It’s time for a new installment of our Vermont life update!
We have had many experiences here in Vermont that have been rewarding and required a lot of work, growth, and a sense of humor. Even just from when we moved into our new house and realized that the woodland creatures had been squatting there for 8 years. And being vegetarians who try to never take the life of an animal if possible, we rescued many a mouse in those early winter days. “Toilet Mouse” will go down in history as an important one. His namesake is telling—he was bobbing up and down, treading water in the toilet bowl with the cats prowling around waiting for him to jump out. So naturally, we warmed him up and gave him cheese and waited until he was fluffy and spunky again. And then we drove him off to an abandoned cabin where we relocate all our furry visitors (with a care package of the finest Vermont cheese).
When people find out that we moved to Vermont from Los Angeles, many ask what inspired such a big move. I wonder that too, sometimes. It was a huge, drastic move and rather sudden from decision to implementation (2 months). Moving from a west coast city to rural New England is quite the cultural and natural switcheroo. But, there were a lot of things big and small that all motivated me to want to try this dream. It’s one that we’ve had for a while—to be stewards of a big piece of beautiful earth with streams and woods (the pond is a huge surprise bonus) where our kids and Zuri can easily go explore from our doorstep. I didn’t want to just dream it anymore; I wanted to see what it would really be like.
And that brings me to this: the reality of a dream is very different than the idea of a dream.
Imagining Vermont life while talking to your friends on a beach in Santa Monica is different than living Vermont life in actual Vermont where many days our only friends around are birds and trees and other various non-humans. It’s different in both impossible-to-imagine better ways and impossible-to-imagine more difficult ways.
Another reflection I have to offer is this: winter in Vermont is breathtakingly beautiful. The various kinds of snow and the deep, blue sky the day after a snow storm were some of the awe inspiring surprises I didn’t expect. It’s really fulfilling to be surrounded by that kind of dramatic beauty. The woods are hushed during and after a fresh, thick snow. It’s a sacred kind of quiet that I had forgotten. Plus, ice skating on the pond in the early winter (when it was nice and glassy smooth) was an actual dream come true.
Heating our house with firewood was a large amount of work for Collin. We all helped when we could, but Collin took on the large majority of that work this year. The scouting out good trees, felling them with the chain saw, cutting them into logs, splitting them with an axe, and then keeping the fire going—it was a HUGE thing. So, this is a big shout out to him for keeping us warm all winter. We were warm and also got to enjoy the beauty and aesthetics of a crackling fire while we read Lord of the Rings all winter. We baked fresh bread most days (Senya took a real interest in making her own bread after enough collaborative practice), and the coziness factor inside the home was at an all time high.
One of my favorite experiences here so far was the sugaring season and the process of making maple syrup from the maple sap we collected in our woods. We ended up with a little more than 4 gallons of the most delicious maple syrup that I’ve ever had. Some of our dear friends came out from California and got to begin this process with us. It was really special and fun to have them here to identify the trees, drill the holds, set up the buckets and lines, and make the initial batch of syrup.
The intensity of the sap run really began a few weeks later and lasted about two solid weeks for us.
I posted a picture of our maple syrup bounty after our intense two-week sugaring season, and I got so many encouraging and supportive “high-five!!” type comments. Some people even asked if they could buy some! And while I honestly have several internal organs I’d be quicker to sell than a pint of this syrup, the kindness and enthusiasm wasn’t lost on me. We just had a small bucket operation this year which means that I was hauling like 40 pounds of sap in buckets from one part of our 64 acre property to another REALLY far away (it always seemed) part of our property.
And when you think of that, you may feel an empathic twinge in your forearms or biceps like—“whew! That takes some muscle!” But what you might not realize is that it takes a lot of patience, too. You can’t walk very quickly, you see, or the heavy buckets slam against the sides of your legs as you carry them. Also, it splashes out if you become a little too sloppy or quick with your pace.
So, it’s like a meditation of sorts (intermittently spliced with some expletives when I’d spill or trip) to carry each bucket far across the land to the holding tank. Collin happened to be away for work during the height of the sap run, so I filled our 65 gallon holding tank so he could evaporate it when he returned. I just couldn’t bear to see the sap buckets overflow knowing that it could all be transformed into one of the most sensational food experiences with a bit of hard work. One morning, after a fresh 15 inches of snow, I tried to save myself some heavy lifting and put 20 gallons of sap in buckets on a sled. As I tugged it to begin, the buckets fell over and spilled about 10 gallons of sap. ****ing physics, right? I need to work on my meditation skills for moments like that (and brush up on my laws of motion, too).
So yes. Here we are in rural Vermont living our dream. And sometimes it is laughably difficult. And I’m like “Why? Why was falling on the ice when you’re trying to take the trash out down your extremely long and steep driveway YOUR DREAM, LINDSAY??? Living 8 minutes from the beach was a pretty good dream!!!!”
Other times it’s difficult in ways that aren’t laughable. They’re just downright hard in ways that didn’t exist in Los Angeles—like there are moments when I’m literally ready to put a “For Sale” sign in the yard (that no one would see because we live a mile up a mountain, but still).
And yet, it is so poignantly, beautiful to live this life that I cry and I squeeze Collin’s hand as we are walking through our gorgeous woods of paper birch, beech, pine, and sugar maples for sheer overwhelm at the sacredness of this experience.
Some of these warm spring days I realize our home is quiet, and I can’t find the kids until I spot them up on a hill in the woods or see them running through the verdant, grassy yard surrounding the pond. Often, I watch my good, old Zuri dog sit by the stream in quiet, perfect happiness living her best, senior dog life. The other night after we had moved the chickens to the barn, started our vegetable garden plants inside, and planted fruit trees oustide, Juniper said “You know, little by little, I think we are kind of making a farm here.” And I watch the joy spread on her face like the sunrise fills the dawn sky as the realization of how HER dreams are coming into reality occurs to her. And lately, I am filled with deep content and gratitude when Senya and her “neighbor” friend (who lives a half mile away through the woods and over the mountain) come running back down our mountain together holding hands, laughing and barrelling down the steep slope excited to build outdoor aquariums for the newts and frogs, make flower and weed potions, or build forts in the woods.
The full range of emotions are awakened this year as we all keep our hearts open to all that life has to teach us in this adventure. It isn’t an instant IV drip of happiness. There is a reason that the phrase “Vermont Strong” exists here (and I wouldn’t claim that I am that, yet). But it surely is meaningful, and I will always remember this first winter and spring in Vermont.