Postcards from Vermont, 1986

Wappingers Falls, New York, Wednesday, September 24, 1986

Our first vacation day was a delight. We drove north and stopped for lunch at a favorite Indian restaurant near Yorktown. Then we spent an hour walking through the wonderful outdoor sculpture collection at Storm King Mountain. They had some super Calders on loan that we hadn't seen before. The weather was perfect, with just a few trees showing some red or gold.

Then back across the river to Wappingers Falls and our motel (we always make the first day's drive short) and an hour browsing through a used book store, where I got hardbacks of two of my favorites plus some paperbacks I'd been wanting. That was followed by a light dinner and a trip to a nice bakery where we selected chocolate croissants for tomorrow morning's breakfast.

Rutland, Vermont, Thursday, September 25, 1986

Our chocolate croissant breakfast was delayed this morning, because of the fire alarm going off around 7. There was no fire, and we got to watch the firemen come rushing in, so everybody is happy.

We spent much of the day driving north, cutting through the corner of Massachusetts and on into Vermont. As we drove, the sky got bluer and bluer and the trees got more and more red and gold. It was gorgeous.

We stopped for lunch in Bennington, where we had very good quiche and then sat basking in the sun on a park bench, eating black raspberry ice cream.

Then on to Manchester Village, near Mt. Equinox, which we hiked up a few years ago. When we stopped at a favorite used book store there, I got a first edition of a Thurber that I've never even read. The nice young man who owns the store collects the Algonquin Round Table. He had just sold an autographed Mark Twain--just as well for our budget.

On to Rutland, to a really lovely motel built in a complex that used to be the trolley barn. I took a nap and Lee went exploring. He found another used paperback store, which we hit before having a nice steak dinner. Dessert was a chocolate Holstein. Vermont chocolate is definitely on its way up!

Ah, yes, I wanted to tell you about a sign in the cookbook section of that Manchester bookstore, a quote from Shaw: "The sincerest form of love is the love of food".

Lyndon, Vermont, Friday, September 26, 1986

Today was a quiet day, mostly spent watching the foliage and geology whizz by (lots of neat moraines!).

We drove east across the state to White River Junction and then north, stopping in St. Johnsbury (where all those trucks come from) for lunch. St. Johnsbury was named for Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, one of the French heroes of the American Revolution and the author of the first American novel. On an earlier trip, we stopped to take a picture of his monument for Madame Hoog, from whom we had taken an excellent course in the French participation in the American Revolution. After a couple of hours of looking around and talking to people, we decided that they've forgotten all about him, and there is no monument. However, they do have a very well preserved, incredibly Victorian Athenaeum, which we visited today so that Lee could show me the huge Bierstadt, The Domes of the Yosemite.

Then we were off further north, into Vermont's impoverished "Northeast Kingdom". First stop was Lyndonville, home of our very favorite used book store. The man thought we were never going to leave, but we got only two grocery bags full of books, hardly a record. We had a motel for the night in Lyndon (there is also a Lyndon Center and a Lyndon Corners). Lee went for a hike in Victory Bog, while I napped. He couldn't find the trail, yet again, but he did find a postcard for us to send Lyn Hadley. (We always send him a postcard from one of the Lyndons.) After a quiet dinner, we settled in to read some of our new books.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Saturday, September 27, 1986

Both the weather and the foliage today were the most spectacular yet. We spent the entire day either out-of-doors or driving about. In the morning, we went to "Victory in the Hills". This is a somewhat eccentric local fair in the two small towns of Victory and Granby. They began having the fair in the '50s to "celebrate" the fact that they were the only two towns in Vermont with no electricity. After a few years, they shamed the power company into bringing in electricity, but the celebrations continue.

We spent about three hours there. First was an exhibit of very old gasoline/kerosene engines. One was a wonderful machine for making wooden shingles. Another had made the longest wooden dowel in the world and was planning to try for a new record on Sunday. Another had a calliope attachment, so that one could play music while working.

There were lots of exhibits and sales of local crafts, including some spectacular quilts. We bought a number of exquisite Christmas tree ornaments, including a wonderful crocheted mouse for Sandra.

There was also lots of food. We ate hotdogs and freshly-pressed cider and homemade ice cream, and bought a supply of muffins and cinnamon rolls for our next few breakfasts.

We missed the horse pull, but saw the horses--enormous draught horses.

After that, we drove to Craftsbury Common, for the 19th annual Craftsbury Banjo Contest. It was held outside, on a gently sloping field with lots of splendid foliage about and was a great pleasure. It lasted the whole day, but we stayed only an hour or two and then drove on to the Stowe area.

We are now staying at Smuggler's Notch, which is a posh ski resort condo above Stowe. We have a gorgeous "luxury studio", with a kitchen and a fireplace with enough wood to satisfy even Lee (though he had to go out to buy matches). We'll be here for five nights.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Sunday, September 28, 1986

Breakfast this morning was at our dining table in front of a big window overlooking Mt. Mansfield.

Today was a rest day for me. (We learned some time ago that I can't keep up with Lee as a traveller, and the only way to keep me from getting tired and cranky is for me to take a day off now and then.) So, I spent the day mainly embroidering a cross-stitch copy of a Charley Harper print of a cardinal in the snow, which I've been wanting to do for a long time.

Lee took a trip to St. Albans, site of his favorite Civil War "battle", the St. Albans Raid. The Raid was the northernmost engagement of the Civil War. A group of Confederate officers who'd been in a prisoner-of-war camp in the North and who'd escaped into Canada got together and took the train down to St. Albans, where they robbed the banks, stole some horses, and rode back to Canada.

On his way back, Lee was going down some country lanes looking for a good place to gather kindling (he ultimately got two big bags full) when he spotted a Great Blue Heron that we want to go look for tomorrow.

For dinner, we went up over the Notch (interesting at night) and down into Stowe to a favorite Swiss restaurant, where the canonical dessert is a Matterhorn Sundae--sort of a hot fudge sundae, but with the sauce made from melted Toblerone.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Monday, September 29, 1986

Today was a bit rainy, so we decided to go west to Burlington, on Lake Champlain, to investigate the Champlain Chocolate Company, makers of those chocolate Holsteins.

First, though, we went looking for the heron Lee found yesterday, but had no luck. But that side trip took us through East Cambridge, which brought back delightful memories of another trip, about ten years ago. We had just bought our house and were looking for fireplace tools. We saw some we liked at a craft shop in Stowe, but they weren't exactly what we had in mind. Someone at the shop suggested that we go to East Cambridge to talk to the blacksmith and ask him to make what we wanted. When we got to East Cambridge, the grizzled old blacksmith and his three young apprentices were eating their lunch. They invited us to sit and talk with them while they ate. I remember that they were eating from beautiful hand-thrown pottery set on a lovely hand-embroidered tablecloth and that the tablecloth was even grimier than the blacksmiths, with the same sort of black grime. The blacksmith talked to us about what it was like to be an artisan today and how good he felt about being able to train the younger men and know that they'd be able to make a good living and be independent like him.

Then, he took us on a tour of his forge, which was housed in a series of barns across the road. He showed us his new automatic hammering machine, being operated by one of the apprentices, who was turning out 3 zillion pokers for Sears. Then he showed us his own work, which was really nice. The most memorable piece was a bot-bellied stove in the form of a dragon! One opened the mouth to put the wood in; the tail was the flue. It was quite a dramatic dragon, all covered with scales. He seemed surprised, but relieved, that nobody had ever wanted to buy it.

He had us describe our fireplace to him and said he knew just what we needed. A few weeks later the fireplace tools arrived and they were perfect.

We stopped for lunch (back to today) in Winooski, in a huge old textile mill on the Winooski River that has been made into shops.

We got to Burlington and found the Champlain Chocolate Company. We learned that they use Belgian chocolate, which spoke well for their Yankee ingenuity. The hallway into the factory store was covered with thank-you notes from schoolchildren who had been allowed to tour the factory and taste the wares. The factory was not large, smaller than one floor of our Computing Center. There was a window where we could watch them make truffles and cows. We bought a whole bunch of cows, a crate, in fact.

They were all thrilled to make such a big sale (it's quite a new company) and came out to help us load the cows into the car. Unfortunately, the car keys were in the trunk lid and fell into the trunk, which nobody noticed until after the trunk was closed. Since it's a rental car, we had only one set of keys. Everybody was helpful, though, and we soon got a new set made and were on our way.

We went east across the mountains (a lovely foggy pass) to Waitsfield, where we had a dinner of just potstickers at a Chinese restaurant we know there (and brought some home with us too). Then north to Stowe and across the Notch again and back to our nice little condo, where Lee has just built a "small" fire.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Tuesday, September 30, 1986

Today we took a foliage excursion on the Lamoille Valley Railroad, three and a half hours from Morrisville to Walden Station and back. We started out in a downpour, but had some sunshine when we reached higher elevations. The train climbed 1000 feet in ten miles--the whole trip was sixty miles. It had two engines, one at each end, because there is no longer a turning point at Walden. They hadn't expected to use both engines on the way up, but had to because the wet leaves made the track so slippery. The route was through lovely woods, following the course of the Lamoille River most of the way. The best part was that the rail line goes through the Fisher Bridge, which seems to be the only covered railroad bridge still being used. It's a truly beautiful bridge; the train slowed while we were going through it so that we could all examine the wooden trusswork inside.

The rest of the day was devoted to goofing off (instead of going Alpine sliding). The Stowe Alpine Slide is only a couple of miles from here, and it's been killing me that it's been too wet to use ever since we arrived. (A few drops of rain turns these slides into frictionless surfaces, so they won't let people use them.) The clouds seem to be rolling out now, so I'm hoping to spend tomorrow morning trying to set a new downhill record.

We've just had a nice dinner made in our little kitchen, and I'm about to curl up with a collection of Van Gogh's letters.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Wednesday, October 1, 1986

The Alpine slide was closed again today, so I took another rest day and lolled about while Lee went exploring. (It's really too bad for him to be married to somebody whose idea of a great vacation is to spend two weeks in bed reading.)

Late this afternoon, we went down into Stowe to hit another favorite bookshop (and the bakery next door) and a very good Vermont crafts shop. Lee spotted something at the craft shop that we both agreed would be a great Christmas present for our friend Peter. What a feeling of accomplishment!

We had a nice dinner in town and are now back up in our cozy condo. We leave Smuggler's Notch (or "Snugglers' Notch", as we've come to think of it) tomorrow morning and will be in Barre tomorrow night.

Barre, Vermont, Thursday, October 2, 1986

We spent most of today in Peacham, a very small town in the Northeast Kingdom. A group of 7 neighboring towns band together each year for a foliage festival. Each of the towns is host on one day of the week, and today was Peacham's day. Peacham was founded in 1776 by Col. Bayley, who was one of the builders of the Bayley-Hazen Military Road, another of Lee's hobbies. (This was a military "corduroy road" built through Vermont up toward the Candadian border during the Revolution for the purpose of invading Canada. The Bayley-Hazen Road is still negotiable for much of its length, though the corduroy is gone. Lee and his brother Lewis made the trip together some years ago.)

Peacham is a beautiful little town of about 500 people. They were serving cider and "sugar in the snow" and had put on an excellent crafts show. We got ourselves a lovely watercolor of red trillium and several jars of homemade jellies and some more Christmas tree ornaments (the one I like best is a beaver holding a chainsaw). We also found a nice crocheted box turtle for our little friend Patience, though it probably won't swim any better than the unfortunate box turtle who crawled out of the woods near her swimming pool a few weeks ago.

At 4, there was a New England boiled dinner served in the church basement. As it happened, the dinner was put on by the Bayley-Hazen Road Snowmobile Club. It was quite a good meal, and we had a nice talk with several people at our table.

The evening event was a concert by the St. Johnsbury Town Band. But before that there was a hymn sing-along in the church. The church is a big square white Greek Revival building left from Peacham's more prosperous days. It has a fine organ, and there was a very knowledgeable young organist playing hymns on request as people drifted in and sang along. The best part was when one of the trumpeters from the band showed up early, and he and the organist had a hymn jam session. (I always love organ and brass together.) They did rousing versions of Onward, Christian Soldiers and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, with everybody singing along. That was followed by a short discussion about whether the Methodists should or shouldn't have removed those two from their new hymnal.

The St. Johnsbury Band is strictly amateur--at one of their concerts a few years ago, we were astonished to see the bandmaster stop them a few bars into one piece and make them start over from the beginning. The band is made up of people from their teens through their 70's and is a very old institution--the third oldest band in the country--they've played for two presidents, Chester Arthur and Teddie Roosevelt. We enjoyed the concert very much and then headed through the dark and fog to our motel.

I spent every moment I could snatch during the day (including during some of the hymns) gobbling down a new book I got yesterday, The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science. It's about the discovery of the iridium layer at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary and the subsequent burst of theory-making about periodic extinctions and the possibility of a companion star to the Sun. It's by one of the people most involved, and is really about how science is done and what it's like to be there when a paradigm is being overturned.

Oh, yes, on our way to Peacham in the morning, we stopped in Plainfield, where there's another used bookstore that we've never before found open. (It's right across from the Lickety Split Ice Cream Shop.) It was open and had a very good selection of hardback SF, so we ended up with another grocery bag full. There was a sign outside saying that the shop was guarded by an attack cat, but it turned out to be exceedingly friendly, though it ran away for a while after Lee stepped on it. It had a coat pattern I'd read about, but never seen: it was a red tabby-point. That means that basically it would have looked like Morris, but it had also inherited the Siamese gene, which causes the pigments determined by the other coat color genes to be heat-labile, so that only the "points", the colder extremities (the nose, ears, and tail), have working pigments, and the warmer parts don't, so they are white. It was just an alley cat that the people had taken in, and they consider it to be simply a white cat.

Enough cat genetics.

Killington, Vermont, Friday, October 3, 1986

We left Barre this morning and headed west again through lovely wilderness areas. We stopped to watch a pair of Little Blue Herons. (We still haven't seen another Great Blue, which is too bad, since 4-foot-tall birds are rather impressive.) A while later we passed a really super beaver dam that had flooded quite a large area.

We stopped in Waitsfield for lunch and a trip through a particularly nice covered bridge. (Lee is a great covered-bridge freak). We, of course, have another favorite bookstore in Waitsfield and stopped there for a while and got just a few more books. (We've had to begin worrying about getting anything more into the car. Sandra started worrying days ago about our exceeding the weight limits on the covered bridges.)

Then on across the state to Rutland and up the hill to Killington. We had made reservations at the Inn at the Long Trail, which is right in Sherburne Pass. The Inn was built in the late 30's and is a lovely rustic lodge. The Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail run together from lower down in the state until a little ways north of the Inn, where the AT heads off toward New Hampshire and the LT keeps going north. The Inn is one of the places where "through-hikers" (people doing the whole AT) can have mail sent to await their arrival.

The Inn was reopened several years ago after having been vacant for several years. The day it opened, we had hiked up Pico, which is just across the road from the Inn. We stopped to get a Coke and a postcard after we got down, and the innkeeper chatted with us for a bit--a tree had fallen on their dining room roof the night before, and they were frantically trying to get things back together before evening.

Back to today: the plan had been to spend the afternoon on the Pico Alpine Slide, but it was wet and closed. Some of you will be relieved to hear that that was my last chance for Alpine sliding on this trip. I suppose that my elbows and knees are happy about not gathering any more scars, but it's really too bad. I was actually planning to wear protective garments this time, for a change.

So, I went to the Inn and slept through the eclipse while Lee went down to Rutland to visit our favorite eccentric publishing house, which also has a good used bookstore, with lots of geneology and history books. He got a reprint of General Lee's memoirs and was very pleased with himself.

We had a good dinner at a nearby restaurant we're fond of and then lay in bed reading and enjoying the Irish folksingers who were performing in the Inn just below our room. One of the things I read was a very interesting review in the current Scientific American of a book about water-power technology in this country:

The concept of the subdivision of power was first realized in American mills. The main shafts of waterwheel or piston engine generated power that traveled through a fantastic array of whirling leather belts linking wheeled shafts floor to floor, driving each loom or lathe. Although they were awkward, these high-speed flexible belting systems were more practical than the slow-geared schemes of earlier English mills, whose stone structures might or might not be rigid enough to retain the alignment of long shafts and cogwheels. It took a generation for English designers to accept "running a cotton mill by a strap".
The reason that this was particularly interesting was that we had seen exactly that concept in the old textile mill in Winooski where we had lunch on Monday. Our table for lunch was on a balcony in a room that had housed looms. From the ceiling were hung 8 or 9 ornate, highly polished brass fans that were clearly original. The fans were connected together in series by belts, and thus were all powered from a single source, which must originally have been the water wheel. Sitting there, it was easy to imagine all the machinery in the entire mill strung together in an intricate web of belts.

Princeton, Saturday, October 4, 1986

The plan for today was to hike up the Deer Leap Trail, which starts just behind the Inn at the Long Trail (Lee actually did part of it yesterday while I slept). However, it was raining heavily this morning and the fog was heavy and that trail has substantial sections of bald rock which wouldn't really be fun in the rain. So, since the homebody was longing to sleep in her own bed again and the rain appeared to have settled in for the weekend, we decided to head home. But, before leaving Killington, we stopped at a stand and bought a beautiful pumpkin for our front porch. We were home by six and are planning a very quiet Sunday, though we may sneak into work long enough to put chocolate cows on everybody's desk.

Love to you all,

Melinda Varian / Office of Information Technology / Princeton University / Melinda@Princeton.EDU
4 Oct 1986