There has understandably been a lot of bad news about Vermont in the media this week. I’m not saying we should ignore the bad, but it’s important to remember this: Vermont is magical. And like many magical things, it becomes imperiled by our neglect. The best thing we can do to help this beautiful place right now is to plan a visit, to support the local businesses, and to spread the word that while some things have been destroyed, so much is still there for us all to enjoy. There are many lovely towns all over the state that have not been affected by Irene and are just waiting for you to explore them. Please consider visiting Vermont this fall or winter. I know they’ll be glad to have you.
Please click on the photos in this post to see and scroll through full-sized versions with captions.
I love the Mad River Valley like I love no other place. Its geography is as familiar and as beloved to me as my children’s faces, and I constantly trace its contours in my mind, assembling a happy list of barns, bridges, dirt roads, glacial rocks, lakes, blueberry bushes, and maple trees – with no stoplights, traffic jams, or worries.
I love the Common Road, where we always encounter an animal friend or two. The mountains line the distance, old farm equipment is sculpture, and the Skinner Barn with its lovely lawn and small stream are a happy place to explore and maybe throw a rock or two into the water.
I love Mad River Glen, where I first learned to ski and where the rest of my family has now joyfully followed suit. One of the few places left without snowboards or high-speed lifts, it is an old-school bastion of the best in Eastern skiing and natural beauty.
I love the Long Trail and Sunset Rock, where my children both first had the satisfaction of finishing a “real” hike, complete with a rewarding view all the way to Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond.
I love the Farmers’ Market where the boys stuff themselves on samosas, amazingly rich homemade maple ice-cream, lemonade prepared in a huge crock, cookies shaped like flowers. I love the beautiful produce – has anyone ever seen such amazingly perfect patty-pan squash, such paragons of heirloom tomatoes? Rupert cheese, dark-chocolate peanut butter, fig-anise bread, maple syrup sold by the gallon, huge sunflowers – a dizzying array of pleasures. And while we walk and shop and eat someone on the stage sings “How Can I Keep From Singing” and neighbors greet each other, all smiling.
I love American Flatbread, where children catch snails and play volleyball and turn cartwheels while grownups feast on pizza pulled sizzling moments before from huge beehive ovens, the carmelized onions and sausage, the kale and gruyere, the simple basil and tomato sauce all perfect accompaniments to that blackened crispy crust. I love Lawsons Finest Liquid, a local beer brewed in small batches using maple sap and served here. I love the cool of the evening, the warmth of the fire pit, the smiles on everyone’s faces.
And although this week it has been the source of so much destruction, I love the river itself, winding its crazy corkscrew path through the heart of everything, offering hours of simple pleasure and beauty on summer afternoons as long as my children’s memories. I love the river rocks we’ve found there and now keep all around our house as talismans and good luck charms, their smooth faces a pleasure to touch. I love the covered bridge – still intact despite the battering it just took! – and the children who jump from it into the water below.
There are so many businesses that I love too: The Warren Store, where we’ve bought everything from gummy worms to beer to sandwiches; The Green Cup, purveyor of the best scones I’ve ever eaten; Mehurons Supermarket, which magically, always has everything I want and then some even though it is half the size of the behemoth suburban markets I shop in at home; the Artisans’ Gallery, a gorgeously curated shop full of locally made art and objects inspired by the natural beauty all around.
And of course, most of all, the Millbrook Inn, where I spent so many childhood summers, where I was married, and where I return, joyfully, with my boys whenever we can. Much has changed there in the past year of course, but it is still open for guests, as is the Octogon House, perfect for families (it’s where we stay in the summer).
The photos you see in this post were all taken before the considerable destruction wrought in the Mad River Valley by Tropical Storm Irene. No one can ever completely undo that damage of course. But I’ve been amazed and inspired by what has happened in the community there during the past few days. This is perhaps the number one reason to offer the Valley a love letter: The people who live there and know that they are stewards not only of the place itself but of their neighbors.
By following many friends on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been able to see so many incredible images of the volunteer effort that has gotten much of the town up and running again. Every business I mention with the exception of The Green Cup will be open by this weekend. The Farmers Market is scheduled to take place as usual this Saturday morning. The annual Craft Fair will be set up in town for the 41st year in a row and the Green Mountain Stage Race will be cycled.
If you don’t have any Labor Day plans, I hope you’ll consider a visit to the Mad River Valley. And if you can’t go this weekend, maybe another weekend this fall as the leaves turn the most spectacular shades of crimson and gold. Or maybe this winter for some skiing. I promise, once you’ve been it will fill your imagination as it has mine – and you’ll want to go back as much as I do.
For more information about what’s going on; what’s open and what’s closed; and what the best routes into the Valley are, as many roads in the area remain closed please visit http://www.madrivervalley.com/. I’ll also be posting links to businesses that are open and accepting reservations in my Twitter stream. If you’d like to send money to help farmers, small business owners, and residents of the Mad River Valley, a great place to do so is by donating to the Mad River Valley Community Fund.