Woog’s World: Vermont’s slower pace a far cry from hectic Westport

I have a friend who lives in northern Vermont. In true Vermont fashion, he has created a satisfying life for himself doing two creative, disparate things — playing music and making furniture.

He grew up in Westport, and graduated from Staples High School. Family members still live around town. But he doesn’t get down here much. Whenever he drives south on Interstate 91, he says, he sees a change in traffic, and senses a different sensibility, starting around Springfield, Mass.

The highway gets more crowded in Hartford. By the time he reaches Fairfield County, he feels — alone in his Subaru, without hearing or speaking to anyone — the pressure of life in a fast-paced area. When he turns onto the Post Road, he can’t wait to head north again.

I headed north last week, for my first vacation in 17 months. After a year and a half surrounded by COVID, I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to get away. I’d also almost forgotten how much I love Vermont.

The Green Mountain State is just two and a half hours away. It’s a straight shot, up an interstate that grows less crowded with each passing mile. But Vermont might as well be Wyoming or any other square Western state — it’s that far from Connecticut in certain respects.

As environmentally conscious as we Nutmeggers are, we are wasteful sloths compared to Vermonters. There are few things more traditional than a pick-your-own blueberry farm. And few things more important to help save the earth than the solar panels arrayed in those same fields.

Westport has strayed a long way from our agricultural past. Only a few farms remain, in such spots as Bayberry Lane and Clapboard Hill. Visit them soon, because they may not be around much longer. For decades, our town has prioritized development over preservation.

Open space is seen as ripe for the taking. If land has already been taken — by a farmhouse, say, or a home that has stood for a long while (or just a while) — it’s easy to knock it down and build something bigger, fresher, and “better.”

Except that’s not always the case. There is a harmony to the landscape of much of Vermont, and to the streetscape as well, that is less jarring than it is here. New structures don’t battle older ones; they fit together more easily. It’s hard to put into words, but I know it when I see it. And I saw a lot of it, in small towns and larger ones, last week.

I saw something else too — stars. The Perseid meteor shower peaks in mid-August, but around here that’s a non-event. You can’t see too many shooting stars even if you wanted to. The light pollution affects all of us, no matter where we are in town. I was lucky enough to be in the right place last week, and at exactly the right time. Nature put on a magnificent display. Well, it is always does. This time, I was fortunate enough to see it.

I did something else in Vermont I do too rarely in Westport: I talked to strangers. We don’t begin random conversations here; we are too busy, there’s too much else going on, why should we bother?

Perhaps it was the slower pace, or that I was on vacation. But I found it easy, and interesting, to strike up chats in restaurants, stores (and that pick-your-own-blueberry farm). It was instructive (and important) to hear, for example, from a woman who runs an excavating firm. Her side gig is renting out her property for weddings. She’s been booked every weekend this summer, by couples from as far away as Montana.

It’s easy to idealize Vermont. It’s easy too, on vacation, to focus on only the good things, and overlook the bad. There are main Vermont roads off interstates filled with shopping centers and traffic. Poverty and housing inequality lurk in the mountains and small towns, as well as the relatively small cities.

I could not live full-time in Vermont. I’m a Westporter. I’m used to our hectic pace of life, our many entertainment options, the wide variety of things to do, the proximity to New York, the relatively dense population, the beach.

Plus, there’s only so much maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s one man can take.

But I’ll take Vermont. Its rolling farmland, easy rhythms, solar panels and highest-in-the-nation vaccination rates are a reminder that there are still some places that get life right.

And I sure do understand my Vermont friend’s angst every time he heads south to Westport, on I-91. As soon as I hit Hartford, I started twitching too.