It wasn’t that we didn’t love New York, or that we didn’t have role models who were raising kids, quite successfully, in the city. But as What to Expect books began to pile up in our apartment, I started to imagine a very different life from the one my wife and I were living in Williamsburg, which a national magazine had recently dubbed the "hippest neighborhood in America." Suddenly, I had dreams (apparently colored by Norman Rockwell) of our lad romping through forests, climbing old oaks, and launching himself off rope swings at backwoods swimming holes. "Pa, I found a whole mess o’ blueberries down by Widow Wilson’s place," he’d say before floating some river on a jury-rigged raft.
But where to? New Zealand’s South Island, where we had honeymooned, crossed our minds, as did Vermont, which is 9,000 miles closer. Cathy and I had never been to the Green Mountain State, but, according to the mythology, it was a small, agricultural territory whose once abandoned hill farms had been re-homesteaded by urban rusticators. Snuggled in forested valleys were white-steepled villages and whitewater rivers, clean air, good schools, progressive politics. Vermont, it seemed, was the place people went to write, or ski, or start up bookstores and vegan restaurants and secessionist movements.
On our first scouting trip that fall, we immersed ourselves in the typical flatlander fare: leaf-peeping and sleeping in B&Bs with overdone Laura Ashley motifs, biking and hiking in the (diminutive) Green Mountains. We ate in little cafés, found good coffee and microbrews, even tracked down a distant relative who had just gotten back into dairy farming—organic, of course.
The beauty of the Vermont autumn took us both by surprise. But we had visited plenty of other places with cows and green fields. What was it about this place that was so different?
It took a while, but then we started to get it. Somehow, against the generic tides that had washed over much of the rest of the country, Vermont still managed to function on a human scale. There were no billboards, and few strip malls or big-box stores. Instead, there were farmers markets and general stores that sold both wine and shotgun shells, where locals gathered to bullshit and share news. It seemed at once anachronistic and progressive—the stuff of quaint clichés and cutting-edge urban policy—but Vermont appeared to have that priceless entity that had gone missing in most other places: community.