Usually the Vermont drive from Brattleboro to Manchester is among my least favorite in the entire state. It consists of windy roads, weaving in and out of mountains and rivers, and small towns with 20 mph speed limits. In high school, the small towns just prolonged the trip, and all I ever wanted was a highway that could somehow cut straight through the rising mountain ranges.
But this past trip was different. Last Monday I made the trek from Boston to Manchester completely sick with pneumonia. After driving for two and a half hours on the Route 2 highway, Brattleboro never seemed so welcoming. The small winding roads that I used to dread made for a scenic roller coaster through the snow-covered trees guarding the road’s edge. The river that used to get in the way now seemed to hug the road, and large blocks of ice shot up from its depths, looking like daggers protruding from the flowing water. The small towns and their miniscule speed limits gave me a chance to really look around, and appreciate the sheer desolation of a rural community. I’ve come to notice that Boston is like an ant colony, with thousands of people in any given place all going somewhere different. But Route 30, that was really something to look at. We passed a few cars every 10 or 15 minutes, and it was clear that we had a better chance of seeing a moose walking on the side of the road than a human.
What is it about desolation that is so calming? Is it the feeling of relative size that we get when looking at a 3,000-foot mountain, or the fresh air filtered by so many thousands of trees? Is it the ability to see stars, or to truly appreciate a house heated by a wood stove? Is it seeing 90% of cars with 4-wheel drive, or knowing that you could hike a part of the woods that hasn’t been walked on in years? Maybe, but I think it is all relative to what you know.
The only way that I am able to appreciate it is when I remove myself from the norm for several months. This was the same feeling of fascination that I got the day that I moved into Boston, and peered out my window to rising skyscrapers and unthinkable architecture. How could engineers build a highway that ran under a city? How could 52 floors of cement and steel stand rigid for decades? When you take yourself out of your element, there is so much to appreciate.
So I guess I learned something about myself on that long ride home. That limiting yourself to one environment for your entire life is pointless. There are so many different settings in our world that are staying constant, and it would be a real shame to miss out on opportunities to see them before the end of my time here on earth. Why not travel out west? Why not hike the Appalachian Trail? At age 20 I can’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t. Who knows, maybe all of those dreaded roads in the world will turn into beautiful Route 30, and I plan to take a drive down each one.
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Ethan, I'm floored. This is a lovely, lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. After many years living in the city, then several years living on the beach, I know I'm home when I hit those winding, desolate roads of northern New England.
Beautiful, Ethan! I can't wait to drive those roads in Vermont this weekend! The rat race has meant that I have been away from that place for too long! What a great piece this is!