Here in Vermont, during the pandemic, traffic on our highways and byways has been especially sparse. We are blessed to have two of the most scenic Interstate Highways in the country—our rivers and mountains are two major factors. This junket was mid-winter and provides unique views; it’s just as scenic in the other three seasons.
Recent snowstorms decorated the mountain tops and the evergreen trees with a pristine covering of white frosting—and that is part of the reason for this local travel blog. Another reason is that a neighbor and friend recently published a blog of similar nature (See: https://lynnambertravelandphotography ) and I was prompted to exercise my writing skills. And now for another full disclosure: much of the travel was at highway speeds and many of the photos were taken through the car windows as we traveled. My apologies in advance for blurred foreground, poorly framed scenery and stains on the windows.
For a road trip warrior, the necessary confinement of this pandemic has been difficult. Some travel is essential. For my wife, Toni, hair care is one. She has lovely, naturally curly hair and travels to see a Jamaican born hair dresser in Burlington, VT who braids her bangs to keep them out of her eyes. Because she is an active member of the Upper Valley Mask Makers group, the collection and shipping of masks (as far away as the Navaho Nation in Arizona) also provides a reason to hit the road.
Part I: Home to Burlington on Interstate 89.
This highway traverses in a north westerly diagonal from the mid-point of our NH border to Burlington and then north to Canada, near Montreal. In the east it follows the White River a tributary of the Connecticut River which forms much of our border with NH. Along the way the highway and the river pass through our home town of South Royalton. Here are a few of the river as it transits Royalton and South Royalton.
Now I have an opportunity to show off the environs of my hometown. These were taken late in the day on our return. South Royalton has a lovely village green with two bandstands and hosts a farmers’ market each Thursday in the summer which is followed by entertainment from our town band. The larger bandstand was completed a few years ago and named for Richard Ellis who grew up here, toured the Eastern US during the Big Band Era, returned to teach music in local schools while playing the saxophone throughout Vermont and then starting the Ellis Music Company which rents instruments to over 500 schools across the state. Our little town is also the home for the Vermont Law School, tops in the nation for environmental law, which got its start in the town’s 1893 original school building. Across the street is a church built in 1889 with similar decorative elements.
Near the capital city of Montpelier (French name origin, explained later*) I 89 parallels the Winooski River (the name originates from the Abenaki word meaning wild leek or onion—more later*) and follows it through a pass in the Green Mountains (also from the French and origin of the name – Vermont). On the day we traveled North the sun occasionally broke through the clouds and highlighted the snowcapped mountains. Getting a glimpse of the Winooski River was not easy at highway speeds.
As the landscape leveled out again, we made our destination city on the banks of Lake Champlain (yup, you guessed it—the famous 17th century French explorer, Samuel de Champlain). While Toni was having her hair braided, I drove down to the lake front and spent a little time with the “Lone Sailor.” Like my fellow blogger, who I credited at the beginning of this post, I had not noticed this memorial on previous visits. This sculpture has a commanding presence on the waterfront which at one time was the site of the U. S. Naval reserve on Lake Champlain and stands in memory to honor all who have served in that service branch. Lake Champlain naval battles featured in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Follow this link “Lone Sailor History” for more about the history of duplicates of this statue.
Heading home with Toni driving I was able to get a few more images on the fly. Getting a glimpse of the Winooski River was not easy at highway speeds.
We decided to stop briefly at the Randolph exit for a quick look at the Whales Tails. The less well known but official title of “Reverence” is a tribute to the fragility of our planet. Created in 1989 by the sculptor, Jim Sardonis, they are made from African black granite and weigh 36 tons. Originally commissioned to grace a conference center planned by British metals trader David Threlkeld, then a resident of Randolph. They were later sold and moved to South Burlington after the development fell through. The Randolph community felt the loss and with help from the Preservation Trust of Vermont they raised $1 million to buy it back. The Vermont Community Foundation then stepped in to commission a new piece from Sardonis, called “Whale Dance.”
Soon we were at our exit as we head back into the White River Valley. Feels like home!
*Vermont Place Names origin.
Montpelier, approximates “mont petit” literally “small mountain” is also the name of a medieval French city which is located on two hills. The origin is somewhat obscure but French plays a role. The capital city was once named Davisville after an early settler family. During the American Revolution the French provided support and military aid and French names became fashionable. In her book, Vermont Placenames Footprints in History, Esther Swift suggests the name Montpelier may have resonated with the French origin of other nearby communities and our neighbors across the border in Canada. Others suggest that when James Madison, Sr. (father of the US president who lived here) expanded and renovated his family home (originally called Mount Pleasant and located part way up the hill “small mountain”) he renamed it “Montpellier”, and the name stuck for the capital city.
Winooski River. It is largely agreed that this name is of Abenaki origin. The word root means “onion” or “leek” which refers to the small tangy plant bulb which grows wild in this river valley and much of Vermont. Respecting the name used by the first Vermonters, early French maps tagged the river as “Ouinouski” rather than their own, “Oignon.” If you read my post from last April, (https://vtteardroptravelers.wordpress.com/2020/04/), you might recall I harvested some of this spring delicacy for eating.
Part II: Home to East Thetford, on VT Route 5 which parallels Interstate 91
Interstate 91 runs north-south from the Massachusetts Border to Canada and parallels the Connecticut River for 2/3 of that distance until the river veers east towards NH. There are vistas which overlook the river and farmland along the way. We traveled a short distance on this highway.
Mask making has become quite the local micro-economy non-profit venture. Dozens of home sewing machine enthusiasts have made thousands of masks and donated them to friends, work places, schools, election polling place volunteers, as well distant folks in need. The fabric patterns are as varied as the mask makers resources and the recipients interests—from birds & butterflies to trees and tractors (John Deer of course). I got sailboats and fishing flies. Friends in Maine got lobsters.
Collecting Masks from other makers so they can be distributed is another good excuse to hit the road. We were fortunate to be on the road on a sunny morning before the wind blew the new fallen snow from the evergreens along the Connecticut River. There is nothing like a coating of fresh snow to make the world appear so clean and pristine. The frozen River has a layer of white which seems to stretch forever as I look upstream past the Dartmouth boathouse. In spring and fall semesters it is common to see Dartmouth men and women rowing in groups of four or eight in their needle like racing shells.
With mask collection errands done we decided to take a short walk on the Hanover community trail which parallels Mink Brook, a tributary of the Connecticut River. Thanks to the efforts of the Hanover Conservancy, which began in 1961, there is a large network of walking trails on conserved land in the town of Hanover, New Hampshire. The Conservancy is New Hampshire’s oldest local land trust and since last fall Toni has been joining them periodically for short hikes led by one of the Conservancy members. The Mink Brook Nature Preserve is just one of many conserved properties. There was a well used track in the snow which had been previously packed by snowshoes. The footbridge in the photo below is a nice enhancement to this trail.
As we made our way home and began driving up Dairy Hill Road I noticed some brilliantly colored icicles hanging from the rocks along the road. They are beautiful but I have no idea what caused the deep blue and purple coloring which seems to arise from the rock at the top. Hmm, a homework project which might require some sleuthing.