One of the author's three daughters gets a first look at Vermont — in a California library book.
“Vermont?!? Wow, I’m not sure I could handle those New England winters again. Especially with kids.”
It was January 2011. My husband, Erick, and I were standing in the kitchen of our little rented bungalow in Berkeley, California, discussing his job prospects. Our two daughters, age 3 and 1, were asleep in the bedroom next door, and I was eight months pregnant with daughter number three. Erick had just told me that Middlebury College, a small liberal arts school of about 2,000 students in central Vermont, was flying him out to interview for a position as assistant professor of economics.
On the wall behind Erick hung a large framed map of Baffin Island, the biggest island in Canada, which straddles the Arctic Circle. A few years before we met, in his adventurous bachelor days, Erick had gone dog-sledding on Baffin Island. He said it was so cold that he survived mostly on butter and chocolate — which actually doesn’t sound bad, other than the so cold part. The map of Baffin Island is almost entirely white, with a few patches of light blue to represent the Arctic Ocean.
At this moment, “Vermont” existed in my mind in the same category as “Baffin Island”: a frozen white hinterland.
I attended a college much like Middlebury: Williams College, a small liberal arts school of about 2,000 students located in the far northwestern corner of Massachusetts, near the Vermont and New York borders. It’s a bucolic, small town setting, nestled in a valley in the Berkshire Mountains. And, for much of the year, it is cold. I have one memory in particular of a January night during my freshman year, when I had to venture across campus after dark for a seminar. Piles of snow that had been cleared from the sidewalk rose taller than me on either side. An icy wind blew right through my parka. I was totally alone, and I thought to myself, I’m not going to make it. I just can’t go any further; I’m going to lay down in one of these snowdrifts and they’ll find me after the spring thaw.
And Middlebury, Vermont, the small town of about 8,000 people where Middlebury College is located, is two-and-a-half hours north of Williams.
Now, a decade later, my husband was telling me that there was a possibility that we would relocate to Vermont; standing in our kitchen in Berkeley, California, on a January day when the temperature had averaged 60 degrees, and telling me that we might move to a faraway place of snow and cows and barns.
I wasn’t sure I could do it.
On second thought, that isn’t quite accurate: I’m a big believer that I can do just about anything that I have to do. Moving our soon-to-be family of five across the country to small-town Vermont wasn’t like repairing a jet engine, or quarterbacking, or baking a meringue; I could do it. Whether I wanted to do it was another matter.
Middlebury wasn’t the only place interested in Erick, but it was the most far out in every sense; the other institutions interviewing him were large research universities and consulting firms in major urban areas. That was familiar territory; with the exception of my four undergraduate years in rural Massachusetts, Erick and I had both grown up in the suburbs (Washington, D.C., for me; San Francisco for Erick), and we’d lived our entire adult lives in New York City and Berkeley.
So, because Middlebury was the anomaly — the strangest, least comfortable, scariest of all the possibilities — I thought about it the most. I tried to picture our family’s life in small town Vermont: I pictured us living in a converted farmhouse surrounded by acres of fields, pictured our children romping outside with an energetic but gentle dog, pictured us raising chickens and planting a garden, pictured our mudroom stuffed with three little sets of gear for all seasons. And, because I thought about it the most, I found myself secretly rooting for Vermont. By the time Erick called to tell me that he had one week to accept Middlebury’s job offer, it was really a no-brainer.
We moved into our new house, into our new life in small-town Vermont, in June 2011. We do not live in a converted farmhouse, but in a 25-year-old grey Cape on a wooded ridge at the foot of the Green Mountains. We do have some flowerbeds, but no “garden” to speak of; sink a shovel more than one inch into our land and you’ll hit solid rock, and the growing conditions at our house are best described as “full to fuller shade.” But those are the only two departures from my original vision of Vermont Life: our children do romp outside with an energetic, gentle dog (even better, it’s our neighbor’s dog); we are raising chickens — a little flock of four laying hens; and our mudroom looks like the L.L. Bean stockroom after an earthquake.
Our move to Vermont was one big “Whoa” moment: a moment when I felt truly grown-up for the first time; a moment when I embraced my role as a mother to three young girls; a moment when I learned to appreciate quiet, solitude, and patience; a moment when I began to know what it means to live in the woods, in a small town, in community.
Hello, Vermont! Nice to meet you!
This is my first post to appear in the online edition of The Addison Independent, but from now on you can find me here every other week. I’ll be writing about life in Addison County — and life in general — from the perspective of a parent with young children, who is still relatively new to the area. Here’s what you will not read from me: parenting advice (good God, NO!), political opinions (too complicated), or an authoritative guide to Vermont living (I just moved here). I’m not much of an expert on anything; I’m just a person who loves living in Vermont, and I hope my writing will reflect the same love and respect that Vermont has shown my family.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters, and four laying hens — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.