We have been New York residents for nearly 18 months, less the significant time we spend at our house in Montpelier, Vermont.
I love it here in New York. There are the things you expect to hear about – the food, the museums and other cultural amenities. There is always something to do and to see. The whole world is at your fingertips. Another thing, perhaps more surprising to those who have not lived here, is the kindness and good will that you so often feel with and towards the people you share this place with. There is this general feeling of connection and collective responsibility that I think it comes from the shared feeling of being part of something unique and special. I love that about New York – a world full of strangers who are rooting for you and vice versa. It has been a great 18 months and I am resolved to get back to writing here so that I can share more about my life in this place.
But there is also Vermont. Our time in the city has strengthened our love for Montpelier, probably in part because when we are there we have stepped out of the everyday grind. No school, no work, no extreme schedules, just lots of quiet, community, and family time.
When we are in VT, as we just were over the holiday break, we slip back into our old lives like we’re sinking into a perfectly broken in sofa. Well, not like we’re doing that since one of the first things I do when I get to the house is shed the clothes I wore on the drive and replace them with my flannel pajama bottoms, wool socks, an eat more kale t-shirt, and an oversized hoodie, make a cup of tea, and sink into my plush, perfectly broken in, leather sofa. Just to keep the level of slovenliness in perspective, it is usually evening when we arrive at home and fall into the comfortable embrace of a dark, empty, and silent world lit by the moonshadows on the snow and the stars twinkling in the night sky.
I love Vermont, our lovely town of Montpelier, our neighbors, our home. I love the terroir of the food. We always pick up local bread, cheese, and apples. We marvel that they are all so fresh and flavorful. The apples are particularly baffling. How can two apples – the same variety, one New York apple grown just on the other side of Lake Champlain and purchased in the city, and one Vermont apple purchased in Montpelier, be so different in terms of size, texture and flavor?
Our neighbors (there are 5 houses surrounding us and all their occupants are dear friends) often come out to welcome us. Or, if we don’t see them the first night, we’ll see them the next morning as we walk the dog. Sometimes the doorbell rings at 7 or 8 am that first morning because 7-year-old Mei-mei’s best pal in the whole world lives in the house next door and he is usually over the play as soon as his parents let him come. Inevitably there will be long conversations outside, and dinner at someone or another’s house. With the resources of time, terrific ingredients, and a tremendous kitchen, we cook, I bake, and we invite our friends to come and help us eat it all.
When we are in Vermont, Jie-jie and Mei-mei are in children’s paradise. Between the two of them, they have about a dozen friends within a 5-minute walk of the house. Since we are in a residential neighborhood, we have no concerns about them walking the area to collect their friends. The children often congregate in particular areas. Our property is on the hillside, while most of the neighbors are either or the top or toward the bottom of the hill. So, in the winter our backyard is a popular sledding spot for the neighborhood children.
In the summer, the children are more likely to migrate to the top of the hill because the little-trafficked street offers a relatively flat spot for bikes. They may travel a couple of minutes further to arrive at the College Green (Vermont College of Fine Arts) – a large grassy area with criss-crossing sidewalks, a fountain, and a basketball court. The Green, as it is commonly called, is perfect for cycling, basketball, soccer, dog training, kite flying, impromptu yoga led by one of the neighborhood moms, etc. As they grow older, Jie-jie (9) and Mei-mei have begun to lay claim to more of the town. They can and frequently do walk together to the library, boulangerie, the candy shop, used book store, bead store, ice cream shop, and toy store located in the little downtown situated around the intersection of State and Main Streets. Sometimes Jie-jie will go with a friend. They relish their independence in Montpelier all the more because they have no such freedom in the city where they must always be accompanied by an adult.
Just before I get into the car to return home (my other home), I take a deep, deep breath of the sweet, cool, clean air, listen to the silence behind the sounds, and savor a bittersweet twinge of regret as steel myself, my body tensing in happy anticipation like a swimmer awaiting the start of a race, to plunge back into the life that awaits me in the city. As we are driving back to Manhattan. I look out over the beauty of the Green Mountains (if you have never driven in daylight on I-89 between White River Junction and Burlington, you are missing out) and consider the differences between the world laid out before me and the one that surrounds me when I am in New York – Vermont’s open vistas versus a beautiful jumble of buildings piercing the sky. It seems that, if you substituted a person for every tree in sight and replaced each mountain with a dozen tall buildings, you would almost, but not quite, bridge the differences between two worlds that are so immeasurably distinct. One, almost pure nature.
The other, the work of human hands.
But often at its most beautiful when it collides with the natural world:
As we made the neighborhood rounds over the holiday break, our Montpelier neighbors asked about the New York life. I said that it is going well, that I love it in the city. “But this is home, right?” one neighbor asked, “Which would you choose? Which do you prefer?”
“Of course this is home,” I replied. “But don’t make me choose. Right now, I have it all.”