Home at Last
In 2010, I took a six month sabbatical from my teaching career and traveled throughout Vermont. I interviewed more than 100 farmers and people who worked in agricultural or food related enterprises. In exchange for the interview time, I offered “give back days,” where I returned to the farm or business and did whatever task they needed. The dirtier, the better. That odyssey introduced me to some of the most innovative, inspirational, and intelligent people I’ve ever met. The journey nudged me to become a writer-farmer. Fortunately, my treks continue as I pursue a story or connect with a farm. Here’s a musing I wrote in the final week of the sabbatical. Perhaps my favorite piece ever. Hope it resonates with you too.
This project has necessitated a lot of travel. I loved the anticipation of a trip guided solely by my big red Vermont Gazetteer. I have driven thousands of miles over the course of six months. The roads ascended hilltops, hugged meandering rivers, dropped through valleys and notches. But nothing quite compares to returning to my home along the Battenkill River in Arlington. Invariably, one of the routes to the southwest corner of the state leads me over the hills to Manchester. The sight of Equinox’s elephantine hump, flanked by undulating mountains, always takes my breath away. I guide Blueberry, my truck, along the familiar curves, dips, and rises I have travelled for two decades. With Orion at my shoulder and the moon a beacon ahead, I arrive in my valley. I hit the blinker one last time, pull down the dirt driveway, and climb out of the truck. As I stretch luxuriously and breathe in crisp night air, the rushing Battenkill water along my bank whispers, “Welcome home.”
While I love my travels and enjoyed the opportunity to have a secondary base in Montpelier, I relish being home. I seemed to route myself back here most weekends to restore my energy. I catch up on sleep, hang out by the fire, cook and nest. I pad through the quiet rooms, thinking of all the family gatherings over the years. I pour a glass of wine or a couple fingers of bourbon and wander outside. Moonlight has painted the rippling surface of the Battenkill white. I slowly rotate full circle and study the dark contours of the hills against the sky, marvel at the billion stars overhead. On a distant hill, a coyote makes his presence known. I draw in a deep breath and smell my neighbor’s wood smoke. Home at last, or as my nephew says, “Home Vermont.”
And perhaps that is the point of this odyssey. Our journeys always bring us back to our roots. After months of visiting amazing farms and meeting inspiring people, I realize more keenly all the treasures I have in my own corner of the state. I am blessed with outstanding growers and producers. If we want to keep agriculture alive and thriving, then we need to support the farmers in our communities in thought, word, and deed. Seek out the farms in our area and learn about them. We need to reflect on what they are doing and consider how hard they work for us. We need to talk with them and spread the word to our neighbors and friends. And most importantly, we need to buy their products. Farmers are not growing for themselves – they are toiling for us, their neighbors and community. No one would work that hard, investing incalculable amounts of physical labor, mental energy, and financial resources, just for themselves. Farmers want to farm, but they want their efforts to enrich and sustain their community. If we want to keep farms active in our area, then we must support them in return.
Arlington, Vermont November 15, 2010
Photo taken by Constance Rafferty.