Across the Spectrum
Three hundred and fifty miles separate Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom from the streets of Manhattan. The two locales represent the endpoints along a spectrum of northeastern lifestyles. I traveled across that spectrum last week, beginning with a drive to visit to Marion’s daughter, Meghann, in East Charleston, Vermont. Then, three days later, we rode the rails into Grand Central Station and the heart of New York City. I’ve thought a lot about the urban-rural contrast in the days since.
It’s a two hour drive from our Tunbridge home to the heart of “The Kingdom” in the northeastern corner of Vermont. (The name, “The Northeast Kingdom,” or simply, “The Kingdom,” was given to the area in a 1949 speech by a Vermont senator. It has stuck ever since.) As in Tunbridge, roads are mostly dirt in the Kingdom. At the end of the drive we turned onto 10 Mile Square Road, leading to Leadership Drive and finally to Meghann’s cabin at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center. Despite the mild temperatures of the day, patches of snow and ice reminded us that winter arrives well ahead of the season in this corner of the state.
Island Pond, the town just east of Meghann’s home, is a place where my family used to vacation when I was young. I’d visited West Charleston when my sister taught school there in the 80’s, but trips to the Kingdom have been rare in the years since. Even so, I felt immediately at home as soon as I stepped out of the truck.
After a potluck dinner where biologists, foresters and conservationists gathered around dishes made from locally grown fare, including smoked trout and black bear stew, we reconvened in the NorthWoods Stewardship Center’s conference room for an evening of Celtic music performed by Vermont musicians. Staying up later than I’d done in a long time, we closed out the evening around the kitchen table in the home of the Center’s operations director.
Throughout the weekend the welcoming embrace of both land and people reminded me why I have returned to the rural setting of my youth.
Three days after our visit with Meghann, Marion and I joined the morning commuters aboard the Metro North train in Brewster, NY for the trip inbound to Grand Central Station. Marion was attending a work related conference in midtown Manhattan and I’d decided to spend the day wandering the streets of the city.
No longer in the land of hunter’s orange caps and earthy textures, we sat in the midst of carefully chosen urban styles where black is often the color of choice. From Grand Central Station, I walked the mile and a half to the conference center with Marion and agreed to meet her in the lobby again at 4 o’clock that afternoon. I turned south down 9th Avenue without any destination in mind.
It was a cool morning. The skies were clear, but I couldn’t reach the sun. Low in the winter sky, it remained hidden behind the cold stone, steel, brick, concrete, and glass facades that towered above the streets. On the occasions when the rays of light did reach the ground I wanted to sit and soak them in, but there are few spaces in the city where one is invited to linger. The surge of humanity through the streets overwhelmed me. I’d intended to photograph a few of the sights, but the sensory overload left me dazed and unable to focus. Everyone and everything seemed to be moving much too fast. I couldn’t catch up, yet I was swept along by the rush of it all.
Northbound on the train at the end of the day I thought of a meal that Marion and I had shared with a couple from Boston a few years ago. Looking ahead to their planned move to Vermont upon retirement, the woman’s concerns about being bored by the rural life prompted her to ask Marion, “Just what do you do?”
I’d found myself wondering the same of those I was surrounded with on that day in New York. I was as lost in those concrete canyons as that woman had been in the hills of Vermont.