Those of you who know me know that I LOVE to write about place. I am fascinated with the way that different landscapes “feel,” and how they impact our daily living. For instance, the Green Mountains are a big part of daily life here in northern Vermont. We drive them, we climb them daily. Even walking my own land requires climbing. The mountains affect weather patterns. I am in love with their visual qualities. Anyone who lives here knows what I mean. I will never get tired of seeing a ridgeline, or the way the sun plays over the mountains, or the different look that the landscape takes in the fog.
It takes my breath away.
Fall is a thrilling time, all the more stunning because of the topography. And, even though we’re three hours from the ocean, my husband can sometimes smell the ocean here, just for a moment, if the wind is moving in the right way.
These are, to me, fascinating things about place.
Place figures into my short stories, and it was a big part of my memoir, too. I don’t try to insert it — it comes very naturally. In fact, I would say that on some level, I require it in my writing.
I had an interesting experience yesterday in a Unitarian Universalist church setting, proving to me once again that our experience of Place is all relative. A discussion got going about how this area of Vermont is remote, and at the edge of civilization. And a huge part of me wanted to jump up and say, “No, actually, this is very civilized!” I have lived in a wilder and quieter place (northern MN). Hearing this part of Vermont called the “edge of civilization” seemed strange, to me.
But of course, to the people speaking, this IS the edge of civilization, the middle of nowhere.
Not to me. When you can get (excellent) Thai food 40 minutes from your home, it’s not the middle of nowhere. But this is my experience.
I thought of speaking about my former Place (northern MN) with this group of people, but I’m not sure that it would have mattered. I didn’t want to rob anyone of the joy of their story, because people love this area (and I do, too), and if it gives them joy to discuss the remoteness of the area, so be it. I didn’t want to diminish that. And it seemed that any addition of mine to the conversation would not necessarily add any benefit. Many people I meet here are well traveled, and have been all over the world. But not too many people have been to flyover country. And northern MN is not easy to get to, airline-wise or otherwise.
I kept my mouth shut.
I’ve done the same thing when it comes to discussion of winter around here. People take pride in stories of the harsh Vermont winters. They dread winter. I’ve been through one Vermont winter. It was much nicer than a MN winter. I’ve been experiencing MN winters for a good 45 years of my life. This VT winter was a relief. Even if it hit 21 below at night, it bounced back up and didn’t stick for days. It never got too cold to cross country ski. But again, it’s all relative.
The one thing here that is worse about the winter is that the snow is more moist. You have to be strong to move it, or have the right equipment. Roads freaked me out at first, too, until I realized that I had a good car now, I had snow tires, and if I used common sense, all would be well. (I wasn’t driving the old rear wheel drive Toyota tiny truck anymore!)
I am a slowwwww processor and that’s why many of my thoughts about Place will be in my next book. That’s how I do it. Now, I’m going to take a walk up the hill, and look at the special way that the sunlight filters through the leaves in a Vermont forest.