by Bob Knotts
I am seven decades old, carrying six continents of memories. I hold deep affections for many people met and many places traveled around this world. Why, then, should only one place endure for me as a feeling both meaningful and persistent, lingering powerfully regardless of time or distance?
I now see this as love for a place much as if it were another person. Is this really possible? For many years I wasn’t sure.
Like most of us, I oftentimes speak of my love for locations. With journeys to 40 states and 53 countries so far, I find such spontaneous loves bubble up often. Cities sometimes, regions or whole nations: Yes, I love Hong Kong. And I love Greece and Italy. And the American southwest. I love Paris and Papua New Guinea, Istanbul and Indonesia, Cairo and Copenhagen and Chicago. My birthplace, Detroit. And South Florida, where I have lived for the past 34 years.
And I love Vermont, my home from 1975 to 1989.
But I needed my recent visit to Vermont after a prolonged absence to teach me this lesson: Yes, a person can love a place as though it were another person, with the same depth of emotion and the same commitment to the relationship. An unyielding affection, no matter how far away in miles or years.
That is how I love Vermont. And, I have discovered, I love only Vermont in that way.
Fourteen pitiless winters and limited professional opportunities eventually had nudged me from the mountains to the sea. To the Fort Lauderdale area specifically, where I’ve lived and worked with relative contentment as a Floridian. During those nearly three and a half decades, I’ve thought of Vermont fondly almost every day, quite literally. I had not, though, returned to the Green Mountains since the summer of 1990. Neither time nor money allowed, in part due to those many travels around the globe as a writer.
Still, I had noticed in recent years that my absence from the state troubled me more and more. Before that time, I could visit Vermont in memory alone, somehow enough. Until it wasn’t and I began to buy scenic Vermont calendars for my kitchen wall, December after December.
Clearly, the time to go back was too long past.
I had lived in Burlington during my 14 years, always a short walk from Lake Champlain. In cramped studios and dumpy apartments I slowly matured as a writer, working as northern stringer for the Rutland Herald and Barre Time Argus. Eventually I earned fulltime reporting jobs at WJOY radio and then at WCAX television, the two Vermont broadcast news powerhouses back in the 1980s.
After several years covering Bernie Sanders, I took over the development beat at a critical moment. The growth management law, Act 200, was under hot debate and Williston’s Taft’s Corners was coveted by an aggressive New York corporation. Vermont was under a grinding pressure to change, greased by sizable checks offered for sizable chunks of farmland. I voiced many standups from those farms and fields in my efforts to expose the tactics of deceitful developers.
And so planning a late spring 2023 trip based in Stowe and Burlington, I fretted over what I might find today. Had all those years squeezed Vermont dry of its many charms? Were the larger cities decayed by commercialism? Did its towns and villages succumb to an ugly excess of development?
I dreaded the possibility that I somehow might unlove Vermont.
I needn’t have worried.
Yes, Burlington offered many more restaurants than I had known – and the city’s once-rundown waterfront was now a beautifully re-made destination. But much of Burlington looked nearly as when I’d left. Taft’s Corners indeed had become a commercial center, but rolling verdant countryside was only a short drive away. For the most part, Vermont remained Vermont. Welcoming mountains, photogenic farms, walkabout rural towns. And a population of relatively civilized, socially engaged human beings who genuinely care about their community.
Like most locales I’ve visited, Vermont exudes its own ambience, a special vibe. I’ve never fully understood what accounts for this feeling of place, why Chicago feels so utterly different from New York, Rome from Athens. It is some mystic chemistry, I suppose, a blend of history and culture and landscape and population among other elements. Much as our feelings toward individuals are a combination of many things.
I realize now that Vermont’s inhabitants contribute a great deal to the state’s inviting atmosphere. In many ways, it’s the people who make Vermont unique. Just as when I lived among them, Vermonters mostly are an earthy bunch who say what they think, dress as they like, look after their neighbors and try to preserve their home state. To me, they possess an attitude unlike other New Englanders in ways that I can’t quite define.
But I can feel those differences, which often include an unpretentious brand of liberal values. Vermonters are like no one else. And Vermont is like nowhere else.
And so my love, my grateful passion for Vermont, remains with me – perhaps even stronger than when I moved away in 1989. That will never change now.
Vermont has been true to my affections, after all, and I can only be faithful in return.
Bob Knotts is the author of 27 published books and countless pieces for major magazines as well as founder and president of a 19-year-old federally recognized nonprofit, the Humanity Project. Bob’s Authors Guild website with samples of his work is at www.rsknotts.com
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