So many firsts today! First time in Vermont, first time seeing a strutting wild turkey, first time at a maple sugar shack, first time to eat “sugar on snow” with pickle and donut thing, first time driving over a covered bridge, and first time to buy a homeless man a cup of coffee. A day beautifully spent.
I headed north from Lenox, MA, destination Vermont. The state has held a secret fascination for me since I was young and watched White Christmas every year on TV during the holidays. “Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, all that snow….” But the state somehow eluded me until this month.
I only had one day so I crossed the border and stopped in the first cute town. I wandered the quaint streets of Bennington and got lost in a bookstore buying all sorts of things I wasn’t needing, a travel book, cards, and a book of cottages to dream about buying.
Near the temptress bookstore was the Village Chocolate Shoppe where the world’s largest peanut butter cup was made, so of course I popped in and purchased chocolates to send to my daughters. The owner was in attendance with a jolly, humble presence, as he pointed out the 2013 newspaper article on the record breaking peanut butter cup. I was bubbling over with curiosity, delighted to meet a man who so obviously loved his vocation and charming conversations ensued with him and a group of ladies that were also shopping.
Next stop was the Bennington Battle Monument, a tall stone tower, that was closed but overlooks the town.This is not the prettiest time of year, no snow, all brown deciduous trees but the rivers were rushing and it was quiet driving through the Vermont National Forest. It must be breath-taking in the fall, all that pre-snow color.
I stopped in Wilmington and diddled around main street and stopped at Dot’s Restaurant and had decadent comfort food. While I was stuffing my face with meatloaf a man came in asking how much coffee cost, obviously counting his pennies. As I slipped out of the restaurant I asked the waitress to put his tab on mine and went on my way very grateful not to have to ask how much a drink costs to know if I can afford to buy it.
Hailing from the West Coast, I am unfamiliar with maple syrup production and since being in New England I have seen sugar shacks along the road but never found the time to stop. Today was the perfect opportunity. At Sprague and Sons, a 5 generation family business, I got the whole spiel about the maple syrup process from sap to table.
It reminded me of my wine making roots with the precise nature of measuring sweetness, collecting data and filtering. The sap, which looks much like water, gets boiled and steamed by a huge wood stove, until it is reduced from about 43 gallons down to 1 gallon. It is no wonder that maple syrup is expensive!
Mr. Sprague welcomed me in and shared his love of this crazy natural craft. They have three children and many grandchildren. His wife told me that their maple sugar business is done for the love, history, and tradition of it. They do not make money, it is hard work and she has a day job to make ends meet. This is their art, their gift to society, much like mine with theater and teaching. I was touched by their generosity and the sadness that none of their children want to follow in their footsteps, as they have understandably moved on to more lucrative jobs. For now, the parents are holding down the fort in the hope that one of the grandchildren will fall in love with the process and take over.
I bought syrup that I don’t need because I wanted to support them. I also purchased this amazing Sugar on Snow. Boiling syrup is poured over coarsely ground ice, served with donut and a little dill pickle (to counteract the sweetness). It was sticky deliciousness, full of antitheses, cold and warm, dense and light, sweet and sour and I went on my way with a happy sugar high.
It was time for me to head back to Massachusetts and I was in the middle of no where without cell service or gps. So I veered south figuring I would have to hit MA eventually. I took winding back roads, with pot holes, that once or twice turned to gravel, but I was happy for the adventure and a full tank of gas.
I drove by a field with 4 wild turkeys and made a quick U-turn to watch them. My only connection with turkeys has been from cartoons, or a carcass on the Thanksgiving table and drawing them in kindergarten using the outline of my hand print. From that background I assumed that a male turkey always strutted around with feathers plumed. But nope, here was the male plucking around in the field showing off for the females, raising and lowering his fancy tail feathers like the peacock at my great grandma’s house.
Back on the country roads from the turkey gaggle, I rounded a corner and bam, there was a covered bridge! This is what traveling is all about. Delightful discovery, surprise, and finding unexpected delights around any corner.
Life is beautiful and as the day dimmed toward sunset, I experienced the beauty of the light glowing golden on trees and towns as I wound my way home without the aid of technological devices. I encourage you to take a drive, get lost and stir up a little mischief in your days!