Matt Dickerson: Redemption at Brighton State Park
The last time I was in the town of Island Pond, Vt., my car fell into a ditch.
It was not the kind of ditch that runs beside the road. It was the sort that runs straight across a gravel road after a bad flood: a washout, about four feet across and two and a half feet deep with vertical sides. It crossed the road at the top of the rise in a saddle of land, which also made it the sort of ditch you don’t see until your car is almost on top of it, when it is already too late to stop.
Which meant that I actually stopped very suddenly. After skidding 15 feet on soft gravel, my front tires dropped into the washout, and the front of the car slammed against the far side of the washout, and the weight of the car and the impact from my remaining momentum bent the frame of the car. That was when it stopped suddenly.
The year was 1998. My good friend David O’Hara was moving away from Vermont to go to graduate school in New Mexico. We thought we’d have one last fishing-camping excursion together, exploring the rivers and trout ponds of the Northeast Kingdom. We were about three miles up a forest road when we suddenly and irreversibly discovered the results of the recent flood. It took us a couple hours to hike back out to the main road and hitchhike back to Island Pond, another couple hours to get a tow truck out into the woods to tow our car out, and yet another couple hours to get the car repaired enough to drive it back to Bristol on back roads going less than 40 mph because of the bent frame.
The fishing-camping trip was more-or-less washed out, much like that road. And I don’t really want to think about the car repair bill.
As my wife and I drove through Island Pond, nearly two decades later, the unpleasant memory came back to me. I was hoping for some redemption.
We pulled into Brighton State Park at little after 11 p.m. It was part of our effort to visit all of Vermont’s state parks. It was also part of a needed two-night get away to relax and refresh. We had our canoe on the roof, bikes on the back rack, and sleeping bags in the rear seat along with my camp stove and a cooler. But no tent. Having gotten soft in my middle ages, I booked a cabin.
We arrived after hours, picked up our cabin keys in a box at the office, and followed the map to the cabin. Five minutes after we unpacked the car and settled into the cabin, rain began to fall on the metal roof and the mournful calls of loons echoed up from the lake a stone’s throw away.
Brighton State Park sits on the western shore of Spectacle Pond, and has a beach and hiking trails that wind all through the woods around the southern half of the pond. Although we hope to visit all of the state parks, I admit to a particular fondness for parks on the water where we can canoe, and where maybe I can even wet a line with a reasonable chance of landing a fish or two. (I also have a fondness for parks where I can reserve a cabin.) Brighton has two ponds large enough for canoeing. Island Pond, a somewhat larger body of water than Spectacle, is only a few hundreds yards through the woods to the west of the park.
But on the first morning we made no use of the pond or hiking trails. When we woke the rain was still falling steadily and the loons were still crooning somewhere out in the distance. We were glad for the cabin. Sitting wrapped in blankets and drinking hot cocoa under the roof on the porch, we had a restful morning of reading and writing. The park is wooded and quiet, and what little noise might have drifted our way from the few other campers within earshot was muffled by the rain. It was a very peaceful morning.
Late in the afternoon, when the rain stopped, we headed out biking on quiet Vermont roads, winding around the shores of both ponds and into the nearby village of Island Pond — where we also found a local pub to which we later returned in a car for a nice dinner. A lovely part of camping, whether in tents or in a cabin, is being away from television and electronics and all of the jobs that need to be done around the house. We went to bed early listening to the sounds, not of loons, but of owls — and slept a very luxurious 10 hours.
The following day dawned cooler, but with tremendous promise. By mid-morning, dense fog had burned off the lake. The sky was brilliant blue, and some classic Vermont foliage was starting to adorn the shore. A few maples were aflame. Other hardwoods were turning a burnished gold against the backdrop of dark evergreens. We took a morning hiking wandering around the nature trails until we found ourselves on a beautiful point jutting out into the water.
The hike warmed us. But as the air temperature rose, our canoe beckoned. The breeze kept us off the larger lake, but Spectacle Pond was just the right size for a late morning paddle wrapping along the shoreline and ducking the bright trees.
Though I had my fly rod in the car, I never did get out fishing. But the rest of the trip was so refreshing I didn’t feel any lack. The trip helped wash away my unpleasant memories.
If I can get back there next May and catch a few fish, I think the redemption will be complete.