This is my second time in Vermont. I traveled here for the first time five years ago to look at a grad school, (my grad school quest has been forever long and winding), and I stayed in a story-book New England town in southern Vermont called Brattleboro, which rests right up against the Connecticut River and, on the other side of that, New Hampshire. For that trip, I took Amtrak from South Station in Boston, a new experience for me, and one which I loved. To this day, I dearly wish Amtrak were cheaper.
I started this present Vermont journey in Brattleboro as well, and had a few moments of surprise as we wandered the small downtown. I remember five years ago, how I took a taxi to the grad school open house, spending a night among welcoming strangers, who chatted and ate junk food like it was summer camp. The next day, I took a bus back down the hill to the hotel I’d booked, then walked from that hotel to a coffee shop to the co-op and back. I ate that co-op dinner on the floor of my hotel room, my back against the bed and my feet stretched out, and I thought, as I would of many other cities I’ve visited, that I just might move there. The next morning, I bought coffee and walked to the Amtrak station, boarding my train to Springfield, and then back to Boston.
This may seem like a mundane story in the life of a wanderer, and yet, I remembered it with surprising clarity on my return this week. It was the last time that I traveled alone, making all the arrangements myself, managing my own independence. It was an exhilarating challenge to walk the streets of an unknown town all by myself, even a sleepy one like Brattleboro, even when I had to stop to ask for directions when my GPS got me completely lost. I made friends with the guy at the Amtrak station, who knew to look for me on my way back. That roasted portobello sandwich from the co-op looms in my memory not because it was delicious (though it was), but because it represented my freedom and the power I had over my life and my whims. I could do as I liked, independently, and I succeeded and survived.
Upon returning, I wondered how I’d done it. I felt a pang of nostalgia, of wishing for that person who made that trip happen, who took small risks and reaped a huge sense of accomplishment. I wondered if I could still find her after Seattle, after the closing of NILA, after moving back to Minneapolis and not immediately finding the joy I’d hoped for.
This time in Vermont, I visited another school, this one in Montpelier. Within the first half hour of the open house, I was tearing up and almost had to leave the room. I hadn’t been around writing students, prospective or otherwise, since my last residency at NILA. It was like coming home, and maybe you realize someone has been there rearranging furniture and leaving you a love letter, and even though it might look and smell a little different, it’s still home nonetheless. I felt sad and happy. I felt like this might be the perfect place to take new risks.
There’s something about Vermont that just feels good. It’s similar to how I feel in Seattle, breathing clean, soft air, feeling the sun pour liquid light over my head, walking up and down hills briskly enough to feel just a bit breathless. Like in Seattle, my legs feel strong and capable here. I am drawn to the feeling of state pride, of pride in the land and the food it provides and the mountains and the crisp air, a state of co-ops and a culture of community.
Risk and revelation is what I want. Community and connection, hope and healing, my heart and mind full of infinite possibility. That’s what travel does for me. That what this trip, in many ways, has done.