"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vermont and New Hampshire: Unique Local Phenomena

Being here in Vermont is a return to an earlier time and place in both of our lives, as well as in US history. I lived nearby in Keene, NH for about 20 years, and Rick and I lived in Mt. Holly, VT for about four before we moved to Chicago in 2002.  But beyond our personal histories, Vermont, like most of New England, is just so deeply settled. People have been living here for so long that its history is not only visible everywhere, but it seems like I can feel it in the curves of the roads as they follow the streams and larger river valleys, in the pastures, in the stone walls.  Time moves slowly here - in the 10+ years since we lived here it looks like there has been almost no development, in fact many things have devolved. (Of course we've been through a hard-hitting recession during that time.) People live simple lives, many of them closely connected to a minimalist kind of agricultural dependency on the land. No evidence of big corporate agri-business around here - just small family farms.

It's hard to believe that Vermont and New Hampshire were almost completely deforested for sheep farming in the 1800's. Now there are trees everywhere. It's a challenge to get photographs of anything besides the trees!  

We're at the KOA on Rt. 5, about halfway between Brattleboro and Putney, VT. I'll say more about the immediate area in my next post. For now I'll just share a few spots we've visited in the past week.

One of the places I was really looking forward to revisiting is Burdick's, just across the river in Walpole, NH. It is truly one of the areas best kept secrets.  Burdick's makes internationally renown chocolate, but is so unprepossessing that you'd never know it was there. In this classic little white clapboard town, it is just one of a handful of businesses in the homely building in the photo below. There isn't even a sign saying it's Burdick's. 

The best thing at Burdick's, in my opinion, is the hot chocolate, made simply of shaved chocolate (your choice of dark, mild or white) with just enough steamed milk to make it drinkable. OMG, it is like nothing you've ever tasted. It is so intense that the first time you may not even be able to finish a cup. It is complete sensual rapture. 

In the Walpole location Burdick's has a chocolate store, a cafe and a restaurant. I've never tried the restaurant, but love the little cafe (above). It's very warm and cozy and welcoming, with hot drinks of all kinds, fresh baked croissants and scones, as well as about 15 other kinds of pastries and dessertish things (below).  I've been there twice already at 7 AM when they are just opening the doors and taking the croissants and scones out of the oven. Oh boy. Breakfast perfection.

And here's another southern Vermont favorite that I was looking forward to revisiting: The Vermont Country Store, with two locations in Weston and Rockingham.  We stopped at the original store, in Weston. 

It has two large compound buildings, one of which houses two restaurants: the classic Bryant House for a sit down meal, and the equally classic Mildred's ice cream shop (below).

The other is a rambling multi-roomed general store with an abundance of everything you can imagine, from clothing, to foods and candies, to toys and housewares, all with an emphasis on tradition.  Here's the cheese shop:

It's a great place to Christmas shop or to find a little something that you don't need in the RV. I found a few excellent dish towels.

In our new explorations of the area we've come across the longest covered bridge in Vermont, that crosses the West River in West Dummerston (above), and the ruins of Madame Sherri's Castle near Mt. Wantastiquet (below), thanks to our friend Steve.

The "castle" was a grand home at one time, that fell into disrepair and burnt down in 1962. The ruins make for some interesting exploring.

We've also made our usual visits to local farmer's markets, the one below is in Norwich, VT, where we also happened to run into an old friend of Rick's selling produce from her Four Springs Farm in nearby Royalton. There was some nice fiddle and hammer dulcimer music being played as well.

Yesterday we had another new experience with a drive up the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive, in Sunderland, near Manchester, VT.  (Manchester is a very popular, high-end kind of destination with lots of places to eat, lodge and shop.)

The toll road is managed by the Carthusian Monastery that can be seen from the summit of Mt. Equinox. The views from the drive and the summit are spectacular, stretching from the Adirondacks of NY in the east to the White Mountains of NH in the west. It's a great place to get a sense of the vastness of the surrounding mountains and the TREES!

At the summit, the Monastery has build a viewing (and warming) center that also houses some information about the Carthusians. There is a network of hiking trails leaving from the center that look like they'd be pretty interesting. It can of course get cold and windy at the top, but it wasn't too bad the day we were there.

 On the way home Rick spotted this collection of rock sculptures or cairns, in the Winhall River in Bondville, so we got out to take a closer look, along with about 20 other people.

Well, it turns out this place is a hot local controversy. A young local man started building them about a month ago after the death of his dog, and he was eventually joined by other people, including families with children.  The collection grew to over one hundred piles of balanced rocks in the river.

But not everyone appreciated the spontaneous community art project. Just days ago another local man took a rake and knocked every single one down.  Local news reports quote him as saying it was a "desecration of nature."  I don't know, do you see that?

In response, community members rallied together and rebuilt the cairns. By the time we saw them on August 3, there were again hundreds, with more being built as we watched. I don't really understand the objection, and felt only gratitude that someone took the time to built all these little works of art. Now I feel even more gratitude to the people who got together to rebuild them. I agree whole-heartedly with one person who was interviewed, that this is such a healthy, wholesome and creative community endeavor, that brings people together in a safe, productive way, with such a fascinating result! I wish more small towns had events like this that they could be proud of and that people from all around would come and appreciate. It required no fund raising, no grants, no committees and generated no bags of garbage. It's put Bondville on the map! I hope they can heal whatever rift it caused, move on and enjoy.

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