Book Review: Summer and Vermont

One of the best parts of travelling is getting to know a new place. Yesterday was an especially cold day for April and I found myself longing for warmth and spring and vacations. I decided to write a review of books that I took on vacation to Vermont last year. So, if it’s still too cold where you are, you can read about June and Vermont, and think of summer.

In June, I travelled to Southern Vermont and, to prepare for the trip, I read two books. One was the story of someone’s journey and the other was the story about finding a place to stay.

The story of the journey was Bill McKibben’s Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont’s Champlain Valley and New York’s Adirondacks. Published in 2005, McKibben walks west from his home near Middlebury, Vermont. Along the way, McKibben introduces the reader to the conservationists and farmers working to preserve the habitat and the way of life of these two disparate neighbouring regions. This journey was the opposite of my own, since I travelled through the Adirondacks to Vermont. Also, I drove, while McKibben walked through backcountry trails. Some of the trails he took were not even well-documented.
McKibben considers this landscape to be hopeful because there is so much wilderness. This journey is a reminder to the reader, who may presently be despairing about the prospects for the American wilderness, that there are not just people working to preserve it but, in fact, an organized network of people for whom this land and these places are a sacred trust. These lands around Lake Champlain, both in Vermont and New York, are enduring, with a way of life that represents the best of America and we are reminded that it will take many years, many eras, to change that. On the New York side, Adirondack Park, 6 million acres, is the largest publicly protected area on the North American continent. Like most Canadians, I am inclined to be smug about Canada’s conservation record but McKibben’s account and journey are a reminder that America still does everything bigger! (President Teddy Roosevelt set aside 194 million acres of Land for conservation. President Barack Obama protected 550 million acres. To compare, Canada has 33 million acres of land under protection.)

The book about finding a place was An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir by Deirdre Heekin. This was written in 2014 and was named the Best Wine Book of 2014 by Eric Asimov in the New York Times. Heekin and her partner own a farm/vineyard in southern Vermont, a region that does not typically beckon prospective winemakers because of its harsh climate. Even though most people would acknowledge this, Heekin reminds the reader at the outset that grapes grow wild in Vermont. This is a touchstone for her along her journey.

Heekin’s book is part memoir, part manual, part history and is so well written that I actually completed it. It seemed like the best textbook on any subject I had ever read. It made me long to spend more time in Vermont getting to know more about the farmers trying to build a sustainable agriculture in this region. But then, this is a book about staying put and so, I returned home, thanks to Heekin, with a renewed interest in sustainable agriculture in my own part of the Ottawa Valley.

As I write about these books, I am reminded of another warmth – the warmth of the American people that I always meet in Vermont. They make me think I could live there. They make me realize that Canadians and Americans are not so different after all.

I was tired of the cold and I needed to think about summer, but in this winter when our leaders are contemplating a new trade deal, with rhetoric advocating protectionism, I want the warmth of our usual relationship with our American neighbours. That relationship has also proven to be sustainable, while “leaders” come and go.