Silent Night in Vermont

Mackenzy Phillips

© Copyright 2018 by Mackenzy Phillips

Photo of author and her dog.

Leaving the city early proved to be the right decision. The traffic on the way up on I-87 was very heavy, I suppose everyone else in New York had had the same idea. It was early March and we thought we’d get some late skiing in. As we listened to country music in the SUV, the automated traffic reports kept breaking in; “Weather Advisory Alert for Wyndham County, and Windsor County. Nor’easter due to reach the greater Boston area, New Hampshire and Southern Vermont. Do not travel unless absolutely necessary”. “I wonder if we’ll beat it? Asked Jack, not sounding his usual confident self about such things on this occasion. “Of course we will, it’s not due on the coast till late tonight. I’m sure that’s what CNN said this morning”. I replied, trying my best to sound convincing. “Well, I’ve packed lots of water, candles as I couldn’t remember if we have some up there. There should be plenty of wood if we can get it out from under the tarp….it might be frozen in under ice”!

Oh we’ll figure it out, if we can’t we’ll have to just snuggle up all night until daylight”. I said with a hint of wishful romanticism in my tone. “Yeah, that might work overnight back in civilization”. He laughed... “up here in the back-country you could die of hypothermia and it’d be weeks before anyone even knew we were here”! “Hmm I guess he might be right”! I thought to myself. The music kicked back in and we continued up the interstate with the falling snow getting heavier and the visibility less with each mile we progressed.

We never listened to country music in our lives back in the city, but heading north to our recently acquired country getaway, it helped to shake off our city lifestyle and chill out.

We turned off the interstate and headed east toward the Vermont border. The main country roads heading east from the interstate were scattered with old country towns, that looked neglected and empty of life. It made you wonder what their inhabitants did to earn a crust. Even in the depths of winter, the large farms were picture postcard material, normally set against crisp blue skies, but today they looked eerie and still and were struggling to stay visible at all, in the heavy snows that were now blowing horizontal.

We finally crossed in to Vermont and the change of scenery was noticeable even through the storm. No more millboards, no more neglected homes on the roadside. Even the snow looked magical. As the snow continued down the silence outside grew in equal measure. We were pleased to see the flashing yellow lights of the plows ahead of us, the gritters were out in full force as well. We followed the convoy all the way to Manchester where we turned off on Route 103 towards Okemo resort. As we descended down the long hill from Mount Holly we could just see the outline of Saltash Mountain to our left with the very tip of Killington behind it, now barely visible. At the bottom of the hill made a left onto Route 100 North which took you through the valley up to Route 4. It had been awarded the “Scenic Route” title years before and was deservedly earned as in any season, the road took you through twenty miles of crystal clear mountain-lakes to the east of the road. In the summer when we had first come up to look at buying a vacation home, the backdrop was emerald green thick with pines, standing maples and oaks and alder with the blackness of the lakes below. In the Fall it was if someone had arrived with paint brushes and had re-worked the canvas with brilliant reds and oranges, the lakes below were like mirrors with blue skies and slow moving clouds on their surface. Canoes peppered the lakes and fly fisherman waded in the rivers. We were smitten with it all.

We finally turned right onto the climbing hill that would take us to our cabin, which was tucked away in the back roads of Plymouth. The Coolidge estate was not far away and we were looking forward to visiting it in the coming summer with friends as we had heard that their cheese shop was something to write home about. Right now all our concentration was needed as the road was notoriously windy and steep with deep ravines each side of the road. It wasn’t a place you wanted to test your tyres, brakes or 4X4. As we finally approached the house, we were relieved to see our trustworthy plow contractor had been up, but in these conditions, we expected he would be out again either in the middle of the night or early as soon as dawn broke. The plowing contractors certainly earned their keep. In a big storm like this they might have twenty or more homes to keep open. They would work through the night, sometimes visiting the same house a number of times. We were advised when we bought the house, that snow clearing wasn’t possible only when you were coming up, if it wasn’t cleared every snow storm, the weight of the snow would break a plow blade in an instant. I could now see the principle in action. The snow banks where he had been clearing through the winter were already about six-foot-high and with each storm your driveway would get narrower and narrower as the snow banks piled up. This was a late storm so the driveway was level but like a tunnel. Jack inched the SUV backwards between the banks.

We piled through the deep snow to the covered porch and up the stairs once we located exactly where they were in the three-feet-deep snow. We opened the front door and were glad we had remote control heating installed. All was warm and welcoming. We only had to bring some groceries in and while I filled the fridge, Jack loaded the wood burner in the living room. The cabin had been built as a kit-cabin but all 1200 square feet had been renovated before we saw it and so was simple but clean and the kitchen and bathrooms had been remodelled. It was exactly what we had been looking for. It had a ten-acre site, most of which was hardwood with some pines, enough to keep it green all year. There was a small pond at the back of the house where a couple of acres had been cleared. Just off the dining room, was a deck with a large hot tub on it overlooking the yard with the woods beyond. I cracked the slider open a couple of inches to see if I could see the lights on the hot-tub fascia. All was looking good for the weekend. We were soon changed into our fleecy pyjamas and curled up on the sofa with a glass of cold beer and a board of cold cuts, cheese, bread and crackers. We kept the lights off inside but left the outside porch light on and watched the snow continue to fall against the blackness outside.

It had been a long drive up and so sitting in silence while we grazed was our idea of heaven. We eventually turned the damper down on the fire and headed up stairs and crashed out in our new king size log bed. We vaguely heard the plow guy arrive in the early hours. We saw his yellow light flashing over the shadows of the bed and heard the scraping of the ice as he did a number of passes over the driveway and then it went quiet again.

We finally woke up after ten am, which was unusual for us. We decided with so much snowfall last night, the slopes would be heavy work, and surmised that we would let everyone else work their legs while we would have a lazy day around the house and do some shopping. We cooked up a storm of a breakfast with pancakes, sausage, drenched of course with real maple syrup, washed down with vanilla coffee and cream. The perfect start to a weekend in Vermont. Jack dug a weekends supply of cut wood, out from under the wood shed and piled it next to the wood burner, ready for a late afternoon ignition. We got our Vermont wear on and headed into Cavendish to our favourite general store; Singletons.

The store was like no other. People and particularly “out-of-staters” as the locals called us, flocked there for all it had to offer. The store was nothing to look at, but often in the fall, the hunters brought their kill to be weighed there. On any given day you might arrive to see a bear or a deer hanging upside down while the poor beast was weighted, registered and ogled at by every bearded boy in a pick-up. The food was all freshly grown, or shot and their home cured bacon was enough to wait in line for. The family owned business charged an arm and a leg for mundane items but there wasn’t anything they did not sell. All in one store you could buy post cards, honey, liquor, guns, hunting knives, crossbows and beer. Socks, hats, boots, fishing line and bullets along with local cheeses, yogurts, and fresh local produce. It was a treasure trove for adults. We stopped in and bought some fresh ground Green Mountain coffee, some excellent red wine and of course, bacon.

We had forgotten that dusk comes early in the mountains. We lit the fire, opened the wine and Jack started in the kitchen preparing vegetables and frying off the chopped smoked some beef and bacon for the stew. I ditched my clothes, found my bathrobe and an old tired ski hat and my crocks and tip toed through the deep snow onto the deck. I found the yard brush and swept off the foot of untouched snow on top of the hot tub. I pushed the heavy cover back and a cloud of steam rushed upwards from the hot water. The trick getting into a hot tub situated in deep snow is to be quick. I pulled my woolly hat down over my brows, threw my robe onto a well place hood next to the back door, along with my towel and hot-footed it up the steps. I threw one leg over and hurled the rest of my naked body into the under-lit hot water. As I let myself sink to the bottom with only my chin above water level, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Can it get any better than this”? ran through my head. I lay there, very still while letting the water ease my aching city muscles. The rising steam worked better than any high end city facial and the aroma of smoked bacon permeated the air. Jack stuck his face outside the sliders “dinner’s in the oven, it’ll be about an hour or so…Beer or wine”? he asked. “Let’s go with a beer for now… we can crack the wine later in front of the fire”! With that instruction, he padded back into the kitchen and returned with two Sam Adams, still in the bottle. “Perfect, jump in, the water’s fine”. He passed me the two bottles, dropped his jeans, shorts and threw the lumberjack shirt over the hook and quick as a gymnast had launched himself sideways up, over and into the tub. We sat a while and talked about how lucky we were to have found such a wonderful retreat. By now the night was black and silent, stars filled the sky above us like strewn diamonds. Our chatter stopped as we lay there enjoying the stillness. We turned off the hot tub light and the jets and lay floating on our stomachs, with our face just over the rim watching for any movement in the woods. Minutes passed, when we heard muffled voices deep in the trees toward the end of our lot. We looked but couldn’t see anyone. Then flashlights appeared zig-zagging through the trees with a grazing noise behind it. We now could distinguish men whispering directions as they advanced towards the house. “Jack do you think we should call the police”? I whispered…

Shhhh, be still. Let’s see what they’re up to first”.

But they’re on our property”. I pleaded.

Jack shushed me again.

As they moved closer to the house, they seemed un-phased by the lights inside, but it was clear they had no idea we were there, outside watching them.

They were both in snowshoes. With each step forward you could hear the snowshoes rest on the surface of the deep snow before sinking slightly under their weight. I wasn’t so much scared but it did occur to me that we were both naked, how much could we do in our current position if something untoward should unfold.

Suddenly our retreat in the depths of the woods and mountains and out on the backroads felt uncomfortably vulnerable. Minutes ago the same scene felt incredibly romantic and heavenly.

My imagination was starting to run away with me. I sank a little lower into the hot tub and hoped it would all go away. My Wall Street Warrior, Jack would surely save us naked or not; I thought. Their steps and mumbling conversation continued with lots of huffing and puffing now as they dragged something large and heavy behind them through the snow. I peeped over the rim again. In the light of the moon I could now see the outline of earmuffed rimmed caps and big baggy jackets and typical back road Carhart jeans. It was like watching a cowboy film with settlers fighting their way through the frontier. Of course they had heavy beards, who didn’t up in this neck of the woods. I’m not sure if the woman at the end of the road may even sport a shadowed jawline. She often baked pies and left them for sale at the end of the driveway in a wood shed. Beard or no beard, she made a mean blueberry pie. I tried not to let her whiskers detract from her baking skills. More huffing and puffing from the depths of the trees and minutes later they dropped the load behind them at the side of our house.

Jack, maybe it’s a body, we’ve got to do something”! I whispered.

Hush up…I’m thinking”! “Ok now they’re round the side of the garage, you jump out and get inside the house quick.” I didn’t wait to hear anymore. I slid up and over the rim, found my crocks and robe and crept into the house, closing the door and locking it behind me. I rushed upstairs and threw some clothes on and grabbed my cell phone. Back downstairs I tip-toed towards the sliders for further instruction, I could see that Jack was busted. “OMG” I though wrestling with my cell phone; “What should I do… there’s no effing signal here”!

As I looked again, the two men were heading up the deck steps at which point Jack stood up, buck naked in the tub. “Hey there”! he bellowed at them.

As they waded through the deep snow, they pulled their hats off and loosened their neck scarfs, never batting an eyelid that Jack wasn’t wearing a stich. “Hey you two city dwellers, how you both doin”? “We been out on our sleds as the moon light is so good tonight and dumbknuckles here hit a tree and took one of his front blades right off. We’d been right up and across Amherst Lake…but it was too soft for my likins so we headed back. We took a wrong turning somwheres and ended up at the bottom of your lot. Go figure”! “Well we could see your lights on so thought we may as well unload the cooler of beer and head on up and meet our neighbours…hope you don’t mind the interruption”? “Where’s your missus, making dinner we hope! “Pay no mind to him. He’d take anyone’s supper”! Jack grabbed a towel round him and in a back country kind of macho voice insisted: “Nah…Laura’s inside deciding if she needs the gun or not”! He laughed but I wasn’t much amused. “Who were these two”? I wondered, smiling politely to them both through the sliders, while I went to open the oven to see how much Irish stew was bubbling away in there. Next the door was pulled open and the three of them came in, shook the snow off of themselves and they passed us each an ice cold Sam Adams. We pulled up some chairs round the fire and met our neighbour’s Tom and Orville. The both lived up the road a way on the opposite sides of the wooden bridge. I got hot bread out, soon followed by Irish Stew with smoked bacon from Singleton’s.

A couple of beers down and I lightened up a little, after all, we were in Vermont, one of safest states in the nation. We didn’t know these men from Adam, but we let our guard down, let them in and enjoyed one the best evenings we could remember. They regaled us with stories of the fish they had caught last summer, other local characters that we should be wary of and before they left us to our weekend, they invited us to Orville’s home for dinner on our next trip up country.

We graciously accepted and watched them traipse through the falling snow up the road under the moonlight, chuckling all the way.

We left the dishes where they were, turned the damper down in the woodstove and climbed the stairs to our bed. “Vermont on a winter’s night, what could be more perfect”?

This is a piece I wrote some years ago, telling of how, in our city mind sets we (my husband and I) ventured up I-87 through New York state in a blizzard  and across to our newly purchased home in the back roads of Vermont one winter weekend.

It was one of our first induction lessons of chilling out with the locals. We learnt much from them over the wonderful years we lived in Vermont and their simple lifestyles soon became ours too.

Fear became friendship.

I am to date, an unpublished writer.  I am an ex professional ballet dancer who hung up the tutu and pointe shoes decades ago. I've been in business in the US, the UK and France and have recently decided to dedicate my time to writing.

 I have am currently seeking an agent to promote my children's picture book series and am working on completing and editing my first novel.

I use short stories as my daily writing exercise to write succinctly.

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