Opinion: Much to recommend in ‘pastoral’ Champlain Valley
I’m taking an online permaculture course through Cornell UniversityExtension, and part of my current assignment is to write an elevator pitch for my bioregion to convince everyone to move here. Here it is, addressed not to us, but to the folk living other places:
I really don’t want you to move here. Sorry, but part of the charm of whereI live is the low population density. I’m here because I fell in love with a Middlebury College graduate who has loved the Champlain Valley from her first visit to campus. And this place works for me. I like the four seasons and that they are less extreme than those I experienced growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minn.
I love the mountains — we have a viewfrom our living room of the Green Mountains, particularly in the winter, and there are gorgeous views of the Adirondacks as we drive nearby.
Fall isspectacular. The countryside is mostly pastoral, and you have to go an hour north or south of where I live to get to a mall (though strip malls of small stores are scattered along Route 7, the largest traffic corridor in Vermont to the west of the Green Mountains, which goes right through Middlebury).
Vermont outlawed billboards in 1968, so we aren’t bombardedwith ads.
And I like the quiet. My wife and I lived in parsonages up untillast year when we bought this house, and the parsonages we lived in for 11 years were on busy roads. Our road is still busy compared to most around here — a car goes by every five minutes or so during the day, and the speed limit is 35 mph — but at least its not the constant noise we had before, and nights are quiet enough to sleep with the windows open in summer.
I like that Vermont is not on a hurricane-prone coast (though we are closeenough to be affected at times: Irene wreaked havoc with roads, homes and farms along rivers, especially in the Green Mountain corridor, some of which was cut off from the rest of the state for months) and not along active tectonic plates. I think it’s hubris to build solid structures on the moving surface of our planet, particularly on its more mobile parts.
In hisbook “The Control of Nature,” John McPhee describes members of the UCLA geology faculty building homes in the mountains even though they know the mountains are slowly coming down. He says that occasionally one can find a big boulder that has rolled down right into the city (and what stopped the ones that don’t get that far?).
Are humans attracted to the glorious vistas of edgesand willing to risk (or oblivious to) the dangers that come with these locations? Coasts, riverbanks, mountainsides, islands, even the Yellowstone basin (which is the caldera of a supervolcano, its geothermal features the result of lava near the surface — my family owns a cabin in the caldera I visited for a month every summer growing up and for at least a week most summers since) — these are all popular places to live and to visit (realtors say a view is one of the best selling points of a home) and they are also places prone to floods, rockslides, tidal waves and hurricanes. This has been on my mind since I attended Stanford as an undergraduate student and we visited the San Andreas fault as part of my introduction to geology course.
A few years back I read a book called “The Wave: In Pursuit ofthe Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean” (2010, Susan Casey) that has me wanting to avoid ocean travel. My dad lived in Palm Springs, Calif., near the San Andreas fault. And I read this past summer that the area where my mother and stepfather live, on a cliff overlooking the Straight de Juan de Fuca in northwestern Washington State (the view from their backyard at sunset is the most gorgeous I have ever seen) is in the Cascadia inundation zone that is 315 years into an earthquake cycle that has averaged 243 years over the past 10,000 years (The New Yorker, July 20, 2015). I’ve told my mom neither I nor my family will be visiting.
So live on the edges, you who will. I’ll be sitting here, a bit too closeto the edge of the continent for complete protection but with two mountain ranges and, according to Google Earth, 150 miles of land to buffer me. I own two cars with all-wheel drive and excellent snow tires, I have spikes I can attach to my boots to go down the driveway to get the mail, and I own many layers of warm clothing and gear.
You might not like the iceor the slick roads. My mom doesn’t. She won’t visit us in winter.
John-Eric Colley Robinson
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