September 1, 2011

oh vermont

It's funny how you can live in a little bubble of your own existence and not really see the world around you. The day after returning from Vermont, we were swept up in unpacking, restocking the fridge, washing clothes, returning the rental car and repacking for Will and the kids flight early the next morning. We never turned on the radio or the TV, not once. But after they climbed into their cab yesterday and I had had enough coffee to combat the fact that I had woken up at 4:30 in the morning, I sat down to check out the news from up north.

When we were in the thick of it, perched on a hill in a hotel without power, it was hard to know what was going on in the rest of the state. Roads were closed, yes, we knew that, but sitting up there stranded, we couldn't really tell what was happening everywhere else. Even on our drive up to Burlington and then down along the New Hampshire border, we really didn't see much in terms of destruction. It's only now, that we are out of it, that I'm realizing just how terrible things have gotten up there.

It's ridiculous to say this, but I already love Vermont. All my life, there have been places that felt instantly like home. The first time I walked out of Victoria Station in London, driving away from the airports through the green green fields of Western Ireland, emerging out of the Columbia Gorge and seeing Portland opening up before me. And winding our way through the Green Mountain Forest in Vermont. The whole time we were there, Will and I joked about how at home we felt. As if we could breath better there. (Which, technically , is probably true if you think about New York air vs Vermont air, but this was more of a state of mind). On Saturday, after breaking down our tent and cruising the lake in a canoe, we hung out in Bennington, a really sweet little town that had the best Fish and Chips I've eaten outside of England, local rootbeer (Briton's new favorite treat) and two yarn shops on the main drag, both of which I visited (I couldn't help myself). In one, which was connected to a cafe- even better -they were knitting a community blanket. Or communally knitting a blanket. Everyone was welcome to add a few stitches. And while I waited in line for coffee and talked to the owner about cotton yarn for wash clothes, I knit a row. And I wonder now if that blanket survived, if that store is anything recognizable to the charming place I stood on Saturday afternoon.

I am an Oregonian. I wasn't born there, and on top of Oregon I've lived in California, Idaho, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Ireland and New York. I've probably lived away from Oregon more than I've lived in it, or at least just about as much. But it's still home. It is the place by which all others are judged for me. And Vermont, which last week was just a small state far to the north, is the closest I've come to finding a place that I love as much as Oregon.
Everywhere we went in Vermont felt familiar. Bennington reminded me of the little town where I went to high school, Middlebury was perfect and beautiful and I wanted to stay forever. Burlington was like the best parts of Eugene and Portland had been mixed up and plopped down on a lake. And everywhere we went, people we overwhelmingly friendly. In the midst of disaster they smiled and offered directions to us, strangers trying just to get out of their poor, devastated state.

I feel a little helpless, down here, safe and dry, in the city, when they are covered in mud and broken buildings. I want to do something, but I don't know what.