Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Podunk, VT

I was visiting Dr. Martha Stitelman this past weekend with the goal of seeing the Strolling of the Heifers on Main Street in Brattleboro.  I loved the parade, and the many ways in which the town expressed itself and linked urban and rural.  I realized that they make much fuller use of their spirit animal -- the cow -- than Hike the Heights does of our spirit animal -- the giraffe -- and we have some room for exploration.  Martha proposed that she take me to the train in Albany via a longer, scenic route through the forest on a road that had been washed out by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 but has recently been reopened. Vermont is a great state for questioning the rural-urban divide, because it is modestly urban and highly structured rural: here is no mountain or state park that we pass that Martha does not point out the excellent paths that traverse it.  But passing "Lower Podunk Road," I said, as people before me have, "There's really a Podunk?"   It turns out there's more than one -- small towns that passed their peak.  But here's the rub -- right near Lower Podunk Road is a marker that Martha pulled off the road to show me -- in the middle of the woods it says that Daniel Webster spoke at that spot to a gathering of the Whig convention in 1840.  We looked around the woods and wondered how 15,000 could have gathered there.  But the answer is that small towns like Podunk were functioning places -- Vermont was cleared of forest at that time, and the forest I see has grown since Daniel Webster was there.  Martha pointed out that there are lots of markers of habitation as one walks through the woods -- cellars and stone walls and gravestones.  Just as with the heifers strolling on Main Street, Vermont shifts the focus so that we can see the urban and the rural flow into and out of another.
Marker where 15,000 people once gathered but now we see a forest.

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