Friday, June 22, 2012

The Search For Wallace Stegner Continues.

When I left Eastend, Saskatchewan back in early March of 2009, I was assuming that my journey was coming to an end. I had lived inside the childhood home of Wallace Stegner for a week, had written and recorded music in the house, on the train and in front of 300 people in a far away Canadian town.

I was wrong.

Fast forward 3 and a half years. There is a summer place of note in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where Stegner summered for 25 years with his wife. Instead of a three day trip to get there, it's only 3 hours.

A house that plays a central part in the novel "Crossing To Safety" is for rent, and while I might not land that place just yet (or the beach house, which looks even more appealing to me), it was easy enough for me to take a trip up on my own in my Jeep, and check things out along the way. See what kind of life exists in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and start the beginning of another story.

Hitting Interstate 91 North at about 10:00AM on the first day of summer seemed to be as good a time as any to get this exploratory mission going.

My first encounter, no more than 5 minutes on the road, is a flock of Canada Geese crossing the highway. Cars are swerving to the left to avoid hitting them, which only emboldens the leader of the group. The last Goose to cross the road is moving BACK toward the center lane, to scare us off!

Goose wins the game of chicken!

I stop at South Deerfield to gas up and pull some cash. $40 of gas in the tank should get me there.... and halfway back!

Back on the road, I play no music, no CDs, just the sound of the engine as it climbs uphill, the wheels hitting the road, and the wind rushing through the open windows. Next thing I know I am in Bradford, VT (2 hours North).

I stopped to snap a picture, and text my wife (much like I did on the train trip a few years ago) that I am moving along smoothly. No traffic in this part of Vermont, other than Trucks with Quebec plates.
I was originally planning on spending some time in the town of Saint Johnsbury, but instead just ended up driving through downtown. I never stopped. It was a hot day, and the town looked a bit run down.  Like Brattleboro or Bennington without the renovations. No thanks. I'll just keep moving on.

After a little over 3 hours driving, I arrived in Barton Vermont. Barton is a small (blink and miss it) town where a few nice lakes are. There is a campground and a cute little motel with cabins that are near a rushing river. The views you get in the Northeast Kingdom remind of a lot of other mountainous areas in New England and upstate New York. At times, I felt like I was in the Adirondacks, or the Catskills, or the Berkshire Hills. Beautiful... but not quite as awe inspiring as the White or Green Mountains. But rolling, pastoral and soothing views were everywhere. Less development and traffic meant less all around noises, and the smell of pine and fresh air floated through the summer air.

The Canadian border was now less than 30 minutes away from that point. I could get French Toast in Quebec if I wanted.

I turned the Jeep around and started to my intended destination.

As I continued on my journey, Greensboro was a mere 20 minutes away from Barton, and there were some interesting views and landmarks along the way. Pretty ponds and streams, often with condemned houses and trailers next to them. One such broken down place had a sign that read "MUSEUM OF EVERYDAY LIFE" on it. There was a single, broken-down-looking car parked in front of it. It made me proud of my own 20-year-old Jeep's better-running appearance.

The in-between town of Glover, Vermont was pretty. They have a nice General store and diner shack, called the "Busy Bee". I was glad I was on this path. Before I knew it, My right turn came (Thanks Nigel the GPS voice!) and I was heading to Greensboro. I was suddenly downtown.

Nice. So... Where is the lake?

I turned around again, and set my address for Baker Hill Road, which is the street where Stegner's house was. It was on Baker Hill itself where Stegner's ashes were scattered overlooking Caspian lake. But the driveways must be long and unnumbered. I never saw any clearing to a view of the Lake. I drove around the dirt roads that lined the Northeast edge of town.

Eventually, I went back to downtown to general store and got some sandwiches (could not decide between a crab roll and a lobster roll... so I got them both!) a post card of the lake, and some water. I asked someone in the store where a view of the lake was, and she responded, "The beach is right around that red house." A sign read "BEACH ROAD".

I felt like a fool.

But now I was then standing on the shore of the Lake where Stegner spent the last 25 Summers of his life, and the journey's intended destination has been reached.

I stepped in to the cool clean water, and gazed around. It looked much like the beach in Rhode Island where I have enjoyed parts of 30 Summers with my family. (Below, is the picture of Wachaug Pond in Charlestown.)

The Summer paradise that Stegner found is the same kind of place for repose and reflection that I have lived in for the majority of my own summers. Vermont is wonderful, and it is a part of my own family's upbringing. It's nice to know that the hilly land that Wallace called looks like what I already call home, here in hills of Western Massachusetts, and the small lake resembles the large pond in Rhode Island my parents bought in the early 1980's.

No need to cross to safety here... I'm already safe at home.