When October comes, and colorful leaves begin to drop to the ground, I’m reminded of a trip I took one year with my family to Vermont. It would be the first time I would find myself in the Green Mountain State, not knowing that one day I would move there and spend 20 precious years living amidst its spectacular beauty.
At the time of this trip I was living at Eaton’s Neck on Long Island and in eighth grade. My parents rarely traveled, stuck in their roles as housewife and architect/building contractor, unable to afford going very far. Our trips were mostly to New Jersey to see an aunt, uncle and cousins or to New York City for events like the circus. They were always day trips, and by the end of each jaunt, us kids were tired, cranky, and just wanted to be home.
Mom and dad had always wanted to see New England in its autumn glory. So on the spur of the moment, on what promised to be a beautiful Columbus Day weekend we went on our first real overnight trip together.
We spent most of our first day in the car, reaching Bennington, in Southern Vermont, just as the sun was setting. Dad tried to find us a hotel room for the night but there were none to be had. With three starving, unhappy children, he figured a meal was really the first order of the evening. After standing in line for an hour or more, we were finally seated while tourists from all over the country who had made prior reservations,were just finishing their meals. My brother Reid, nodded off between bites while I just wanted to go home, where I could be less than the angel I was expected to be.
After dinner we headed out again in the car, looking for a room for the night. On the advise my father had been given by a waiter at the restaurant, we drove out into the dark countryside, looking for what dad had been told was a blue-gray, barn-like structure where we would probably be able to talk the owners into renting us a room for the night.
After many twists and turns we finally found the place and settled into one room. There didn’t seem to be any heat, though there was warm, running water in the tiny bathroom. Suffering from exhaustion I quickly fell asleep under several layers of blankets and a coat to keep me warm.
Sometime in the night, there was a thunderous, burst of sound. The building started to shake violently and even my parents were frightened by what turned out to be a freight train traveling on tracks right next to the building. Its long throaty call giving it away as it hurtled through the dark. It happened again several hours later and then again just before the sun found it’s way over the edge of morning. None of us had slept very well, though it was comforting to know that what we had feared was only a train, not some man-eating giant sweeping the land clean of all children and their parents.
Grumpy as we all were, we climbed into the car to try to find some breakfast. It was a cold, sunny morning with silvery frost plating the grasses, goldenrod and other late-season wild flowers growing along the side of road. Around a sharp turn we stopped to watch a cow in a small field, giving birth to her calf. Its small placenta encased body slipping into the chill of a new day. The mother licked the calf clean as it wobbled to its legs, quickly finding the pink bag filled with warm, creamy milk.
We successfully found a place for breakfast, and spent the day wandering the narrow roads of what seemed like another country. The leaves were brilliant in crayola colors: reds, orange, golds and yellow. A breathtaking painting of mountains, fields, and sky we drove right into. We stopped at covered bridges, historical markers and began learning the history of this place, imagining what it might be like in the winter months buried deep in snow. We found a small roadside mom and pop kind of restaurant, not bulging with rest of the world, and a slightly battered motel where we would spend the night before heading home the next day. Here in the middle of some unknown land, I had my first taste of what real silence was.
The next evening, we arrived back home in time to feed the dog and three ducks that we had been given on the previous Easter by a friend. They had grown from fuzzy yellow ducklings into sleek white adults over the summer months. They layed eggs in odd corners of the yard and mom would gather them, giving them to the milkman in trade for milder chicken eggs.
My grandparents had agreed to visit while we were gone, to check on and feed the dog and the ducks. The dog met us with a happy tail and little yelps welcoming us back, but the ducks were nowhere to be found. Mom called my grandparents who told her that the ducks had disappeared the first day we were gone. We searched, called neighbors and had no clue as to what might have happened to them. I grieved, missing their quack-chatter when they followed me around the yard.
It wasn’t until the following Sunday, when we went to my grandparent’s home for dinner that I understood what had happened. After playing in the yard for a while, we were called in to a dinner of roast duck. Needless to say, I refused to eat. The pangs of hunger more welcome than the crisp taste of friendship.
P.S. The ducks mentioned here are not the same ducks mentioned in my last post.