It started in Manchester Village on the sixteenth of August behind the Mt. Equinox Hotel. There, after parking the car, my son and I mounted our bicycles and began a loop through which we would past the following villages: South Dorset, Dorset, East Rupert, North Rupert, Pawlet, West Pawlet, Rupert, East Rupert, Dorset, South Dorset to Manchester Depot and, finally, back to Manchester Village.
The morning was clear, relatively cool and tangy. My son and I were high on the energy of excited expectation of the journey ahead. Much of my son’s and my relationship finds words unnecessary, though neither are we without words when they are needed. My son can be quite loquacious, but during this moment his eyes told me all that I needed to know: he was very much ready to go. So after checking that we both had what we needed we were off.
After coming out of the parking lot driveway onto route 7A, we headed north for about 20 yards and turned slightly left onto West Road. It went behind Manchester Center and brought us through a well-manicured residential area of new and old homes whose spacing indicated neither a development nor rural setting. The road was smooth and the topography for the most part without much contour. Few vehicles traveled this road. Every now and then we passed an estate of real architectural and horticultural beauty. One in particular had a sculpture garden of sorts and the placement of the sculpture amidst cultivated bushes, plants and grass endowed that space with an air of quiet distinction and and air of antiquity
At the northern end of West Road, it ends at Route 30. Route 30 is the main road through what is called the Valley of Vermont which is cupped by the Taconic Mountains on the west and the Green Mountains on the east. This road, though well traveled by motorized vehicles, offers an easy ride for bicyclists while offering them a pathway through a landscape of pastoral and serene beauty for which the human soul was made. It fills the heart not unlike the first ("Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country") and second ("Scene by the Brook") movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 in F Major that, when my children were quite young, I would play for us, as we drove along this road on our way to my parent’s cabin. (Actually, the Fourth Movement, would prove as apropos later on in the day.)
Along the road there is a cemetery at which my son and I stopped to rest for a few minutes. Cemeteries such as this one (small, unexpected and beyond the proximity of a place of worship) are not unlike local swimming holes in that to be found there are artifacts, signs and material traces of human interaction which are the products of past human processes of which we now know very little. One example of this that we found at the cemetery was a sculpture of a tree stump with two trunks and a cross on the left trunk (facing it with our backs toward the road) and a sawed off branch on the right trunk near the bottom. What this signified and the history behind its formation I had not a clue. I took two pictures of it with my son standing alongside for future research.
We got on the road again and continued to bicycle to Pawlet. We arrived in Pawlet, a village of large and old buildings (with cracked and uneven cement steps spanning the entire width of the buildings), whose center was the junction of a number of state roads. We ate breakfast at the Trolley Stop Restaurant. It was housed in an old Train Depot, with about wooden tables and chairs. Old photographs in frames were hung on the walls telling the story of the building. The waitress, a tall, thin young woman with a bright smile (replete with perfect white teeth), and long dark hair, seemed enchanted by my son. She was happy to be photographed so I took her picture. We both had wholesome and delicious breakfasts and these were swept clean from the plate by us. I paid our bill and the waitress said good-bye as we walked out of the restaurant.
The General Store of Pawlet looked dilapidated from the outside. Its siding, stairs and sign worn from the weather of many seasons. Inside, the wooden floor was well worn, but the store was well stocked with modernity’s merchandise (though there were packages of hardware items that looked like they were hanging on their pegs for decades). In the back there was a wooden box upon which sat an old iron grid and through this grid some 30 feet below you could see, I think it was, the Metawee River flowing white water over jagged rock. The staff there, family members I assumed, seemed burden by their occupation and service and I did not inquire how this view of the river was fashioned or why it was fashioned. Perhaps, it kept the store cool during the hot summer months.
My son and I had been bicycling on Route 30, as already mentioned, and the Metawee River meanders languidly through and with it. This river was often trimly kissed by the dale’s fields and meadows, and its banks, because of the grasses of the meadows and fields, were places of sylvan simplicity and radiated a pastoral poetry that would endow any picnic thereon with delight and jubilance. However, my son and I were not to picnic there this time.
We hopped on our bicycles after our tour of the General Store and continued northwest on Route 30 out of Pawlet after taking note of the old mill dam and a Pizzeria which had not been there when last I past through this town. We passed the old barn restaurant that was outside of Pawlet. (In winters past livestock was fed here and now another species of the animal kingdom is fed here all year round.)
The sky was still cerulean and clear, the air soft and warm against our skin and redolent with the sweet vapors of the fields and their flowers, the solar psalm radiant upon the dale and mountains whose flora drank of with quiescent and patient ease. I caught up to my son and wanted to say to him: "The joy that flows through our soul as we stream through this valley shall sweeten and quicken our bodies and, as the sunlight does become the berries, so shall this ecstasy become the stuff of your existence on this earth. Rejoice!" Instead of this I asked "Isn’t this great?" to which he responded with energy, "Yeah!" Such an experience is rarely so enjoyed by the riders of combustion engines that "enthrall" the earth and whose paved path we now ride.
Near Butternut Bend below Burt Hill we turned left to take River Road. It was a country road whose stretch of space bespoke a bucolic poetry, where word, wisdom and way had often cycled and interacted to make a rural culture of and whose time-tilled furrows etched within it an easy culture and commerce of old and new … over time. The Metawee River meandered here as well and punctuated through its riparian sentence were the inscriptions of humanity whose past wisdom insured a long-standing birthright in the soil therein. Homes and homesteads, timeworn and time-tempered, were scattered on either side of the River and the Road. Each told the tale of homesteaders who, in their works and days, engaged entropy with varying amounts of effort over the centuries. Each home and homestead there, was their assertion of order over disorder in ways sometimes harmonious and sometimes disharmonious with the more ancient and pervasive orders.
River Road terminates at Route 153 which we then followed south towards West Pawlet. Till we reached West Pawlet, the milieu was in keeping with what went before except for a large defunct slate quarry whose cavernous basin was filled with water. There was a pristine and elemental majesty to this austere juncture of water and stone beneath the mid-August midday sun. My son found a particular piece of slate that attracted him and he placed it in his day pack. (He is still in possession of it.)
The quarry presented that harsh tableau which always remains when profit is the only adjudicator of value and work. (Though this is not to say that there were not men who worked there whose pride in their craft, whatever it might be, was at least as significant to them as the earnings it returned to them.) Once costs exceed expenses in such a situation the feeding frenzy terminates and the locality is left with a wound that heals over decades, albeit misshapen and malformed. Vegetation finds root in the thin soils (the legacy of lichens) that gather in crevices, nooks and niches of the slate slopes.
Soon after the quarry we came upon the village of West Pawlet. As we entered the village, homes in various states of disrepair and neglect greeted us on either side of the road. In a few minutes we came upon the old wooden schoolhouse whose architecture was unique in my experience. It was a two story white clapboard building with a front extension about half the size of the main building structure lengthwise and placed so that it formed a portico of sorts. Above the extension, the gable end held a set of narrow windows and one pane was gone. At the peak of the gable was a circular clapboard detail. The roofs, not surprisingly, were covered with slate. It appeared to be empty, though scattered here and there were signs of intermittent use and repair. An old iron pipe playground tucked off to the north side of the building stood and gathered about it, like mists during dawn upon a river in early autumn, young laughing wraiths. A slide, whose rusted bottom was warped with years of use, had iron steps which spelt out "AMERICAN." Despite years of neglect, the pipes still wore the smooth luster of thousands of small hands that had polished them.
My son had disappeared while I was studying this old schoolhouse. I should have known this might happen, as my enjoyment in the study old buildings is not shared by him. A little way south of this local center of learning, at the intersection of two roads and slightly off to the north was the General Store and it was there that I found him.
This General Store, too, had a decrepit look and here we bought a drink, as the humid and warm weather had made us thirsty. It stood some 30 feet west of an old train bed whose rails and ties had long ago been removed due to lack of use. We also noticed a street sign that held a unique name: Egg St. The village had converted the rail bed to a walking trail, constructed and sponsored by some Vermont State agency. My son and I decided to walk the trail that continued south of the village’s main intersection. A few yards on the trail we noticed a path up a wooded hill and decided to follow it. This brought us up to the top of the hill and a field of grasses. It offered a vista of the western hills and valleys. What was strange was that along the periphery of the field we discovered a stone marker whose 4 surfaces were bare of any inscription that might offer a clue to why it was there.
After we finished our visit with the grassy hilltop and its fragrant breezes, we walked down the trail and continued south along the old rail bed. Along the path we came across what looked like a wetland (perhaps a pond in the past) and then pastures land of close-cropped grass and archipelagos of ledge-rock. My son decided that he would touch a metal wire that was strung between posts on the periphery of the pasture land and in doing so received a electrical shock to which in response he gave voice to a rather loud ouch. This submission to curiosity left his finger tingling, but, I can only hope, wiser as well.
We also saw old defunct warehouses that were once serviced by the freight trains that traveled through here (who can doubt that, had there been public largesse for the railways as there was and is for roadways, this warehouse might still be visited by freight trains today). We spied Japanese Honeysuckle, an invasive species, (that is spreading and growing throughout New Hampshire and Vermont) entwining within a relatively young birch tree. The weight of that vine had made the birch bend towards the ground and, I expect, will eventually kill it. (We would encounter this vine many times during the journey.) It was getting late and so we ended our walk and headed back to where we had begun, my son expressing to me, wearing a somewhat sardonic (or ironic) smile on his face, that, he enjoyed this walk, having learnt a few things.
Returning to our trusty metal alloy steeds of two triangles and two circles, we mounted them and got back on the road. There was a strong head wind as we bicycled south on Route 153 towards the next village. We were happy to see an elderly couple bicycling on this road and waved to them to which they returned a bright smile. Some way south of West Pawlet we came upon another cemetery on the left. I signaled to my son to stop, as the steps to the cemetery, which began right from the road, were in a state of submission to those elemental attractors of gravity, and entropy. Because of this state the cemetery had about it an aura that is shared with any artifact that is cast upon the shore of the present by the tides of two-faced time. The cemetery steps were uneven with loose pieces of slate set between two slate walls. We walked amongst the tombstones reviewing each one to determine the age of each person when they died. Some had lived a very long life. Others were children when they had died. Still others were young women who I assumed died at childbirth. And then there were the men who died during past wars, often with a small flag planted in the grave. There is only amazement at how old many were when they died, as to listen to the medical industry today, one is pressured to think that people who were born a hundred and fifty years ago, for the most part, died at an age we today would think as young.
We got back on the road after about a half hour. We kept a strong pace against the headwind for some 7 miles till we got to the intersection of Route 153 and Route 315 which defined the village of Rupert. We were hoping to quench our thirst there, but the General Store was long ago vacated as such. Now, it was a derelict building that housed people whose life did not appear to be in active service to contemporary consumer society. The old faded sign above the crumbling porch read "Sheldon General Store." At this point of the day it had grown quite hot, the wind had abated and it became very humid. Without water, we headed out east from the village, knowing that a long and steep climb was ahead of us. With the sun baking us relentlessly as we climbed we eventually succumbed and had to walk our bicycles up the steepest slope. Even just walking with our bicycles became arduous, as the sun desiccated our bodies and sweat soaked our shirts. There was no breeze. Such was the intensity of the effort, that I lost awareness of my surroundings. We were left with only our will to place one foot after another as the unforgiving heat and humidity parched our throats. My son was behind me some 100 feet, but did not stop. We finally did reach the summit. There some type of wilderness preserve had been founded. We did not linger, but got back on our bicycles. It was a fast and thrilling ride down the hill, the strong and continuous draft of air drying our shirts. As with any speed, I lost my peripheral vision, hearing and olfactory sense as I focused on the dangers of racing down an unknown road. I reached the bottom of this hill first and a minute or so later my son arrived. (My son is a bit bothered that I go downhill faster with, seemingly, no greater effort, while he, if he wants to keep up with me, must pedal in high gear. However, as I have told him, the greater body weight that I have to work harder to haul up a hill is the same weight that allows me to go down a hill faster. A law of physics.)
Route 315, which we were on, intersected with Route 30 at East Rupert and we turned south. This time we got on West Road from Route 30 and went as far on it to that point where the street that takes us to the village of Dorset intersected with it. We headed east on this road to the Dorset General Store. We stopped there to buy two 32 ounce bottles of PowerAde, I think it was called, and two (expensive) plums and these together somewhat satisfied our thirst as well as giving us some energy. We sat upon a bench in the common of the village. I saw an elderly and thin man walking on the side of the road who was dressed in white shorts, a white golf cap and a white short sleeve shirt, neatly pressed. His face looked anglican and it was cleanly shaved. An appearance that was casual, but which also indicated some wealth and retirement.
We then climbed on our self-propelled vehicles and began to pedal down Route 30 to Manchester Center. This ride was uneventful though shared with a variety of vehicles whose contribution to pollution was, of course, greater than ours. Clouds began to gather and grow darker in the north. When we entered Manchester Center we stopped at the local bookstore called Northshire. It was not a chain and in this there was delight. My son bought with great joy the third volume of George R. R. Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire and I bought with equal mirth Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
We then left the bookstore, after some friendly banter with a Northshire worker about the summer’s weather, and headed for the Mt. Equinox Hotel parking lot along Route 7A. Route 7A is for the most part critically infected with factory outlets, feeding chains and parking lots. The road is narrow and it was clear bicyclists did not belong there nor, for that matter, did we desire to be there. For the most part, however, motorists did not endanger us nor were they rude to us. Arriving at the Mt. Equinox Hotel parking lot, I attached our bicycles to our car (exchanging the use of one vehicle, whose passenger weight as a percentage of total vehicular weight was more than 2000% of that weight, for another whose passenger weight was about 5% of total vehicular weight) and we were off to the campground at Lake St. Catherine State Park. About halfway to Lake St. Catherine State Park, the cumulonimbus clouds let go of their moisture in a torrent that placed mists on the verdant hillsides and rivulets streaming along the road. (Here was a situation in which the car had an advantage over the bicycle.)
By the time we entered Lake St. Catherine State Park the rain had ended. We searched for a campsite and, when I spied a water faucet, I asked my son to fill the empty PowerAde 32 oz. bottles with water. This he did and he drank his and I drank mine. Then I asked him if he would fill my bottle up again, as he did not want anymore. This he did and I drank down that draught completely and without pausing. I asked for a third time and accomplished the same for it. I did not realize how thirsty I was. Finally, the tension within my body (unregistered by me until this time) eased after imbibing these 96 ounces of water. (I thought I was smarter than this.)
After picking our campsite, I checked in and I had a discussion with the Park Ranger about why there had to be RVs where there were tents, as across from our chosen campsite an RV was sited and it was running a generator; generating, besides electricity, noise and noxious fumes. She said that there was nothing to be done about the integration of tent and RV at the camp, but the generator had to be turned off at curfew. I suggested that those who enjoy a RV have a right to that, but those who enjoy a tent usually are in search of something for which RVs are anathema. To place them within proximity of each other leaves the path of wisdom. But, though she agreed, there was nothing she could do about it.
We setup camp on damp ground positioning the tent’s opening towards the east and then got back into the car to drive north to Poultney in order to purchase provisions and have dinner. We first went to the local hardware store. My son, who knows the value of a dollar, got some batteries for our radio after having a discussion with the clerk about value and price. I got fuel for our Coleman lantern and some other things.
We then went to eat at the House of Pizza. Like times before, my son and I were in agreement as to the quality of what we ate and that our meal was a perfect answer to our hunger at the time. My son and I never enjoyed a mushroom and onion pizza so much as we did then. We then went to Stewart’s for a Black Raspberry thickshake for me and a Chocolate thickshake for him. These thickshakes did not disappoint and cooled our palate (and they were on sale at 50 cents less than normal. Yes!)
Despite the evening heat and humidity, after our repast and dessert we walked the village’s streets and felt the pulse of novelty that this unfrequented (by us) village presented to us. We enjoyed and exulted in that thrill of freedom which accompanies a continuous prospect of adventure and discovery. My son, delightfully boyish in his ebullience, shared with me and I with him this common feeling of happiness in the happenstance. We were not spectators nor speculators, but participants in this sport and enterprise. In this, the ultimately subtle and frequently unfathomable cosmos beckoned from each event and through each eventuality. We knew we would answer the summons of each emerging event and beyond each completed eventuality that fourfold time presented to us. So we continued, entranced and energized, for about an hour as we came upon each unique structure of this village of Poultney. He and I briefly visited Green Mountain College where, when he was 7, he had played and run among its courtyards, buildings and sculptures with that curiosity and wonder that is the birthright of every child.
We returned back to our campsite in late evening. It was dusk: the burnt-out ash of a once glorious sunset. Children were bicycling through the camp’s car paths. Fires were started in the hearths. We were pleasantly fatigued and we looked forward to our repose, despite the soft glow of energy that flowed through us as we felt the night gently settle around us. I looked upward and in the west were Jupiter and Venus below the constellation of Virgo. The silhouette of the old oak against this celestial canticle (silence can be a song, if we but listen attentively) induced within me a prayer of thanksgiving for the day. It being said, I went to bed.
The next morning I awoke and made myself a cup of coffee and read a few pages of the McPhee introduction to A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The campground was quiet at this time save for the birds greeting the morning sun with song. My son awoke about an hour later. I made breakfast for us. I then packed our bicycles on the bicycle rack of the car and we headed again to Poultney. Arriving at Poultney we parked our combustion engine on Route 140, Poultney’s Main St., and removed our bicycles. We assumed our positions upon them and headed towards Fair Haven via College St., Front St., York St., Bolger Rd. and then 22A. The road we took to get to 22A, whatever its proper name, was, once again, a joyous and sensuous adventure through a hinterland of stable farms, old farmhouses, morning mists distilling out over fragrant emerald meadows, young hardwood forests and serene woodland vistas. Such landscapes, even underneath a sometime overcast and leaden sky, were radiant with enchantment and infused within us a mirth that was obvious in my son’s smile as he bicycled beside me.
22A was an old State road with two lanes and often a narrow shoulder. It was a route well traveled before the Interstate Highway System traded vernacular character for uniform convenience, the texture of local culture for the cultural oblivion of speed. We passed an old farmhouse or two, none of which were a home to any family. Right before we entered Fair Haven, Route 4A intersected with 22A and went off to the west, to New York. One can imagine that in the distant past this road beckoned the young souls of Fair Haven with its lure of the unknown, the alluring open horizon, the siren-song of potential adventure and new prospects. (Has that song been silenced, perhaps, by the advent of the global village in which the west road only leads back to itself? Yet, perhaps, such closure results in the disclosure of other unknowns, other horizons and the hard, but creativity-conducive, lesson of limits.)
Fair Haven has a downtown commercial district with an irregular and unusual layout. I can only speculate why there is an L shape configuration of buildings along the east side its main road. The common separates this commercial district from a number of stately homes some of which were made with locally mined marble. A little north of the downtown is a Ben Franklin store whose variety and type of merchandise reminded me much of my hometown (now defunct) Woolworth’s. There is an old bank building there with a large and weather-darkened alarm bell fixed to the brick wall. It looked like a bank from the era of Jesse James.
We took Route 4A out of Fair Haven and came upon the Lake Bomeseen Inn which had one of the longest bars in Vermont and once upon a time served to me a glass of Genny beer for 25 cents. It was on the road that headed north from 4A alongside Lake Bomeseen Inn that my son, when he was 7, bicycled his first 8 miles on his first multi-speed green bicycle. Route 4A was not unlike the stretch of 22A we had bicycled. Yet, on the stretch of 4A we were bicycling there was much more local commerce apparent. This was the case until we left the village of Castleton. East of Castleton were more farms, patches of woods and some homes that were a mixture of old and new. As is often the case of these older roads, one could notice by the cracks in the pavement that this road was once paved with cement and once was narrower. As it was, for a bicyclist there was not much of a shoulder, but neither was there much traffic. Also on this road was the funky home of my friend Peter in which he no longer lived, having moved to farm a piece of land. Bird Mountain could also bee seen from here. It was on its hillside that Peter's large family celebration was held every June and to which my family and me had been invited a number of times.
We arrived at West Rutland many of whose municipal buildings were made from marble. In the past, some civic restorative work was done on West Rutland’s historic Marble St., but it appears there is not much to show for it now. There are 3 bars in various stages of disrepair, one rundown diner and a couple of restored buildings that now held a variety of agencies and firms. By the time my son and I finished walking down and up Marble Street we realized we had built up a real thirst and stopped at the nearby general store on Route 4A to satisfy it. As we were sipping our drinks on the old bench in front, I looked up to the western sky and noticed a storm was getting organized. I thought it time to move on and this we did.
We headed south on Route 133 and after a residential area the road opened up to farmland. By now, the sky was mostly overcast. The soft and diffused light endowed the grassy meadow along the state road and the distant hills beyond the grassy pasture with a subtle solitude and hushed intimacy that was at once quieting and disquieting. The air was still, damp and dormant. Like St. Elmo’s Fire this solitude, stillness and intimacy visually coalesced about an old telephone pole and its multiple wires as it stood some ten feet from the road in the grassy field. I wondered about my son and how such an moodal moment might effect him, he whose soul is a continual effervescent carmina of love, light and laughter.
It began to gently rain as we continued bicycling, but it was a brief shower. We came to the intersection of Routes 140 and 133 and then continued to Middletown Springs. We reached Middletown Springs and there we decided to rest and bought a snack at the General Store. The sun was now playing hide and seek with the dispersing and fragmenting cloud cover. We sat down on the common beneath the shade of a tree. This village was one of many whose natural springs were once a magnet to those seeking better health. But that was many decades ago and now its profile was more due to the intersection of Routes 133 and 140 then any other aspect of the village. After a brief walk around the Common we mounted our bicycles once again and were on the road, again. The road was a joyously long descent for the most part until we got to East Poultney. From there it was mostly a residential area till we came into Poultney itself.
The evening was warm and now sunny as we entered Poultney. I placed our bicycles back on the car rack and then it was off to dinner. We decided upon the Gourmet Deli which held a variety of exotic culinary sensations. Dining with my son is always pleasant as he is always open to new pleasures of the palate. We tried two wraps and we both enjoyed them. I told my son he should get a Chocolate Thickshake at Stewarts while I went to the local pub and sipped a Guinness. My son does not like the Pub atmosphere, as he has told me "it is too dark", so he sat in the car as he read his new book sipping on his Chocolate Thickshake while I sipped a Guinness at the Pub. The Pub was, indeed, dark and cool. It was not a Pub that had much patina or character, either for its fragrances and decor nor for the personalities that hung (out) there during low tide.
I left the pub and returned to our car and my son. We returned to Lake St. Catherine State Park and bought some firewood. My son made the fire in the campsite’s hearth as I made us some tea on the Coleman stove. My son and I also had bought Jiffy Pop (which we had purchased from Poultney’s Discount Food Store and which is an enjoyable marriage of old (corn) and new (aluminum)) and this we also cooked on our Coleman stove. Earth’s shadow had enveloped us and the burning cord wood scattered incandescent sparks about as the flame hit pockets of gas in the wood. We sat down and the fire enchanted us as we watched the wood expend its stored solar energy in expenditures of light and warmth. My son’s conversation sparkled as he reviewed the events of the day, the sensations of our journey and shared insights that continually emanated from his young, vital and inquisitive mind. As I listened to him, sipped my tea, felt the campfire’s radiant warmth, and then turned my gaze upward to the terrible nocturnal beauty of unbounded space, I counted myself among the happiest of men. Gloria in Excelsis Deo.
The next morning we broke down our campsite, packed our gear back into the car and headed out for DAR State Park which is situated along the southeastern shore of Lake Champlain. We decided to have breakfast out and we stopped at a Diner/General Store in Orwell off of Route 22A. The owner was a gregarious woman and it was she who cooked our breakfast. We were the only ones eating there at the time so she appeared happy to converse with us. At one point my son, in getting a breakfast drink for himself after being informed to do so by our chef, accidentally allowed another drink to fall out of the cooler. The drink spilled open and splashed on the floor. The proprietor took this in stride and, though we offered to clean it up, she did it herself. After this mishap, my son and I ate our breakfast, while carrying on our conversation with her. I do not recall the conversation in detail, but it told of her youth, her husband (who was no longer alive) and how she arrived and took up residence and subsidence in Orwell. Neither my son nor I offered tales about ourselves, as that appeared not to be the expectation of the conversation, but he and I did enjoy listening.
After paying our bill and thanking her, we continued north on Route 22A until we reached Route 125 and at that point we headed west. At Chimney Point, Route 125 turns into Route 17 and a mile further we arrived at DAR State Park. DAR State Park is different from Lake St. Catherine State Park in that there were fewer trees and more grass. At Lake St. Catherine State Park the ground upon which we pitched our tent was made up of bare sandy soil and the exposed roots of the surrounding trees. Beneath the trees it was shaded and cool. At DAR State Park the ground was covered in grass, as previously mentioned, and it was brighter having fewer trees. Despite the lack of shade trees it was not hot, perhaps due to the proximity of Lake Champlain. Here we unpacked and setup camp as quickly as possible so as to mount our bicycles again and begin that day’s adventure into the ever-fertile unknown, for better or worse.
We took Route 17 north till it intersected with Lake St. and then turned onto the latter. It appeared that on this route we were part of the Lake Champlain Bike Path as small signs began appearing along the street indicating same. This was a well paved and, for the most part, level road along which, now and then, Lake Champlain was visible to the west while to the east much farmland and beyond that the Hogback Mountains and, finally, the Green Mountains. Along the way a small airport was to be found as indicated by the orange balls that were attached through their center to the power lines. This ride was easy and the oceanic openness of it distilled within our souls a feeling of gliding and exultation. We bicycled almost effortlessly as our bodies and souls drank in sunlight, tranquility, bird song and the dulcet scents of field, flower and of the shoreline of Lake Champlain.
We turned right at Pease Road and then left at Jersey Road which led to Panton. In Panton we stopped at the General Store to rest and to snack. Across the road from the General Store were some picnic tables. Also to be found there was a sort of tableau on posts upon which was painted the vista we saw from the present perspective. The names of mountains that could be seen from that vantage point looking east were printed on it. We could see traces of the Dead Creek as well. I do not know who landscaped this tiny traveler-friendly area or who constructed the tableau, but whoever they were, my son and I thank them for doing so. From Panton heading east was Sand Road which we would meet up with again when we traveled towards Vergennes on Basin Harbor Road.
Having enjoyed our stay here, we resumed our trek and a little way out of Panton we turned onto Button Bay Road. This took us through the acreage of Button Bay State Park and through to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. We stopped at the museum, but did not enter as I felt the admission fee was a bit steep. However, we did find a picnic bench outside the museum on which to sit. Nearby the picnic bench was a circular brick patio in the center of which was a small inoperative fountain that existed there with all the accouterments of the weathered, the neglected and the forgotten: rust, dirt, stain, and weed.
We got back on our bicycles and were off southeast on Basin Harbor Road. It was a freshly paved road and our wheels glided, like raptors in flight, upon it. It was a smooth ride alongside the Otter Creek and it’s wetlands. We intersected with Sand Road which in turn took us onto Panton Road and then to Vergennes. In Vergennes we crossed the bridge over the Otter Creek and we were then on Main Street. It was a downtown that had been built on a hill. We locked on bicycles on what appeared to be a public bicycle rack. On Main Street there were, at least, three restaurants: Black Sheep Bistro, Luigi’s Italian Specialties and The Hungry Bear, and their culinary aromas were redolent throughout the street. But we were running low on funds and did not visit them despite the intense pangs of hunger their aromas evoked within us.
We came upon and explored the Bixby Library and as with many Public Libraries the architecture stood apart from the other buildings of the village. In this case the Library is constructed (according to its website and from which the following description is paraphrased) of yellow tapestry brick, with Indiana limestone columns and Vermont stone foundation, and is designed in classic Greek Revival style around the central rotunda, with a stained glass dome overhead and four sets of three hollow steel columns covered with scagliola (to resemble marble) at the four corners of the rotunda on the first floor. Entering the building through heavy oak double doors, my son and I stood under a rotunda, the large reading and reference room on our left, the children’s room straight ahead, and the main desk, stacks, mezzanine, and Lois Noonan (we did not find out who this person was) Vermont Room to our right. A marble staircase rises on both sides above the front entrance, leading to the second floor rooms and inner balcony. Accessed by three pairs of double doors in the reference room, the west-facing porch overlooks Otter Creek and the Adirondacks towards the west. My son found there an exhibit of miniature armies which delighted him. There was a comforting fragrance of old books to this library. Also on the Library’s website is a quote from the Middlebury College President, John M. Thomas, when he spoke at the 1912 Library dedication: "The free public library is one of our great modern democratic institutions. It is supported by all for the uplift of all." He got that right. It is regrettable today that some states and municipalities are blind and deaf to this idea expressed by President Thomas in so far as they have closed their Public Libraries. If we must pay for bombs, how can it be that we can not pay for books, if we would claim that we are a civilized society?
After leaving the Bixby Library, we went in search of supper supplies for this evening at the campsite and for this purpose we went to the local organic food store. There we purchased our provisions and, having accomplished that, it was time to move on. We went back to bicycles, unlocked them and began the final leg of our journey.
We took 22A south out of Vergennes. 22A, about a mile or two out of town, transverses an uplift in the land and this afforded us a heightened view of the valley to the west that filled us with joy, despite the trailer trucks that passed on the left as we bicycled along a somewhat narrow shoulder. The farmland below, flush with late afternoon sunlight, created an expansive pastoral quilt of provincial beauty and rural grandeur. The fields were silver emerald in the sunlight and these were divided by narrow strips of woods under which ran a brook or a length of stonewall or both. Now and then the sweet aroma of the farmland below wafted up to us on a gentle and warm breeze. Now and then the acerbic, but strangely comforting, fragrance of manure also caught our nose. Now and then the discomforting stench of burnt diesel fuel engulfed us as a trailer truck (perhaps, carrying produce and products from these very farmlands?) past by. How much treasure, toil and tears fertilized this valley’s soil in order to produce its harvest of food over its centuries of husbandry can only be imagined; how much the lost would be to posterity should it be lost to concrete, asphalt, brick and avarice can be evaluated (if not calculated), if we but put our species’ hard-won wisdom to it.
We soon reached the village of Addison and decided to stop at the General Store there as we were thirsty. The sun had been hot and the air humid during our two-wheeled trek across the uplift of land. My son came up to me and informed me that the vending machine on the store’s porch had Crush, a beverage he and I both enjoy very much, as it has a tangy bite to it that other orange sodas do not have. We both knew this was a rare find and so we paid the two bucks for two 12 oz. cans. We also knew that soda does not satisfy well the body’s thirst. Yet, as we sat on the bench in the shade offered by the building’s shadow, it did not matter. (For me, it is also a drink that, as a four and five year old boy, my parents would buy for me at the general store in Stony Creek, NY where my Grandmother’s cabin, always a great happiness for me to visit, is to be found.)
The final leg of the journey began after we finished our sodas. It was on Route 17 that we bicycled and we headed west on it. We soon came upon the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA). There, depending on the time of year, could be spotted Deer, Wild Turkey, Gray Squirrels, Rabbits, Coot, Partridge, Duck, Geese and Woodcock. From the Vermont Audubon website: "The WMA is composed of cultivated farmland, wetlands, grasslands, and early and late successional hardwood forest. Several dams were constructed to greatly increase open water and permanently flood wetland areas. Vermont Natural Community types include Cattail Marsh, Deep Bulrush Marsh and Valley Clayplain Forest." We were there for about 30 minutes looking through our binoculars to see what we could see. I made a mental note that we should return there when the great migrations occur as at the moment we could see few fowl and no wildlife.
We returned to our bicycles and bicycled into DAR State Park. It was early evening and the shadows were lengthening, not only over the land, but over our journey together, as well. This was the end of bicycle tour together. Arriving at our campsite I began to prepare dinner. While I was doing that, my son and I saw three men on bicycles take up camp next to our campsite. We had seen them when we were in Vergennes. I waved to them and one of them came over. We shook hands and he explained to me that he and his companions were on the last leg of their bicycle tour in which they had circumnavigated Lake Champlain starting from Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Soon the other two joined our conversation. They were in the late fifties and carried their belongings with them on their bicycle employing panniers, unlike my son and me as we employed a car. My son and I were very much impressed with their willingness to carry an extra 50 pounds each. On the other hand, they were impressed with my son having been informed that he was 12 (he is tall for his age) and the routes we had taken. I also informed them that it was my son’s goal to accomplish a 75 mile one day tour before the summer ended. (Indeed, he did this a few weeks later). For their trip they decided it was best to pack their own tent. I thought this inefficient, but it worked for them. Our conversation ended as all of us had to prepare dinner and bed before it got too dark.
My son wanted to practice pitching for a while and this we did. We ended when he threw a fast ball down the pipe with such velocity that it stung my hand. Dinner was soon served and we both ate heartily what I had prepared. It was a simple meal of macaroni and cheese with some doctoring by me. We then decided to walk over to the shore of Lake Champlain. We came down the indicated path to the shore. The shore there was mostly ledge. The ledge was etched with lines and these were parallel in a north to south direction. The evening sun, reflecting off of Lake Champlain was still warm and strong and struck a ribbon of blinding molten-silver incandescence upon the water. North of where we were, a decaying set of stairs haplessly hugged the hill. During an earlier phase of their duration they had been solidly built and had, no doubt been tested by many a tempest of wind and wave. They were a testament to what must have been a private residence here. I wondered if the resident’s children, if children they had, laughed and played along the shore and up and down the stairs, enjoying their right as children to do so. My son was skipping stones across the glassy glistening water.
We walked back to our campsite. We sat by the stone hearth while the Coleman lantern, set on the top of it, glowed brightly and we reviewed the events of the day and of our trip, as tomorrow we were to head home. I had tea and my son had hot cocoa as we talked. My son and I are very close and so our conversation touched upon events and impressions that we both felt comfortable discussing and of which each had only to say but a few words to have the other understand. Yet, such is his own genius that now and then his insight into them was surprising and demanded of me some reflection before I responded. So our conversation continued thus into the tender, still and holy evening.
I ended the flow of fuel to the lantern. We retired to our tent for the last time on this journey. My son had prepared our beds well and we both fell asleep quickly, easily and peacefully.
I awoke before my son and headed to the men’s room where I performed two of the "three S’s", as a military-trained coworker described these morning rituals to me once long ago. The missing "S" was shaving and I had not done that the entire trip. As I finished dressing after the shower, I stepped out of the shower area and met one of the men with whom I had spoken the previous night. He and I exchanged some friendly banter. He informed me about Adventure Cycling Association and how they offer resources for planning trips. He also mentioned to me, though I did not know from whence or how such a comment might have arisen, that "you are raising your son well." I thanked him for his kind words, but thought it will be some time before that statement can achieve a truth value.
I went back to the campsite and my son was awake. We broke down our campsite, packed the car, policed our area and began our journey home. We went east on Route 17 until we got to Route 23 and then headed southeast to Middlebury. In Middlebury we stopped to enjoy a cinnamon roll and raspberry puff at a local coffee and pastry place. We were not there long, about a half an hour. We got back in the car and headed out of the town.
I followed Route 7 south to Route 125 at East Middlebury. This road leads to the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. Further on was the Texas Falls Nature Trail and I decided to stop there. My son was sleeping and so I left him thus in the car. It was an old wooded picnic area with a number of picnic benches and it even had a pavilion for group picnics. The walking path followed Texas Brook. The "Falls" part appeared to be the series of stony cascades over which Texas Brook flowed. The fences along the trail, old cement posts connected by logs, looked like the work of the CCC, but I may be mistaken in this. No one was to be seen throughout the one mile walk. Along parts of the stream bed one found basins. This gorge probably is the result of glacial meltwater long ago. It would be a very wonderful place for a picnic and I made a mental note of this.
The rest of the car trip home was uneventful and long. My son and I were mostly quiet during this time, he reading his new book and I lost in thought. I was mostly thinking of next summer when he and I would jettison the car and do an entire trip by bicycle. Of course, the lack of a car will mean new discomforts and difficulties against which he has yet to be tested. Yet, I suspect he will meet them well for he will be a year older and, if he follows along his current trajectory, I know the Old One and his old man will rejoice in his future accomplishments.
My son proved himself a most capable bicyclist on this trip as well as a stalwart and beloved companion who knew that adventure brought both excitement and difficulty and that the latter was sometimes the price of the former. It is simply the case that I am a most fortunate man to have a son such as he. God must have shade a tear of joy when my son was born; I know I did and at moments continue to do so since then.
Some homes were newly minted and, as such, they sometimes evinced a feeble and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to emulate the patina and architectural depth of detail of the original homes there. Instead, in the very attempt, they became ersatz, if expensive, palaces of frightening vulgarity In the older homes there (and in much of northern New England) the effect of automobile use was apparent. For the inviting, but not maintained, front doors of the older homes often were missing the steps that led up to them and the stone, slate or cement walkways that led to them from the street were cracked and overgrown with weeds and grasses. The visible ruin of a past pedestrian community.
The restaurant and general store were rich in vernacular color and tone. Each participated in the rhythms and fluctuating patterns of local life whose traces were everywhere upon the floor, walls and counters. They were responsive to and responsible for the valences of value that knit together (even when conflicts strained and threatened to tear asunder) the rural community there. The multitude of human daily interactions that were brought into being there fashioned, forged and formed each business. Unlike extruded formulaic commerce whose profit in many ways was dependent upon the destruction of these autogenous webs of human interaction, these businesses’ commercial cycles for the most part were interdependent with the parochial ecology and ethos in which they were embedded
A rural road does not offer up its splendor to speed. Thus a bicycle, when weather and physical health permit, is an effective instrument by which that splendor is evoked and elicited. A car in these environs is but a little better than a bus tour that levels out travel and adventure into an ultimately domesticated tourism and the visit into a tame travelogue of equally tamed variables, values and valences. When bicycling on an uncivil civilized route, such as a commercial strip saturated with extruded and financially efficient chain stores, the bicyclist and the pedestrian are assaulted by the blaring, hostile, glaring, and foul-smelling wasteland. This wasteland is disgorged upon the landscape by marketerian-fettered, car-caged entities whose only solace is the thought of what lies beyond the ever-receding horizon of their consumption-obsessed dreams. Bicycling upon a rural road sweetens the spirit with joy-flooding solar-psalm, with the mood-lifting redolence of blossom and with that essential soul-freeing and truth-telling only emancipated bodily effort realizes and enjoys.)
Thoreau’s book is of that writing where the effort taken in the reading of it returns much. Part travelogue, part wisdom writing, part local history tract, part polemic, part botanical and geological field study, it is a wilderness of wisdom, a woodland whose multifarious pathways within intersect incessantly with once-undisclosed places of adventure and discovery. It wanders not unlike the meandering rivers on which Thoreau and his brother traveled. Emerson, Thoreau's mentor, did not like it, but perhaps he had tended too many gardens.
To get the "temperature" of a New England village it is worthwhile to visit its Pub, Church and Public Library, if one has the time to visit all three. Each of these, perhaps, has the best chance of reflecting and refracting the soul of the village and often offers the most interesting architecture, either in the sense of form in space or in the sense of local history in time or both. To have intercourse and commerce with all three in some way also reveals the verities of the village in a sort of checks and balances dynamic i.e., to enter in just one or two and only that one or two is to suffer an impoverished perspective of the village’s works and days.
It is a curious how dazzled we are by the new and how loathsome a task we find the act of maintaining (Latin manü tenëre, hold in the hand) the not-new. Perhaps, it is in keeping with the dictates of our national cult, consumption, that we behave this way. On the other hand, lack of maintenance, say of the nation's infrastructure, may result in death and injury though, here to, GNP is for the most part increased by these, so the "bottom line" is preserved intact. (Though GNP, interestingly enough, has no true bottom line and in this may be found one explanation for our less-than-celebratory appreciation of maintenance.) Restoration, which one may think of as a sort of maintenance, is always happening in these United States. But in an important sense, restoration is actually the result of a long career of inattention and neglect i.e., there would be no need of restoration had there been maintenance. Further, once restoration is accomplished what is restored will still require maintenance. Often, it does not receive it and the cycle is repeated. Maintenance is one manifestation of caring in which what is cared for is thought of as inherently worth continuing e.g., a building, a device, a tool, a tradition, a wetland, a forest, or an artwork, and which is felt as greater than the importance of any one individual. In this, ownership is not possession and domination, but stewardship and dominion. Even here, however, it may come to pass that maintenance becomes an act of idolatry as when preservation is recalcitrant before ever-creative evolution.)