I was born in Delaware. It was there, in the town of New Castle, in a small home pinched between a seafood restaurant and an airport, where I spent the first four years of my life. Growing up I knew only a few things: that the world was nothing more than a tightly woven assembly of strip malls and developments; that every road needed at least three lanes just to fit all of the speeding cars, and that the only shape that the land could possibly be was flat. Very, very flat. What was green rarely grew, and what did was never meant to last, and never rose higher than the nearest telephone pole. Back then, oblivious to the possibilities, unaware of what the world could look like when humanity simply stepped aside, I had no idea the sheer splendor and beauty that my life was missing. It was then though, when we moved from Delaware to Vermont, in the late summer of 1999, that my eyes were finally opened.
For those that have never known what it is like to gaze upon Vermont for the very first time -- the lucky ones who grew up here, and the unlucky ones who have never had the chance to visit -- it is difficult to describe the wonder, the joy, the pure unfiltered bliss that filled my mind, body, and soul the moment I first saw the rolling green hills of this glorious state. I like to consider the feelings of the crew of the Mayflower, as they entered into the New World for the first time, accustomed only to the busy, bustling streets of London and the furious sea between, and think that their feelings must have been close, but not quite equal to the feelings of coming to Vermont.
Peering out of the car window on that fateful day, I watched as the industrial grays grew into lush greens, and as the solid, flat earth beneath me gradually gave way first to hills that rose like waves and then to mountains that soared into the sky, looming taller than any building I had ever seen. There were innumerable trees of various shapes, sizes, and colors; the woods a pleasant mixture of greens, browns, reds, and whites. There were deer, and turkeys, and all manner of squirrels and birds. I had entered into a world unlike any that I had ever known. But I did not move to just any town in Vermont.
In the mid- eastern section of the Green Mountain State, nestled alongside the Connecticut River on the western side, lies a small, rural town. With a post office, a town hall, two convenience stores conveniently less than one hundred yards apart, a library, and a burgeoning population of roughly 3,000, the town of Hartland is like so many other small, Vermont towns. And yet, there is one way that is different from any other place in Vermont, in the world even: it's home.
It was Hartland where we moved to when I was just a boy on the cusp of five. Well, North Hartland technically, with its own church and separate post office, but locally that is the only real distinction between the two: a technicality. We moved into my Great-Grandmother's old house at the top of a hill where the pavement faded to dirt, and where the forest grew tall and thick around us. A squat stone wall bordered the side yard, and the mountains rose hazy in the distance beyond the hill in the back yard. It was more grass than I had ever seen, more space to play than I had ever dreamed. I was born in Delaware, in a hospital most likely white-walled and reeking of antiseptic, but it was not until I felt the cool grass beneath my bare feet, and smelled the wafting aroma of blossoming flowers in the late-summer heat, that I truly began to live.
That was how I came to this place, this Eden fading fast in the rush and chaos of the "modern" world, and still to this day I am as wide-eyed and awestruck as I ever was at just four years old. Every time that I leave and then return, sometimes just to Burlington and back, it is like coming there for the very first time all over again. There is still so much to learn and so much to see out among these sprawling green hills. In this little town of Hartland there are big stories waiting to be told, secrets and beauties waiting to unfold. And so I set forth, not to uncover the entire history of Hartland, nor to explore every forest, valley, cave, or field, but to simply experience these facets for whatever I can, to get a taste, if only a meager one, of the wondrous world that waits just outside my door. Now please, won't you join me?