Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lillian Gish On Ice!

Researching a place to stay on the first leg of my 48 Hour Artist Retreat in Vermont, I found a vintage hotel located across the railroad station where I could get off the Amtrak, check into and explore a little downtown.

It even has a little history. Lillian Gish stayed here while filming the 1920 classic "Way Down East".

The hotel was last renovated back then, and I hear it hasn't changed much since, which is good.
I want it to resemble the same time frame from when I stayed at the Stegner House in Saskatchewan (which was built in 1914).

Robert Frost at Lake Willoughby

"I see it's a fair, pretty sheet of water,
Our Willoughby! How did you hear of it?
I expect, though, everyone's heard of it.
In a book about ferns? Listen to that!" - "A Servant to Servants" - Robert Frost

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What's In A Name?

Hartford, Vermont?

Where's That?

If you mention White River Junction, then you might get a familiar response, but that is what town WRJ is actually located within.

I was born in Hartford, so I find it a curious coincidence. 

Not that the two towns are much alike - Hartford, CT is a state capitol and hundreds of thousands of  people live in the immediate area. Not to mention the 9-5 workforce.

Hartford Vermont is a sleepy railroad town, without much going on, other than the Amtrak that stops in WRJ.

However, over recent years, White River Junction has found a little appeal among artists and hipsters - drawn to the brick warehouses near any kind of significant transportation that involves a rail system. Throw in the fact that Dartmouth College is only a few miles away in Hanover, and you have the makings of a revival.

It's still early in the game, but it seems a logical bet that of all the cities in Vermont that have revived themselves of recent years (with Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Bennington and Montpelier having their share of cultural upswings, and Burlington being downright metropolitan) White River Junction stands to be the next in line.

So part of my journey to the Writers Forum in Greensboro will involve taking the train to WRJ from the new station in Northampton, and getting to stay in the town to see if the buzz is for real.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Riding To Make Sense Of It All

It was in 2009 - I embarked on a three day journey from Western Massachusetts to Southwestern Saskatchewan. The drive was only about 90 minutes of the third day I had to travel. The other two days were going by rail from Springfield to Havre, Montana VIA Chicago.

Last year, I spent a couple of days in Greensboro, Vermont, to stay in a small cottage overlooking Caspian Lake, which was where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner spent half of his summers, doing little but relaxing, and finding inspiration in the solitude amid the pristine surroundings of the Northeastern Kingdom. I found the area much like I found Eastend, which was by looking at maps, and reading various websites regarding anything Stegner related.

Although he was a Fiction writer - Stegner vividly described landscapes and villages made most locals suspicious, and though various interviews with the author, his family and friends. It was clear that Greensboro was indeed his summer town, and it was only about 4 hours away. So last summer, (after an exploratory day trip the previous year) I hopped into my newish car, and drove all over the Northeast Kingdom, and attending a writers conference in Greensboro, where I got to tell my story about being in Saskatchewan living in the house Wallace lived in as a child, and inspired him to write the novel 'The Big Rock Candy Mountains', which is one of the first great books about living in the west during the late pioneer days.

 Greensboro is much different than Eastend. It's greener, for one thing.

A small, disconnected, yet pleasant village that increases in size in the summer when the rich folks come to vacation. Stegner was one of them, and wrote about the balance between locals and part-timers in his followup novel "Second Growth". At first glance, Greensboro is no different than any other lake-driven rural tourist spot in Northern New England, and that is the was Stegner portrayed it in his book. The town was called "Westwick" (Eastend had been called "Whitemud" named after the river that runs through town).

I enjoyed staying in the small cottage that overlooked Caspian Lake, and I was tempted to book it again this summer, as I return to the Writers conference for a second year in a row. However, I found it was a little too much cottage for what I needed, and for less money than what I wanted to pay. I balanced it out by a retro-themed night at Injun Joe's Motor Court, which was interesting for one night, but not really a story I wanted to revisit, regardless of it being a bargain!

Piling on the miles on my car, I hit the road and discovered nearby Lake Willoughby. While I didn't stay overnight, I wanted to check out more of it than a quick drive by would allow next time I had the chance. With the views it afforded, it might be a great spot. Robert Frost thought so. The place has attracted many artists, writers and historians over the centuries.

Recently, Amtrak moved the route for the Vermonter train from Amherst to Northampton. They changed some of the times, so that taking a train to Vermont to stay overnight somewhere could be a possibility. I thought that repeating the process of taking the train to a small rural town on the way, and renting a car to complete the journey would be an enjoyable experience. Since we are being strongly encouraged to take the train, now that it runs straight up I-91 and the station is only a couple of miles away, I figured it would be a fitting way to keep the story going.

And so it shall be.