Postcards from Vermont, 1987

Bennington, Vermont, Wednesday, September 23, 1987

Having worked on system accounting programs until after 1 this morning, we made even less effort than usual to get an early start, but finally took off around 11. We went up through New York State as far as Albany, zipping right past Mahwah, Pokie, Kingston, etc., without stopping to pay our respects. Being thoroughly Type A, I spent the entire trip sewing missing buttons on the great heap of shirts Lee has been stacking in my mending closet over the past several years. (I'm the only woman in the world who needs a whole closet for her mending.) It was a lovely day, and we turned right when we got to Albany, heading for Bennington, and saw our first black-and-white cows just before crossing the border into Vermont.

I sacked out as soon as we got to Bennington, but Lee went off exploring, eventually returning with some new books and a bright red flannel nightgown for me "so you won't be cold this winter".

We had dinner in a restaurant called Bennington Station, built inside the lovingly restored 1898 railroad station--lots of polished brass and Art Nouveau. Warm chocolate walnut pie a la mode for dessert. Then, back to our room to curl up with the yummy October Scientific American, the one devoted to computers.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Thursday, September 24, 1987

Today, we turned north, stopping first at Manchester. We hit the first bookstore before lunch, Johnny Appleseed's. Those nifty Roadside Geology books have now finally got an edition for Vermont, so we snapped that right up. We bought a few used books too, but were more restrained than usual. Then we went off for a delicious lunch in a restaurant Peter had recommended, after which we hit the second bookstore, where I found a Wodehouse I haven't read. Mmmmmm.

As we went north from Manchester, we began getting into some real color. We stopped in Weston, at the fudge shop (of course), where we were greeted by the guard cat, and at a crafts shop, where I got some wonderful Christmas tree ornaments, some very delicate blown glass pieces and a nice china Holstein.

The rest of the afternoon, we drove up Route 100, getting into brighter and brighter foliage as we went. We are now staying in a very posh condo above Stowe in the Smuggler's Notch area. It is a split-level townhouse, all oak and butcher block and terracotta tile, with balconies on both sides and an incredible view of the Notch. I could spend a week sitting in the livingroom looking out at the mountain.

Dinner was at the Swiss Pot in Stowe, after which we spent a couple of miserable hours trying to get the blessed computer to be 1200 baud and full-screen. We finally had to settle for 300-baud TTY. Sigh.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Friday, September 25, 1987

Lee went exploring this morning and I took a rest day. I had a lovely relaxed day, napping and reading and watching the mountain.

I've been gobbling down First Contact (Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson), a fascinating new book about the first contact between the New Guinea Highlanders and the outside world. A million people, who had been isolated for thousands of years and who thought the sky met the earth at the edge of their plateau, were suddenly thrust into the 20th Century when gold prospectors arrived in the 1930's. The book records interviews with Highlanders who remember the event and the struggle of their culture to absorb the changes.

Lee got back late in the afternoon, laden with fresh cider, homemade donuts, and a few more books. We went down to Stowe for a Chinese dinner and a performance of the musical I Do, I Do, which we really enjoyed.

Nice visual memories from the past few days:

Good presents we've found so far:

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Saturday, September 26, 1987

When we woke this morning, it was raining hard, so we had to cancel our Alpine sliding plans. Since we had received a number of enquiries as to whether we were going to return to the place that makes the chocolate cows, we decided to go up over the Notch and down to Burlington. We stopped at a good bookstore (of course) on our way. It had a "Hurt Penguins" section with a wonderful sign, a big bandaid across the Penguin logo.

After picking up a crate of cows, we drove back to Smuggler's Notch, stopping on the way at the Ben & Jerry's plant. Ben and Jerry make very good ice cream, and there was a long line of people standing in the rain to get some. The plant is being expanded, so there was lots of mud and mess. The signs explaining the mess started out, "Your Ice Cream Dollars at Work". They also have some nice cows in a pen, where people can pet them.

We came back up the hill and spent the afternoon and evening curled up in our living room reading, with the balcony door open so we could hear the rain and a nice fire in the fireplace.

I will try to be cautious on the slide tomorrow.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Sunday, September 27, 1987

It was bright and sunny and clear all day today, not a cloud in the sky. In the morning we went Alpine sliding. (An Alpine Slide is sort of like a bobsled run, without snow. You ride up the mountain on the chairlift, then slide down it on the slide. There are two or three narrow concrete troughs into which the sleds fit. The sleds are made of some sort of very hard plastic and have a wheel you can put down to make them go faster and a brake you can put down to make them go slower. If you ride the brake, it is an extremely tame trip. If you keep the wheel down the whole time and bend over to cut air resistance, it can be rather non-tame. The sleds do sometimes leave the track, and there are lots of rocks and trees out there. I never understood the thrill of speed before I took up Alpine sliding. Now I understand why people risk their lives in speedboats and such.)

It was a lovely day for being outdoors, but the crowds were rather thick, so we had to stop on the slide now and then for slowpokes. I got in only one completely flat-out run, and I'm not as fast as I used to be. I'm definitely out of practice, and don't corner as well as I used to. However, we did get through the morning with neither of us flipping our sleds. My ski hat flew off at one point and landed in the track and got run over by a couple of sleds before it was rescued by a nice man who was walking down the mountain.

(The best compliment I ever got was a few years ago when the dispatcher on one of the slides turned to Lee right after I took off and said, "Boy, your wife's a real daredevil!")

We had lunch at a nice inn at the base of the road up Mt. Mansfield. In the afternoon, we took the toll road to the top and then hiked along the ridge (talk about taking life easy!). The ridge is very interesting. Unlike most mountain tops we've hiked on, it's quite damp in places and has some interesting Alpine bogs. Even at 4000 feet, there were quite a few birds, flocks of little birds flittering about and ravens that we could hear but never see. There was also a very large glacial erratic boulder that had left grooves in the bedrock as it was dragged partly across the ridge. The views were magnificent, both to the east and to the west.

We had a quiet evening back in our townhouse, with a take-out Chinese dinner.

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, Monday, September 28, 1987

We've had a note from Jean that when she and Patience flew their little plane to Vermont this weekend, Patience wanted to fly around looking for us, but accepted Jean's lame excuse that she didn't know what color our car is. Next year, we'll paint a big "V" on top of it.

This was another rest day for me. Lee left early, map in hand, to go exploring. I had a very quiet and pleasant day, reading, napping, and embroidering. Lee drove north as far as the Canadian border and came back with a few more books and tales of even better foliage further north. We went back to the Swiss Pot for dinner, quiche followed by Matterhorn Sundaes.

I've broken the news to Lee that I expect to hit the Christmas ornament shop in Stowe before we leave town tomorrow morning. He took it philosophically.

East Burke, Vermont, Tuesday, September 29, 1987

We did hit the Christmas store before leaving Stowe, as well as the Vermont crafts shop, where we got some homemade peanut brittle for my father and some maple muffin mix for us. Then, of course, we made one last stop at the Ben & Jerry's plant, to get some nice Holstein mugs and a teddy bear with an ice cream cone (my office needs another teddy bear), and to sample a couple more flavors. (They have a "reverse chocolate chunk", that we haven't yet tried, but which must have been inspired by "reverse video"--I've been trying for a long time to figure out what the opposite of reverse video is.)

As we zipped across the state toward St. Johnsbury, the foliage became brighter and brighter, hillside after hillside of yellow and orange and red, punctuated by the dark green of conifers.

We lunched in St. J. and went book shopping in Lyndonville and then spent the afternoon driving around looking at foliage and geology. One really striking feature of the area is the Passumpsic Esker. (An esker is a "river" of sand deposited by a river that formed under a retreating glacier.) It's about 100 feet high, and its longest tributary is 24 miles. It is now cut in many places by roads and sand quarries, but is still quite impressive.

The inn we're staying at is on a little road near Burke Mountain, with wonderful views in all directions. The proprietor is a cheerful Swiss named Fritz. The inn has only 8 rooms, but the dining room has tables for many more people than that and reservations are needed, because Fritz, who comes from a long line of Swiss chefs, is a very good cook. The lobby of the inn has windows looking into the kitchen, just so people can watch the fun. Dinner this evening was really good: Raumschnitzel with braised Romaine and potatoes au gratin.

We are just about to settle down in our cheerful room right under the eaves. Rain tomorrow, but we really don't mind.

East Burke, Vermont, Wednesday, September 30, 1987

After a breakfast of Fritz's blueberry pancakes, we headed to the little town of Plainfield, to spend the day at their foliage festival. Yesterday was beautiful and sunny, but today it's pouring. The drive to Plainfield was lovely--bright foliage in the mist.

We stopped on the way to investigate a beaver dam. It was quite large, about 60 feet long and 15 feet high. A number of trees around the pond were gnawed half through, so I suppose the beavers have further development plans. A really interesting book I'm reading (The River That Flows Uphill, William Calvin) has this to say about beaver dams:

It was once thought that beavers were terribly intelligent agricultural engineers, executing a preconceived plan to flood lowlands so as to raise more trees to eat. Instead, it seems that beavers have a strong instinct to shove mud and sticks toward the sound of running water. In fact, someone who wanted to investigate this took a loudspeaker, placed it up on a dry riverbank, and played a tape of a burbling brook. The beavers plastered the hi-fi speaker, not the river, with mud and sticks. When the tape was turned off, they stopped, presumably with some sense of accomplishment.
We finally got to Plainfield just in time for lunch, corn chowder in the church basement, good food and friendly people. (Well, the people were friendly except possibly for one elderly Yankee who sat down next to us. When Lee greeted him with "It's a good day for a hot bowl of chowder," he replied, "A-yup, and that's all it's good for." That was the last we heard out of him.)

There was a crafts show, at which we got some dried lavendar for my mother. Then we headed for the used bookstore next to the church (and right across from the Lickety Split Ice Cream Shop), which is one of our favorites. We got a wonderful old set of the writings of Benjamin Franklin. When the owner learned that we were from Princeton, his eyes lit up and he started asking about the carillon at the Graduate College. He was very pleased to learn that Lee had had a course from Prof. Bigelow, who designed (and played) that carillon. (Lee mostly remembers Bigelow for having an enormous bell sitting in his office.) The owner showed us his personal copies of Bigelow's books and asked us to let him know if we hear of anybody in Princeton who has any of B's letters or books, as he has a mail-order business selling books to bell people all over the world. It was sort of too bad that we had to mention to him that the course Lee had from Bigelow was Engineering Drafting.

We were off to Montpelier after that, to visit the Ben & Jerry's shop and a good bookstore. We saw a Little Blue Heron only a couple of blocks from the state Capitol. We found a wonderful new book on contemporary American Indian art. One of my favorite pieces in it is titled Mohawk Headdress. It's a (Mohawk) ironworker's painted hard hat.

Then back to Plainfield for a hearty barbecued chicken dinner in the church basement. The organist was playing Amazing Grace as we left to come back to our inn. The fog was heavy and getting heavier as we drove back. We're snug here for tonight and will leave to go south in the morning. The area we'll be driving through for a while tomorrow is an island chain that got swept up against the continent when the proto-Atlantic Ocean closed, back when Pangaea was getting together.

Bennington, Vermont, Thursday, October 1, 1987

This was a leisurely day, mostly spent driving through misty rain and bright foliage.

Before we left the Northeast Kingdom, we stopped in at the Peacham foliage festival. As we drove into the village, a smiling, white-haired gentleman in top hat and tails greeted us with a bow. We stayed only long enough to stop at the craft show, where we can always count on stocking up with a supply of nice jellies for the coming year. We also got some mustard pickles for Lee's father and a wonderful soft-sculpture cat that Polliwog is going to resent deeply, especially as I am planning to set it on "her" couch in our bedroom. (The lady who made the cat told me she couldn't imagine why anybody would want the thing.)

We drove south, through the collapsed island arc, and then west across the state. We had intended to go Alpine sliding at Bromley, but when we got there, it was so cold that I chickened out. It's really too bad, because we consider that to be the best slide of all. (It's the only one with an "expert" run.)

(A few years ago, we picked our nephew Brett up at the end of his summer school session and took him on a tour of all the Alpine slides in New Hampshire and Vermont. He had never been before and seemed really to enjoy it. Each day, we kept telling him that, yes, today's slide was good, but the one at Bromley would be even better. When we finally got to Bromley, near the end of the trip, we showed up at the slide bright and early and found that it was closed for the day "due to the high pollen count on the mountain". Brett grumbled about that for weeks.

For the very last run we made on that trip with Brett, we started out with me first, then Lee, then Brett. I had quite a good run. At the bottom, I lifted my sled out of the trough and stood waiting for the others. After quite a long while, Brett arrived at the bottom. Since the tracks are strictly one-lane, this was surprising. I asked him, as calmly as I could, whether he had seen his uncle on the way down. "Oh, yes", he replied, "he was off in the woods looking for his sled." Fortunately, Lee's worst injury was a big hole in his trousers (above a little hole in the skin on his knee). That was also the trip during which I acquired the interesting scars on my elbows and knees, as a result of an untoward event which left me sliding down the slide on skin while my sled wandered off into the woods.)

Back to today: We continued on to Manchester, where we made another raid on the Penguin section of one of the bookstores, and then on down to Bennington. After we had checked into our motel, we headed a short way north again to examine what our book had described as "an excellent road cut". (I don't know whether highway engineers realize that geologists grade them on the degree to which they manage to make their cuts through interesting formations. It's not at all surprising that many of the early geologists (such as William "Strata" Smith) were canal engineers who began to observe correlations between the fossils in the strata they were cutting through.) The cut was indeed excellent. It bared a really nice thrust fault that even I could work out. (I have almost no ability to visualize things in three dimensions.)

We then went on into Bennington to pick up some sandwiches and soup to bring back to our rather luxurious room and spent the evening lolling around. (Lolling around except for the half hour it took me to figure out how to get the computer connected to Princeton from a place where all long-distance calls require operator intervention and the phone is a touch-tone phone simulating a dial phone. Arghh!)

When I logged on in the evening, I found mail from our friend Chris in Los Angeles from shortly after he had been wakened by being thrown out of bed by the earthquake this morning. (If we'd been home when that note arrived, we would have dashed over to Guyot Hall to see the waves come in on the seismograph, as we did when Pat sent us a message right after that last big quake in San Jose.)

Exchanging messages with Chris during the evening, I learned that UCLA's systems had all stayed up through the quake and the aftershocks, but that his bank's systems were still down, so he couldn't use the automatic teller. Hmmmm. Didn't I read somewhere recently that if the major Los Angeles banks' systems were all down for three days the world's economy would collapse? Or maybe it was the national economy after three days and the world economy after six. Oh, well, I'm sure it was an exaggeration. Maybe.

We also had a message from Bob that the children's chocolate cows had arrived and that Xander had snuck off to his room and bitten off his cow's head before dinner. (I'd say that's what Bob deserves after having used a gorilla mask to frighten the poor child into behaving when he was younger.)

We're heading home tomorrow morning, alas! Do you know Thurber's wonderful drawing entitled Home? It shows a little man timidly approaching a house over which looms a huge menacing woman. In our case, the looming menace is JES3, however. Sigh.

Princeton, Friday, October 2, 1987

We're home and settled in. The car has been unloaded, though Heaven only knows where we're going to put all the new books. (We have had to declare a moratorium on putting any more books in the library, for fear of the whole thing falling through into the den.)

Polliwog has given us a good scolding and declared both the stuffed cat and the big pumpkin we brought home to put on the front step to be unacceptable.

Our 2400-baud home terminal now seems miraculously fast! Among the welcome-home mail was a note from Victor saying that it's "obverse video", but I'm not convinced.

A few more memories:

Love to you all,

Melinda Varian / Office of Information Technology / Princeton University / Melinda@Princeton.EDU
2 Oct 1987