Nearing thirty years of age, I was a bit ashamed to admit that I’d never ventured North of Albany while still within the U.S. Luckily, last year on my bike tour, I met this blueberry-picking, bumble-bee-worshiping, doe-eyed alumnae of the Catamount-loving University of Vermont, and she inspired me to head North.
Amtrak’s Vermonter service transported me and my bike from Washington’s Union Station through the familiar territories of Baltimore, Philly and New York en route to Essex Junction, a small transit hub just outside of Burlington, Vermont. To enhance my journey, I downloaded the train’s route guide, a pamphlet of trivial knowledge I could use to make people think I wasn’t such a noob to the Northeast. It provided me a bunch of poignant talking points that I would probably never use, like, did you know that the Susquehanna is the longest river on the East Coast and was the location of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant incident in the 70s? Oh, was that too morbid? Okay, I’ll try another one. Did you know that Hartford, Connecticut is the insurance capital of the world? No, you probably didn’t know that, nor did you care. Well, I had 12 hours on this train, so between the route guide and Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods,” I read until my eyelids grew heavy.
I awoke somewhere near Central Massachusetts and was immediately startled by my scenery. It was really, really green up here. I mean, like, everything was green. Just beyond the window was a still pond backed by the verdant waves of a misty Appalachian ridge. I couldn’t divert my gaze, it was all so green and growing greener by the moment. From Central Mass through Southern Vermont, my eyes scoured the lush forest scenery as the train’s back-and-forth jostling gently rocked me a like a baby in its crib. Again, it was time for another nap.
Just before nightfall I arrived at my destination in Essex Junction, Vermont. The soft click-clack of the train’s wheels across the rail joints was gone, but in no time, it was replaced by the pitter patter of rain drops on concrete. Normally I enjoy the therapeutic pang of precipitation striking the ground, but I had a seven-mile bike ride ahead of me, so was not exactly in the mood for a summer shower. At least, not right now. I hopped on my bike and met with Celine at a friend’s house in Burlington. I was excited to be in New England for the first time, but the combination of steady rain and clouds of mosquitos prevented us from really doing anything that evening.
Over the ensuing seven days, Celine shared her favorite place in the world with me. We did an impromptu sunset-ride along the Colchester Causeway, a four-mile land-bridge which separates the great Lake Champlain (note, Champlain is a great lake, not a Great Lake) from Mallett’s Bay, and was transported back in time to the early days of our relationship atop the saddle in Kansas and Colorado.
The Northeast Kingdom
Then some friends took us on a day-trip to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to view a pageant at the inspiring Bread-and-Puppet theatre. Floats and marionettes and costumed-actors espousing their “imaginarium” doctrine guided us from a meadow to a pine forest to a glen and ultimately to the Paper-Machete cathedral, where I couldn’t help but feel like I was at the Vermont-hippie-version of D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. After the inspiring day, we happened upon Cajun’s Snack Bar in the absolute middle of nowhere where we had delicious Po’ Boys for dinner. The place even had gator on the menu, but there was zero chance I would eat gator in a land-locked, swampless, mountain-state like Vermont. Nice try.
Then we spent an evening with dear family friends South of Burlington on Button Bay. Chuck and Norma prepared us an unforgettable meal of grilled salmon with an avocado-blueberry salsa (more on blueberries later) and shared invaluable insights to the trials and tribulations of their lives as writers. There’s not much I can add about Button Bay, I think the pictures speak for themselves.
The next day, Celine and I got pizza at Folino’s and washed it down with a growler from Fiddlehead Brewery next door. After pizza we did a brief hike up Mount Phylo, then, realizing we had nowhere to sleep, decided to rent a campsites for the night. You know, it was a simple day—we got pizza and beer than did a little mile-long hike up to this peak, but it was all nice because I was with Celine. Everything was great, that was, until we settled down in our tent and realized we only had one sleeping mat for the two of us. She and I spent the evening contorting our bodies into the strangest positions to try and fit as much of us as possible onto that single pad. I woke up probably twenty times that night, and each time I did a different appendage was totally numb.
The next morning I felt like a hillbilly and wanted to return to Burlington, but before we could, we had to go berry picking in Charlotte (pronounced Shar-LOT), where I got a great rise out of this family-farm’s scheme. They swindle you into picking your own blueberries, just like how Tom Sawyer swindled those kids into painting the fence white, then they have the audacity to make you pay for the berries! Some very clever people in Vermont. Anyways, much like Celine does when we go to the grocery store together, she grabbed her basket and completely zoned me out. We spent the afternoon plucking ripe blueberries from the bush, the occasional gush of juice staining the tips of our fingers a deep, purplish-blue and filling our nostrils with the nostalgic scent of desert.
And, thankfully, there were a few moments where I was able to snap her out of her blueberry-picking trance to pose for a photo.
Back To Burlington
So, $14.72 and five pounds of blueberries later, we made it back to Burlington. Our final few days in this city of 42,000 people, the smallest principal city of any state, we just hung out. We swam, caught up with her friends, ate dumplings and just chilled. Oh! And I had my first CREEMEE. That’s Vermont-talk for soft-serve, but it’s actually different from soft-serve because it has a higher butterfat content or something like that. Look, I’m not a nutritionist. All I know is that I had a maple creemee, and it was damn-good.
My time in Vermont with Celine was precious. Not because we visited anything that was the biggest or bestest in the world, but because it was a place that meant a lot to her and an opportunity for me to see her true colors. And, after a week with her in Vermont, I can tell you with 100% certainty that Celine’s true color is blue. That girl frickin’ loves blueberries.