Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Last month my family drove to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week’s vacation at the beach. Motoring along the highways of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Baltimore, Maryland, to visit a dear childhood friend, we squeezed in a whirlwind tour of Washington D.C. Once back on the road, and escaping to the smaller, less congested and in some parts, incredibly rural byways of Virginia to eventually arrive at the coast, we saw parts of the U.S. we never had before. We were also reminded why we love Vermont.
The sprawl of development in other parts of the country is mind-blowing. Shopping plaza after car dealership after housing development after warehouse after the industrial park, all connected by webs of crisscrossing exit ramps and side roads. And on and on it goes. (Especially in New Jersey. Good Gracious! From the highway you can see the restaurant you want to get to, but can you? No! Round and round you drive, until you’re so frustrated and hungry you stop at the closest gas station to stock up on Slim Jim’s so you’ll at least survive the expedition back to the highway — if you can find it.) And the traffic! We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, even on a Sunday morning, in more than one state.
While our vacation was amazing and the return drive over the Chesapeake Bay mind-blowing, that moment we crossed from New York into Vermont at the Hampton/Fair Haven line, just as we do every time we see “Welcome to Vermont” on I89, we sighed in relief. And I’m not the only one who has said this: It seems there is a different feel in the air the moment you enter this state. It just seems calmer somehow.
For me, this serenity is partly due to the rivers and brooks that, instead of highways, criss-cross our land, trickling here, tumbling there. I can’t drive alongside one without exclaiming at the beauty of the brownish water bouncing merrily over exposed rocks and shafts of sunlight to illuminate the river bed. Most often, I must content myself with viewing these rivers from the car, but just this past week, the rivers themselves have been the destination. Maybe as a vacation from vacation and a cure for the congestion of much of our southern states, but mostly as a respite from the heat we have been enjoying(?), we have visited three such babbling brooks.
First, Poultney River. The waterhole near Town Farm Road on Route 140 in East Poultney has been a family favorite since I was a teenager and new to the state (and country). Here, the rock formations flanking the river are perfect for sunbathing or climbing, water-filled crevices are alive with tadpoles, and the beach-like spot closest to the water is soft with black river-bed sediment, perfect for digging. Where the river enters the open water hole, it cascades over boulders in a rush of white water, and, after a hard rain, is dangerously circling with currents. But once out of what my kids call The Jacuzzi, the water is calm and, at different spots, deep enough for jumping, diving, or perching on an underwater rock, or shallow enough to sit in a chair in the soft current.
Second, Furnace Brook in Pittsford. Introducing us to one of her favorite childhood places, a friend took us on a new adventure: river walking. With trees overhanging the, at most, knee-deep water, boulders scattered here and there, and rocky “islands” along the way, the trek was magical.
I never realized such a treasure was hidden behind the treeline and across fields of cows. Nor that there were literal treasures to be found in the river itself. Littered along the riverbed are pieces of slag, a waste by-product of the blast furnace located on Furnace Brook in the 1800s. Bright blue, sometimes green, the stone-like fragments vary in size, shape, and texture from smooth to pitted. They gleam among the river rocks, begging to be picked up.
Finally, Thundering/Kent Brook. On Google maps, this brook is called Kent Brook, as it runs in and back out of Kent Pond in Killington. But the trails and the road leading to it bear the name Thundering Brook, which during Tropical Storm Irene it certainly was. It took out the bridge that is part of the Appalachian Trail and completely changed the layout of the land surrounding it.
Now there is a new, much loftier, bridge that looks down over the brook as it chortles along, down a small waterfall into a pool and then off again towards Kent Pond. It is calm, cool and refreshing in these woods with the water rippling on by.
When most people think of Vermont, they think mountains or lakes. But, the brooks and rivers that topple down those mountains and meander through the valleys to those lakes are what Vermont is to me, and why coming home is always so good.