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Clippings: Vermont identity a powerful draw

I always over pack. That sweatshirt I haven’t worn in three years — the one with the hole in the left sleeve? It comes with me every time.
My bulging suitcase barely accommodated the beloved item of clothing when I shoved it through the zippers about a month ago, on top of six mugs and more books than I bothered to count. I loaded everything into the back seat of my Honda Civic, bid adieu to my loving parents and hit the road.
I was about to do something a little unusual for someone my age — something that caused my fellow recent college grads to cock their heads and raise their eyebrows.
I was moving to Vermont.
A friend recently challenged me on this decision. Over milkshakes, we discussed our next steps — our first steps, really, into adult life: a place without dining halls and prepaid housing plans. He wanted to move to Seattle, he told me, and I shared my ideal starting spot.
“Vermont?” he said. “Isn’t that where people go to retire?”
I laughed, but he wasn’t entirely wrong — Vermont’s population is aging, and there isn’t exactly an abundance of opportunity for freshly graduated blood. State politicians and researchers have struggled to recruit and maintain populations of young folk, whose absence could create a stagnant economy.
Still, something drew me here, even though I couldn’t put my finger on the exact reason at the time. As I pulled out of my driveway and turned onto I-287, I tried to pinpoint the source of the magnetism that pulled me north.
After growing up in the relatively flat New Jersey (yes, there is another New Jerseyan tainting the hiking trails and newspaper columns of the Green Mountain State), and attending college in the even flatter Florida, I thought it might be the mountains drawing me here. The crisp air and evergreen-scented walks surely call to anyone with an appetite for the outdoors.
But it had to be more than that. While attending a farmer’s market, I considered that the allure could have come from the farming culture, which creates fresh, transparently sourced food, something I’ve always valued highly.
Maybe it was my brother, a proud graduate of Middlebury College, who stuck around for an extra year after his commencement in 2013. He was shaped by his profound connection to the college community and only left, as college graduates in every state do, to experience new chunks of the country before settling down.
The answer didn’t come until later. During my short time at the Addison Independent, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a long list of folks — from farmers to business owners to environmentalists and beyond. Though these Vermonters have diverse mindsets, opinions and ideas, they all seem to have one thing in common: They have no trouble answering questions about themselves and their work.
Vermonters, I’ve found, share a general sense of purpose. At the risk of generalizing, many of the people I’ve met are self-aware, well-educated and on a mission, whether it be serving fresh food, climbing 46 high peaks or ridding a lake of invasive weeds.
The culture is centered around acts of intention. It shows in Vermont’s decision to require all food manufacturers to label GMO-containing products. It’s apparent from the second you cross over the New York border, when all of the billboards disappear. You can see it in customers who buy chicken from farms where the birds roam freely.
Bernie Sanders, perhaps admired most for his honesty, won overwhelming support from Vermonters, and many plan to write in his name on November’s ballot — evidence further that members of the Green Mountain State won’t buy just any product you’re selling.
Vermonters’ seemingly heightened awareness ranges from their consumer choices to their environmental appreciation to the level at which they engage with their communities.
In a high-speed world, so many of us are left questioning why an act of violence occurred, or why an insensitive comment has left permanent damage in someone’s life.
But in a place where almost everyone takes the time to stop at a crosswalk — where the culture encourages citizens to carefully consider the ramifications of their actions, we can all feel a bit safer. Maybe it’s the “back-to-the-land” attitude, but that patience and consideration, in my opinion, is important for newly minted members of the real world.
A recent story on VPR says that Vermont is not losing young people. The out-migration factor still exists, but just as many young folks are filing in. While I can only speak for myself, I can guess that other youngsters have found solace in the strong identity held within these state lines.
About a month ago, I took the tattered sweatshirt out of my suitcase. I placed my mugs on a shelf, and curled up with a book on my bed in Charlotte. My decision may have been unusual, but it’s not one I regret. 

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