“Everyone is so nice here,” I said to the woman bagging my groceries. “Welcome to Vermont,” she said.
Beards, beer and tattoos. Ranger hats, multi-purpose sandals, clever, casual t-shirts. Open-hearted, open-minded, kind. Mountains, rivers, valleys. Kayaks, canoes, bikes. Green, seasoned, aware. Generous, proud, prepared. Healthy, local, family. This is the state of Vermont and its people. We spent two thorough, fulfilling and pleasant weeks with family in Vermont, boondocking and camping, navigating our way through the lay of the land. We worked and played, ate and talked, and we learned that Vermont is one of a kind. We had a lot of fun living it up like locals. Here’s a little story about our time in this beautiful, scenic state.
Get to Know Your Inner Vermonter
Small geographically — the forty-fifth largest state in the Union — Vermont is a statistical powerhouse, so much so that it would be difficult to discuss all of the fun, cool and unique stuff about Vermont. The list is endless and interesting. Rather than try to sum up all that Vermont is with a just bunch of paragraphs and prose, this will be better shared with a splattering of Vermont catchphrases, one-liner stats and beer.
Visitors to Vermont will find all that they need to know about its landscape by reading what its residents are sporting about it, be it on t-shirt or bumber sticker, some which read “Vermont Ain’t Flat” or “Cycling in Vermont: 75% Uphill, 25% Headwind” or “Tree Hugging Dirt Worshipper” or “May the Forest Be with You.” Seventy-seven percent of Vermont is blanketed by forest. In fact, it is likely that “Vermont” comes from the French “les monts verts,” the green mountains. There is ner’y a straight road or flat land to be had. It’s quite possible that the only level terrain we encountered is the one in the featured image where we played soccer. No one says, “See that house over there? That’s where I live.” Rather, you will hear, “We live just over that tree line,” or “See that red barn on that hill? Well, we live just below that to the left a little bit, in kind of a valley where it kind of Ts,” or folks just look around to gather their senses and say, “I live that way.” Just figure out the roads, rivers and mountains and you’ll be fine.
Besides the forest, there is a lot of water, including enormous Lake Champlain, the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the U.S., which marks the boundary between Vermont and New York. There are ferry options to cross from New York into Vermont, or you can travel like we did along the only northern bridge around Lake Champlain leading into Vermont, the one that’s about three feet from the Canadian border. (PS – There are fifteen border crossings between Vermont and Canada, just in case you miss one.) There are also beautiful rivers, reservoirs, lakes, streams and ponds. A child born in the state of Vermont can receive a fishing license for life. Who needs a college fund when you can fish forever? On the other side of the state is the Connecticut River, Vermont’s shared border with New Hampshire. Vermont likes its neighbor New Hampshire, which you will find noted on the t-shirt that reads “Vermont: 69ing New Hampshire since 1791.” They must really like to share a watershed, or their “Irregular States” bumper sticker status.
There is not one building taller than one hundred twenty-four feet in Vermont, a solitary claim for this state. Furthermore, its biggest city Burlington is the nation’s “smallest biggest city,” a claim that you will also read on a t-shirt.
To live in Vermont, required tools include an axe, a saw, wood for life, snow tires, chains for snow tires, kayak or canoe, fishing gear, snowshoe or skis or snowboard or snowmobile, hiking gear, a woodstove, an air conditioner, sunscreen, bug spray, 4-wheel drive, a shovel and compost. One never really knows what the weather will bring in Vermont, so one is prepared for anything, a sentiment that you will read on one of these t-shirts: “I Am Vermont Strong,” “Vermont Tough: Genuine, Natural, Resilient,” “I Live Here” (with image of Vermont), or “Vermont Weather Report: Hot and Sunny, turning to sleet mid-morning, becoming a blizzard by noon, 6-42 inches, followed by warm, moist tropical air, which will probably bring severe thunderstorms and a floodwatch.”
Vermont is the seventh coldest state in the nation, often deemed “too cold to snow,” although once — about five hundred million years ago — it was tropical.
There are buildings all over the world that are constructed exclusively out of Vermont granite.
I cannot even begin to tell you all of the information given about the goings-on among Vermont flora and fauna, but it might be important to note that “invasive wild honeysuckle has been deemed a threat to the state’s forests, native species of plants, and wildlife” and that “DDT destroyed the eggshells of ospreys, which resulted in their disappearance from the state.” Thankfully, the ospreys have made a comeback. However, the maple syrup industry may be in trouble due to global warming. Sugar maple sap likes cold weather, but as the climate warms, the sap-tapping window has narrowed at times to just one week. Vermont proudly produces maple syrup. If you are in doubt, just look for the t-shirt that reads “I’d Tap That.”
This falls in line with Vermont’s general ideology about all things local, found on a tee or car that might read, “Vermont Farm Tours: You are where you eat” or “Eat More Kale.” There are farms everywhere. Yes, the Cabot cheese is delicious. Seasonal, local produce is abundant. And so is the beer. Vermont has the highest number of breweries per capita: “There is one brewery for every 24,067 people” in Vermont. So one probably needs to add hops to the list of things one needs to live in this state. That and brewing equipment. There are at least forty-one breweries in Vermont. Vermont actually calculates the impact of beer on its GDP. The tees and stickers that rule include “Small State, Big Beer,” “Syrup & Beer & Party at 802,” “Vermont Beer League,” “Beer Tastes Better Camping,” “Vermont Drinking Team,” “Water, Yeast, Malt, Hops, Damn, Tasty, Beer” and/or “Beer King of Vermont.”
I am not sure that there is any Bud Light in Vermont.
And just a few more fun facts include Vermont being the least religious state in the U.S; it was once called New Connecticut; slavery was banned in Vermont almost three years before the start of the Civil War; Vermont approved the vote for women before it happened at a national level; Vermont still has secessionist leanings; and it often ranks among the highest in the country of overall well-being and health outcomes.
There is so much more to say about interesting Vermont, but mostly what is important is the information about Vermonters themselves. Vermonters are often quiet, but have a lot to say. They like their neighbors but like to not be seen by each other, so many people lived tucked just over this hill or that one. They are open-minded and opinionated. They are generous and conservationists. They are active recreationally, and they are really chilled out. How do I know this? I read the signs: “Keep Calm, You’re in Vermont;” “Question Authority, Consume Less, Share More;” “Welcome to Vermont! Now Go Home!;” “What Happens Here, Stays Here, But Nothing Really Ever Happens Here;” or “Keep Vermont Weird.”
Thanks to Wikipedia and Vermont Brewers and for my brother- and sister-in-law for lots of information.
I love Vermonters.
Now, for our local status.
Boondocking and Camping in Vermont
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “boondocking” is basically camping for free. There are all kinds of sites and services out there for interested boondockers — folks that just need a quick stopover, folks that want a more remote camping experience or for those who really just want to see the world for mostly free. Just drive by a Walmart in the middle of the night and you’ll see a whole lot of boondocking going on. Boondocking also happens a lot in National Forest areas. Former boonockers also offer up their spaces, such as driveways and side yards, to other boondockers. It’s kind of like a big network of freedom-loving travelers. We boondocked in style in Vermont at the base of the hill that leads to the pretty house that belongs to Scot’s brother and his family. Generous, generous folk. Our hoses and extension cords met in the middle of their forest to connect our camper to water and electricity so that we could sleep, use the facilities sparingly and eat breakfast. So maybe it was more like glamping, but now we’re just talking semantics.
Never a dull moment for the moms, we made lots of food, especially for the kiddos, whose appetites seemed unending. My sister-in-law is the queen of resourcefulness and had all kinds of things lined up, including free passes shared by local libraries, that gave us wonderful snapshots of Vermont life. We swam at the Waterbury Reservoir and Lake Elmore, rode bikes and scooters at a local skate park, picked up yummy doughnuts at a local mill (just like the ones from Crane Orchards in Fennville for you Michiganders), hit the farm stands and farm markets and a couple of wine shops, and we visited the amazing, the incomparable, Shelburne Museum near Burlington, a place I would visit again and again, strolling the lanes of old Vermont, relaxing. We missed Burlington, but we plan on going next time as it is considered a must-see if one really wants to get a sense of Vermont. Can’t wait.
The kiddos got along famously and mostly told us all to leave them alone as they were “busy” with playing, Minecraft and general kid secrecy. And what is it with ravenous appetites?!? We send big thanks to the cousins for sharing their mom and dad, their home, their toys, their WiFi, that cool toy car, their food and their friendship. Totally awesome kids.
Scot and his brother played with data and logos and brewed beer, which my brother-in-law does often and semi-professionally through his endeavor Specrum Beer Project. (They have a Facebook page, too, for the FB user in you.) It is a lot of fun to be around folks that make stuff. Brewing beer is like keeping a countertop starter and making bread — it kind of becomes like having another young child, who must be tended to often, requiring lots of TLC. My brother-in-law is an attentive brewmeister who cares very much about the nuances of his beer. He offered up everything he had, from mash to imbibing to spent grain, the latter of which I will dry, grind and put into muffins or bread soon and share with you. Anyway, we sampled many Spectrum Beer varieties, including a Session Ale and a Saison, Scot’s favorite Opposite End IPA and mine the porter. Hopefully his gig will come to fruition and you can visit his Vermont brewery. Stay tuned.
After our glamourous boondocking, we moved down the road to camp for one more week along the clear, cool, calm Lamoille River at Mountain View Campground in Morrisville. Despite a really weak 4G signal, which complicated all forms of communication, our visit to this campground was wonderful. Our camper was parked a the base of a small mountain and backed up to the river. We swam in the pool on hot days and waded in the shallow river, too, examining rocks and discussing currents. After it rained, we checked the water levels, and at night we waited for the moon to rise and show itself on the river’s surface. We also were able to do a bit more with our family, including catch a couple of matinees and have dinner at camp. The only hiccup was that Scot was ill for quite some time during our trip. He hung in there, though, and did what he could and I sure was grateful when he recovered.
Fun, exhausting, exhilarating, engaging, easy, peaceful was our time in Vermont. We really look forward to doing more there. We are very thankful for our family, who took such great care of us and share all of themselves, and to our campground hosts. What a lovely adventure in New England. We shall return.