Thursday, September 24, 2009

A ride around Northern Vermont

The clouds had cleared out, leaving a clear blue morning, fresh and moist. Two more days here, but I start today just the same as I always do. In a few days, this dream will have ended.

Out front, a small backhoe was digging up the road again, apparently to install lateral sewer lines. Why they didn’t do this when they were laying the main line, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the contractor’s way of padding the project cost. It definitely appears inefficient. (And the constant noise is aggravating.)

I announced to Jeff that I was going to take a ride out to Caspian Lake. He had suggested it. Steve and Robin at Stowe Maple Products had also suggested it and last night there was a biography of Wallace Stegner on TV. It mentioned his love for his Vermont home at Caspian Lake. So, I decided there were enough signs – I should go.

I was so eager to get away from the construction tumult that I didn’t consider carefully what I should wear. I left with only my mesh (summer) riding jacket, and after several miles I began to have doubts that it would be warm enough.

A cold front had come in from the northwest, and the temperature continued to drop throughout the day. Drove up route 100 through Stowe and on to Morrisville. Took 15A to highways 15 and then 16. The autumn color was coming on strong, and was particularly dramatic when contrasted with dark green foliage that had yet to turn.

The area around Wolcott and Hardwick was particularly scenic. With increasing elevation, the temperature dropped, the wind increased and I could feel my core temperature falling. The physical size of Vermont is such that it takes less time than expected to arrive somewhere and things are smaller than I envision from looking at a map. Such is the case with Caspian Lake. I actually drove past it going north, thinking “that probably wasn’t it – it was too small!” But when I reached Craftsbury Road, I stopped and pulled out the road atlas. Indeed, I had passed Caspian Lake. It was very pretty, but not nearly the upscale enclave I had expected.

I continued on to Craftsbury Common, which Jeff had suggested is an “artsy” community. There I found the small Sterling College campus and young people walking the main street, looking out of place in this remote and rural community. I was on the lookout for a coffee shop, a place to warm up. I turned onto the Common Loop and pulled up abreast of two young women walking towards me. I asked about a coffee shop. One answered that they worked at the college and so didn’t need coffee. They said Hardwick would have the closest coffee shop.

I self-consciously didn’t want to seem too forward, so I kept my helmet on, even though I long-ago recognized it is rude to converse through the helmet. One of the women I found quite attractive. She remarked “you have a beautiful motorcycle…” to which I replied “I didn’t have much to do with it.” (Taking a cue from Jeff – that’s what he tells people who compliment his taste in motorcycles.)

I asked about the college and the curriculum. They only have 100 students and focus on the environment, outdoor activity and leadership. I mentioned being from California and the pretty one said she had some “pseudo-family in Napa”. “He drills wells.” I didn’t recognize the firm name. The longer we talked, the more uncomfortable I became (having the helmet on and all – but it was too late to take it off.) So, I had to move on.

Drove back towards Caspian Lake, analyzing what had just occurred. It was a pleasant treat to meet these young ladies, but it was clouded by my lack of consideration and discomfort. Had I been more at ease, and thinking less of myself, who knows where the conversation may have gone, and what I might have learned. Take a lesson!

This time, I drove the perimeter of Caspian Lake, over half of it on gravel roads. I was disturbed to find just one public access point. The entire remainder of shoreline is private property. “Hang the rich!” There are many homes and parcels for sale. Maybe the rich are hurting? Maybe they’re growing old and dying. It seems criminal for this little gem to be reserved for the privileged. That’s what I hate about the Eastern U.S.

The thought of being on the “return trip” helped psychologically counteract the cold. I thought of stopping at the Stowe Coffee House, and that “warmed” me. Returned to the Wolcott area and tried to find an appropriate angle for a photograph of the foliage. Took some side roads, and wandered a bit, but finally gave up the effort.

Outside of Morrisville, I stopped at the Green Top Market for a cookie (and a glance at the always-attractive clerks.) On to Stowe. Settled into my usual window seat with my coffee, seven-layer bar (plus one for Jeff) and my computer. Thawed my body.

Before leaving, I walked over to say good-bye to Richard, the Stowe blacksmith. His assistant directed me to his downstairs office. Through the window, I could see Richard curled up under a blanket on the sofa. Decided not to disturb him.

Next stop, Stowe Maple Products. I wanted to thank them again for doing the trade of maple syrup for wine. Steve was alone, and bottling up 3-ounce maple syrups. He had no customers so I grabbed a couple light fancy syrups from the shelf and started asking questions, picking up the conversation from a few days ago. He’s a wealth of knowledge, having done this much of his life. He gave me the two bottles for $10, well under the retail price. Finally, after over an hour, I said I better let him get back to work. But then I had another half-dozen questions. He seemed to welcome the company. When a customer arrived, I took the cue and said good-bye. But then out at the bike I noticed the camera and decided “I need a picture!” So, I went in to take some pictures as a couple of more customers arrived (and they too brought out their camera.) “You’re a celebrity!” I told Steve.

Steve maintains just under 10,000 taps (all connected to tap lines) and this produces around 3,000 gallons a year. Prices on the bulk market can be around $30 a gallon. (About 70% of Vermont’s production is sold in bulk.) He said the chain-sawing of fallen trees is the most difficult aspect of the job. He said he walks every inch of the tap lines, starting in November, repairing and replacing as needed. The plastic tap heads are replaced every year.

Returned home before 6:00, Jeff arriving a short time later. He had taken his bike to work.

He heated up breaded chicken fillets and instant mashed potatoes for dinner. It’s amazing. I think the only non-processed foods in his house may be two potatoes, and a couple garlics and small onions that are months old. And of course, all this processed food is increasingly consolidated into just a few major corporations. This led me to research aspects of the food chain tonight: General Mills, Pillsbury, Diageo, Nestle, Unilever and Campbell’s. It is time we start miniaturizing our food chain again.

Tonight, we watched TV for hours. I’ll be relieved to return to a world without television. It’s enjoyable at times, but the temporal pleasure is not worth the outrageous "opportunity cost".

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