Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vermont: Where All Tracks Are Beaten

When we spend weekends at our second home in Vermont, we feel like modern pioneers. We’re “pioneers” because we often find ourselves exploring on roads that are not always on a map or are illustrated with dotted lines. We’re “modern” because we are often hooked up to a GPS to make sure we don’t get lost, or at least not too lost. 

Is this cheating? I don’t think so. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction and so-so memory when it comes to retracing a path on which I have driven just a few minutes before. We will come to a crossroad on our return trip, and I’ll slow down hoping my mind will remember whether I had turned right or left when we were coming from the other direction And Audrey will say, “Jeez, can’t you remember anything. Since we made a right here before, it’s left now.” Ah yes, I remember it well. . . So it’s comforting when our GPS lady says, “In two-tenths of a mile, turn left.”

Getting lost is not always my fault. Sometimes we can blame the GPS lady. When we leave ourselves in her hands (or voice), she can take us anywhere she wants. And she sometimes does.

Sunday, we went with our friends Helaine and Ken on a first rite of fall outing—apple picking in Putney, a place we had visited only once before. The GPS lady suggested that we go right out of our townhouse complex (I would have gone left and followed a different route of main roads). We traveled farther from the main roads, started circling back (at least in my mind) and ended up at the same place I would have gone, except from the opposite direction. How was that possible? Then she had us turn onto something called “Putney Mountain Road.”  And we started climbing. The road went from well paved to less well paved to dirt to rough dirt. Still climbing. It narrowed and narrowed some more. It was now at a width that would have trouble permitting cars to pass each other without one risking falling off the road (something I had done during “mud season” just a few months before). Of course, that was the moment that two cars approached us from the other direction. Oh my!

A hairpin turn on Putney Mountain Road

I pulled over as far as I dared and stopped. If those cars wanted to get by me, they were going to have to take the initiative! Were the wives of those other drivers offering their spouses “advice” on how to pass, I wondered. Probably. Mine certainly would have been if I hadn’t stopped. I know this is a little too dramatic for a simple passage of cars on a narrow road, but you’re in my head now, and my mind tends to make a big deal out of even little things.  The two cars passed without incident, of course, and we continued our climb on this scary rural road. The GPS lady informed us that we still had 1.3 miles to go before moving on to another road. Then, almost sarcastically, a speed limit sign appeared, warning us not to exceed 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour! We were going maybe 10. In my mind I began calculating how long it would take to go 1.3 miles at 10 miles per hour. Too long!

Then, as if by magic, the road began heading downhill. We had crossed over Putney Mountain, it would seem. Soon we would be on another road that would lead us to the Putney Orchard, which indeed did happen. The new road was paved and pretty flat. Perfect. Even the GPS lady seemed satisfied, telling us we were now reaching our destination 300 yards ahead on the left.

The apple picking would seem pretty anticlimactic after all of the “fun” of getting here, but it turned out to be both an enjoyable and tasty way to spend the late morning. Along with picking several varieties of apples, we also found blueberries (a little tart but worth the effort), plums (not ripe enough to keep), and something that we called “apple-pears” (looks like an apple; tastes like a pear). Since those weren’t listed on the orchard’s price list, we decided to pass them up.

Helaine and Audrey explore for apples

Ken is literally up a tree

When we got back to the orchard store to pay for our pickings, we asked the clerk for new directions to get home. Hearing that we had come on Putney Mountain Road, she offered to help us find something “less adventurous.” She suggested continuing on to Dummerston Center, where five roads connected. There we should take the east-west road. So how would I figure out which road went east-west, I wondered? As it turned out, the decision was easy. The first road we passed on the right at the crossroads was called East-West Road. An old pioneer had obviously decided to help us modern pioneers. Sure, East-West Road was paved only part way and featured a one-lane covered bridge that required careful diligence to cross, but we were soon on a numbered state road and winding our way back home, loaded with apples and blueberries and a story to tell.

It was a perfect Vermont day. We had found a new place to go for an outing, we had gotten a little lost and still found our way back (thanks only in part to the GPS lady, who had played a big role in getting us lost in the first place), and we had communed with nature the way modern pioneers from urban areas do. I would say that we had gotten off the beaten track, but in Vermont all tracks are beaten—even some that you might best avoid unless you’re a mountain goat or own a GPS that doesn’t have a sadistic sense of humor.

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