Vermont played a crucial role in my upbringing. My immigrant grandparents, avid practitioners of the American Dream, decided once their talents and hard work began paying off that they needed a weekend ski house. So the year before I was born they bought a funky old farmhouse by a brook situated near both Stratton and Bromley mountains. The house, built in about 1825, had once belonged to an aunt of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, who had reportedly spent a summer there at some point. Once, some people (presumably Christian Scientists) drove up to the house and asked my grandmother if they could have a tour of the house. “No,” she said, and went back to tending her flower garden.
Many, many family gatherings from summer cookouts to lavish Thanksgivings took place in that house over the years. And the surrounding meadow and woods served as gym, church, school, and private domain for me; during a time before digital devices* nature offered all the excitement I needed outside of books and board games. Hell, the house didn’t even have any TV reception, so going outside was a no-brainer. It didn’t hurt that I genuinely loved the woods and spent a lot of time in them even when we were back at home with a working television and everything. Usually alone, always on foot, I learned every feature of that property, and surrounding areas, in detail and throughout the course of the region’s four distinct and archetypally beautiful seasons.
There was a huge clearing up behind the house, which by Memorial Day weekends had become a fern grove, completely carpeted in fronds. I liked to sit on a big rock, protruding like an island from the sea of fractal green, and listen to the woods for extended periods. Later in life I would bring a sketchbook or journal and draw or write. In high school, I practiced my rock climbing moves on the small cliff up the hill across the stream. Much later, that house was the site of my bachelor party (which, due to logistics, took place a year and a half after my wedding): four friends joined me and we cooked our own free-range, artisanal, jungle-to-cup ayahuasca.
As a kid, being outside was its own reward. These days, when I’m in the woods it’s usually with a purpose, specifically foraging and/or photography, but I like to think of this as an enhancing overlay of knowledge, a beneficial filter that doesn’t limit my joy but instead colors it with a deeper understanding—much as the magic hour light flatters the mountains into impossible colors. And I get to share the woods with my son, who likes to go on “photo safaris” with me. Last fall, on just such a walk near the fern grove, we found some beautiful lion’s mane fungi growing on a fallen tree; I made pizza with them that evening. In addition to all the other uses for the land, it’s now also a classroom and pantry.
Winter allows us to see far into (deciduous) woods that are opaque when foliated, where we spy cliffs or streams or houses that are invisible in summer. One of my favorite sights in winter is the bare brown canopy of branches atop a ridge echoed by the snowy ground a bit below it, the parallel lines looking almost like pentimenti in a drawing, imparting a rippling gesture and translucent dimension to the landscape. Now, with warm weather finally upon us, those woods look stippled with faint clouds of color as pointillistic auras of green, yellow red, and pink buds begin to obscure that view a little more each day. As the browns and grays of Mud Season yield to the verdant splendor that gives the state its name, the mountains describe a gradient from bright new green at their bases to purply brown at the summits. The golden light before sunset makes both the green and purple glow orange, one of the more marvelous color combinations in this world. Soon the wave of green will overtop the highest peaks and usher in the short but unrivaled perfection of a Vermont summer.
While Vermont is rightly famous for its maple syrup and dairy, it now boasts some pretty interesting beverage makers. We’ve got a pair of long-form pieces that overlap pretty handsomely, describing how a new generation is coaxing some sophisticated new tipples from old farmland: grape and apple wines of character and distinction. Zak and Jori’s farmer friend Bob Machin also weighs in with the perspective of an earlier generation—from the same neighborhood in the middle of the state—about raising pigs and not incidentally his own estimable cider practice. We’ve also got a recipe from one of Vermont’s finest chefs, featuring maple syrup (which season recently concluded) and dandelions (which are arriving in force).
So here’s our little snapshot of a place Zak and I both love, and were both formed and inspired by (and we grew up going to places only a few miles apart) where there’s some world-class growing, fermenting, and cooking going on. (And making; see the profile of Romulus Craft, the ceramicists who furnished Fish & Game with much of its pottery, in our beautiful book.) Enjoy.
*except this nifty Casio watch WITH A CALCULATOR that I found once while ice skating sometime during sixth grade.