Hard Truth "From heres" know that Vermont is grittier than its image suggests

March 29, 2004

In Vermont it's our custom to subdivide the year almost
infinitely. We have our four seasons and our sports seasons, of
course, but we also shoehorn into the calendar sugaring season,
lambing season, mud season, planting season, strawberry season,
haying season, color season and deer season. Vermont is
Ecclesiastes run amok. ¶ These temporal turns offer the stranger
a chance to riddle out who we are. A better chance, anyway,
than the easy stereotypes do. Yes, if you know of our
reputation for earnest communitarianism, you won't be surprised
to learn that, a few years ago, neighbors filed a grievance
with the district environmental board complaining that the
cannon shots after touchdowns at Rutland High School football
games constituted noise pollution. Or that a wrestler at Mount
Anthony Union High, in Bennington, recently caught using a
choke hold in competition was ordered to write his wronged
opponent a letter of apology--and then ordered to write another
because the original wasn't considered apologetic enough.

But burrow beneath the surface, and you'll discover more grit and
competitiveness than Suzanne Sugarbaker ever conceded us in those
Designing Women episodes, when she mocked Miss Vermont for being
a pushover on the pageant circuit. During holiday parades in
towns like Norwich, Landgrove and Stowe, that figure waving from
a flatbed trailer is less likely to be a beauty queen than one of
our former Olympians, a ski jumper, downhiller or halfpiper, of
whom Vermont (pop. 613,090) must produce more per capita than any
other state. In 2001 seven of the top nine players on Hanover
High's New Hampshire state championship basketball team came,
subversively, from our side of the Connecticut River--in the
endless rivalry between the states, a delicious touche. And no
Vermont sporting venue draws bigger crowds than Thunder Road in
Barre, where the racing goes off on Thursday nights because for
years the town's granite quarries paid their stonecutters on
Thursday afternoons. The best seats are still those beyond the
quarter-mile oval, on a rise known as Bud Hill. Howard Dean,
favorite son of a beer-can, stock car state. Who knew?

Natives refer to themselves as "from heres," and to newcomers as
"come heres," and the two sometimes butt heads. But when thrown
together, as we are this time of year at town meetings,
Vermonters hash things out, reconciling the poles of Freedom and
Unity, the oxymoron that passes for our state motto. As it
happens, freedom and unity are the two things a good team must
hold in balance, as our University of Vermont men's basketball
squad has proved of late. Representing freedom was star forward
Taylor Coppenrath, the pride of the Northeast Kingdom and a
classic from-here. If you didn't catch him springing for 38
points in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion earlier this season, not to
worry; just swing by the general store in his hometown of West
Barnet and the clerk will lend you, on the honor system, the
Coppenrath highlight video kept behind the counter. Fans spend
winter mornings listening to coach Tom Brennan's drive-time radio
show, and evenings filling Patrick Gym in Burlington to its 3,228
capacity only because enough of them have freed up space in the
bleachers by checking their bulky down jackets in the lobby.

With biorhythms so finely calibrated to the turns of our many
seasons, we take particular notice when one interval overlaps
another. My neighbor Karl is a lifelong Red Sox fan, albeit one
refreshingly free of the knuckle-cracking angst that afflicts
other members of his tribe. Early last October, having just
filled a couple of jugs down the road at Ebenezer's cider press,
he stopped his pickup to chat. I asked after the Bostons, who had
just begun to sputter in their playoff series with the Yankees,
and studied him for signs of fatalistic dread.

"Hey," Karl said, "I'm just happy with another ball game."

The leaves are a few days from peak. You've got freshly pressed
cider in the back of your beater. The Sox are still playing ball.
Life is good.

SI senior writer Alexander Wolff lives in Addison County, Vt.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)