“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Part II, Day 27: Stowed Away

Geraldine has let us down.

Zoe distrusts Geraldine Patricia Smith (our GPS) the minute we are told to leave the Stowe Community Gardens, where Zoe offered to fertilize the soil while picking out our future Vermont farmstead.  She would have liked to have stayed much longer.  The grass there was fresh and tasty, with just a hint of late April snow.  This was our kind of place.

She's a valley girl like me.  She was born and raised in the St. Lawrence River Valley, as I, her person, was raised in the valley along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, with a stint also in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Our ears pop as soon as we make the first turn.

We see a sign for Mount Mansfield, also known as Mount Snot--so dubbed by my former student, Annie, (who has indirectly led us here today because of introducing Zoe and me to our hosts from the last two posts)--when she earned tuition money teaching five-year-olds how to ski.  I wish Annie were here to show us around, but she and her husband, Andrew, are currently serving in the Peace Corps in Zambia.  Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in the Green Mountains.  Our bodies know this long before I think about looking this up on google.

I've never learned how to ski downhill even though there was a ski club at my high school in Cleveland.  The student group commandeered a van and ventured out to a landfill called Mount Trashmore, I kid you not, where they learned to slalom on snowed over household rubbish and plastic and rotting banana rinds.  Somehow, the glamor of this pursuit eluded me, although the students in the club did have very stylish winter jackets.

Prince Pit is an excellent photographer; I had camera-envy
Up and up and up we go, and Zoe starts to whine as soon as my own ears begin to pop.  It's hard to believe that nearly eleven months ago I was  walking uphill in a village in the Himalayas and wishing I had more time to trek higher.  I did come home with some kind of altitude sickness, but at the time I was exultant.  The two students with me, known amongst their peers as Master of the Squirrels and the humble Prince Charming of Pittsburgh, (please don't kill me, CF), known so in part for his tendency to buy all the women in his family authentic Pashminas and for his ability to negotiate deftly with gem merchants, joined me on a walk one morning on Temple Road that begins in town at the Tibetan Buddhist Temple where the Dalai Lama presides and ends on its highest most point at the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple.  Mr. Squirrel, true to his nickname, is nimble and swift, and has no fear of heights.  He had already seen this site two days before, while the prince slept off some nasty Delhi belly and their professor wrote in her journal.  On this walk, all three of us enjoyed renewed health and energy, and the scenery was sublime.  Heaven, if there is such a place, looks like the Himalayas.

Halfway up the road, past wild dogs and more than one yoga retreat lodge, said heavens opened, and we got thoroughly drenched.  Monsoon season had begun.  Somehow, we found a rickshaw and made it back down the steep path in time to hose off before we had to catch a train back to Delhi.

Our view where we ate lunch outside Macleod Ganj

We stopped here to admire the view

We befriended critters with horns regularly

Master of the squirrels was also Master of all street dogs

The red barricade ends the reign of Geraldine

scenic farm roads, Trapp Family Farm, and 89 beckon
Now, as Zoe and I climb and climb Mountain Road in Stowe, Vermont, we ache to return to sea level.  Geraldine says Yes we can, and we say, Whatever.  Finally, we arrive at a red barricade.  The road that Geraldine demanded we take, insisted we take, repeatedly insisted we take, is closed for the season.  Zoe says, I knew it!  So we retrace the way back down, past Smugglers Notch and assorted resort restaurants, and back into Stowe, past the Trapp Family Lodge (the family whose life story was fictionalized for The Sound of Music), and off through stunning Green Mountain farms until we find Route 89, head north, and make our way back across Lake Champlain, to our home in Upstate New York.

When I first moved to the North Country, I used to wish that we could move the campus of our college, all bricks and mortar and even the crazy squirrels, to the Burlington and Montpelier, Vermont area.  Vermont, with all its open pastures, is bright and green, and just driving around there, let alone roller-blading around the lake (as I used to do with my husband until I fell in poison ivy one too many times) fills my heart.  Upstate New York, in contrast, is much more depressed.  You see sagging barns, abandoned farms, paint peeling like birch bark, to say nothing of all that birch bark.  It's dark in those woods, and sometimes downright gloomy.  If Vermont is blue and green, Upstate New York is sepia-brown and blue.

Now I don't feel that way at all.  After 20 years of residence, I love this river valley, the boulders, the red barns--both upright and caved in--the cows, the windy roads, the farm stands, and the distinct seasons like bullhead and fiddlehead and blackberry and black fly.  Well, maybe not black fly.

As soon as we see Lake Champlain, Zoe and I rejoice.  "Lake," I say to Zoe.  "Water."  She knows the word, "water," and she knows the word "river."  She also knows the word "home."

When we leave Malone and follow Route 11 B into Stockholm, New York, passing the Martin farm stands, and that last stretch of farm fields before we hit Potsdam, then Canton, Zoe starts whining.  It's her canine "Are we there yet?" and it's a song of longing.  A keening.  An ululation in which she mourns the familiar that was out of sight for a short spell, even as the new caught her, spellbound, in its lasso, as it did me.  We're just a couple of valley girls leaving those pretty Green Mountains behind and heading home to the flat lands where we belong.


  1. Sorry about the road! Its closed in the winter and a late snowfall can reclose it any time. Another beautiful post, thanks Zoe ( and her person)! I'm so sorry I missed you but so glad the connection was made. Xoxoxo

  2. Yea Annie! We sure miss you here. Can't wait for a Mount Snot revisit when you and Andrew are home! xx