year. Bold and hungry.
Every day at dawn and dusk I watch the deer of Craftsbury Common emerge from the pines to nose around in sunny, wet patches of the pasture. Soon there will be a runaway explosion of green and the deer will turn shy again, hiding their new fawns in tall grass at the edge of the meadow, but for now they are out in the open, half-starved and throwing caution to the chill spring winds.
Living in close connection to the seasonal rhythms of the land is part of the joy of making a home in Vermont. Over time, I find myself falling into a daily routine that’s woven together with the comings and goings of wildlife. I love to greet the deer as I start my morning run, and I catch up on the gossip of red-winged blackbirds as I make my way up Mountain Hill Road. Even the resident skunk and I have developed an understanding, pausing to acknowledge one another when we cross paths before hastily going our separate ways.
Cultivating attunement with non-human creatures is all about slowing down and paying attention, and for me this involves shifting gears, deepening my breath, and adjusting my sense of scale.
Vernal pools, for example, can seem like whole worlds unto themselves if you sit and watch them up close for a while. Amphibians and insects breed in these ephemeral wetlands, which occur seasonally in forests in the spring. There’s an opportunity coming up to explore vernal pools with an expert herpetologist on April 28th, when the Vermont Land Trust will host a kid-friendly Vernal Pool Workshop in the woods of Worcester, just north of Montpelier. The event is free, but space is limited, so be sure to register ahead of time.
Most Vermonters are accustomed to living alongside wild animals, but few are fully aware of the presence of fairies, sprites, and other spirit creatures of the Green Mountains. On April 20th at Mountain Hollow in Craftsbury, folks will have a rare chance to learn about the habits of Vermont fairies when Morgan Stark of Green Witch Healing Arts leads a Fairies and Crafting Spring Magic workshop, complete with construction of fairy houses and fairy wands.
Also on April 20th in Craftsbury is the Mud n’ Ice Quadrathlon, a gritty celebration of endurance that involves cross-country skiing, mountain biking, canoeing, and trail running. If Mud ‘n Ice sounds a little too hardcore, mark your calendar for June 1st, when the Craftsbury Outdoor Center hosts a Beer Run Half Marathon. Runners will follow scenic dirt roads and trails from the Outdoor Center to Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro. Can you imagine how good a fresh draft of Edward will taste when it hits the back of your throat after a 13 mile run? Mmm mm.
This is becoming a Craftsbury heavy edition of Today’s Vermont, so let’s branch out a little bit, shall we, and venture down the road to Hardwick, where Vermont Vaudeville will put on their spring show “The Cream of the Crop” at the Hardwick Town House on May 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Vermont Vaudeville shows are so hilariously funny that I guarantee your face will hurt from laughing by intermission. Buy your tickets early ‘cause they sell out, show up at least half an hour before showtime to get a good seat, and know that audience participation is expected. Harrumph!
Truth is, there are a ton of things to do in the Northeast Kingdom and in other rural parts of Vermont, which brings me to a little bit of a rant...what’s up with the perception that Vermont is too expensive a place for young people these days? There’s a lot of hand-wringing about young people leaving Vermont, and I get that rents are high in and around Burlington, but I see countless opportunities for folks to live full and inexpensive lifestyles in other wonderful Vermont towns.
Take Saint Johnsbury, for instance, home to Saint Johnsbury Academy - the finest high school in Vermont - as well as cherished cultural institutions like Catamount Arts, Saint Johnsbury Athenaeum, the Fairbanks Museum, and the Whiskey Den on Eastern Avenue.
A quick look at real estate listings in St. J turns up some super affordable properties with potential for rental income. 125 North Ave, for example, is a 3 unit building listed at $94,500. I actually lived across the street from this building for a couple of years, and loved being able to walk to the shops on Railroad Street and to the Academy on Main. Sure, it’s not fancy, but you could live in one unit, rent the other two, and spend your weekend afternoons writing a novel at the Athenaeum, riding Kingdom Trails up in East Burke, or playing golf at St. Johnsbury Country Club. On the other side of town you’ll find 171 Pearl Street, a solid duplex with lovely porches that was just listed by my friend Tim Scott for $145,000.
Bennington is another affordable Vermont town with proximity to outdoor adventure, a sweet downtown, and plenty of homes for sale in the $120,000 range. If I was going to hunt for houses in Bennington I would base myself out of the Four Chimneys Inn, an elegant property in the historic neighborhood of Old Bennington, just down the road from the final resting place of Robert Frost. The Four Chimneys Instagram feed is on point - gorgeous photos with a classic New England feel and personal captions that give a window into the life of a Vermont innkeeper - @fourchimneysinn.
I get it, though. For many people, Chittenden County is the most exciting part of Vermont, and the Queen City of Burlington has just enough of an urban vibe to attract folks who might otherwise choose to live in Berkeley or Boulder.
I’ve heard Burlington referred to as “The West Coast of New England”, and although it’s not quite California, there is a surfing community to be found on the shore of Lake Champlain. Burlington Surf Club is the place to chill on the beach with beautiful people, rent paddle boards and windsurfing gear, and take in views of the Adirondack Mountains. The club is located next to a former oven factory that’s in the process of being converted into a large, uber-hip campus for tech companies and their discerning, highly mobile, 10X employees. Both the Surf Club and the development, known as Hula, are brainchildren of Russ Scully, a surfer and an entrepreneur - with seemingly limitless financial resources - whose projects were recently the subject of a fascinating profile in Seven Days. You won’t find any of that in the NEK.
Burlington also has a wealth of amazing restaurants. I love going to Juniper, a lively gathering place run by our friends at Hotel Vermont. Juniper is the perfect spot to soak up the bright, happy buzz of the city on a weekend evening. Honey Road, on the corner of Church and Main, is another stellar Burlington restaurant. Chef-owner Cara Chigazola Tobin, a self described “part-time forager and farm enthusiast” is in the running for the Best Chef: Northeast James Beard Award, and last year her restaurant was a James Beard semifinalist in the category of Best New Restaurant: Northeast.
I already loved Honey Road for serving up the most mouth-watering Eastern Mediterranean food that I’ve encountered outside of Aleppo and Amman, but this evening, while listening to the excellent podcast Rumble Strip Vermont, I learned that Honey Road helps underwrite the program, and so I fell in love with the restaurant a little more. When you go, be sure to order plenty of pita, and use it to scoop up delicacies like Muhammara, a toasted walnut and red pepper spread, perfectly spiced babaganoush, and a particularly heavenly dip made from whipped Vermont goat cheese.
Finally, I learned today that the first week of May is Vermont’s Abenaki Recognition & Culture Week. From May 2nd - 6th the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum will host an Indigenous Film Festival, showcasing films about the Abenaki people and their traditions, accompanied by conversation with Abenaki citizens. I’m especially interested in checking out "Wabanaki: Where the Sun Rises", a documentary by Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, which is showing on May 6th at 6 pm.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Burlington? Have you stayed at a Vermont Bed & Breakfast that folks should know about? Ever get a kick out of watching salamander orgies? 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.