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Brattleboro’s live-and-let-live self-righteousness can be tedious, but it can also be refreshing. A truck driver who leaves his vehicle idling in a loading zone might get a talking-to from a passerby. Then again, a daydreamer at a stoplight is usually allowed a whole cycle before the honking starts.

There’s very little real wilderness in Vermont (the whole state is hardly half the size of a single national park in Alaska). But within a two-hour drive of Brattleboro are dozens of trail systems—including the famed Appalachian Trail and Long Trail, which merge in the southern sections of the Green Mountain National Forest. There are hundreds of miles of low-traffic bike routes, several lakes and reservoirs, and 20 ski areas, although working Vermonters favor Nordic and backcountry routes over pricey resorts.

But one of my first Vermont lessons was that paradise is always in peril—and that if some corners of the country remain livable, it’s because people were willing to fight to keep them that way. Soon after we arrived, the newspaper announced that Home Depot would open a big-box store in Brattleboro. Despite protests and pleas to the town government, there was no stopping them.

But a funny thing happened: Bucking national trends, customers and contractors circled their wagons around the mom-and-pop hardware stores that had been doing business in the community for generations. And this past May, Brattleboro made national news again, with Home Depot’s announcement that they would be leaving town after three years due to poor sales.

They built it, and no one came.

Now, five years into our rural adventure, this land of locavores and Community Supported Agriculture farms doesn’t seem so rural—until friends remind us that we have no broadcast television reception, no cable, no cell phone coverage.

None of which bothers me. Instead of watching TV and playing video games, Charlie and Joe spend most days outside, catching frogs and salamanders, "gardening," checking on baby birds, or, in the winter, sledding and skating on the pond (eat your heart out, Rockwell). Charlie has just added a set of deer antlers to the "museum" he’s set up in the tree house I built for him and Joe. And a few weeks ago, Lester watched a mountain lion walk through his field—the first confirmed sighting of a "catamount" in these parts in more than a hundred years.

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  • I love the outdoors - and I hate the lifestyle that we all seem to be leading - captive in our homes…
  • I live in New York City, but have spent much time in Maine and Vermont, and must say your article br…
  • Well written and heartfelt. Three cheers for Vermont!
  • What a great article! I actually shed a tear at the end for the kindness of humans. Rock on Vermont!
  • Fantastic article! Battlebro sounds like a fantastic place for kids to grow up.
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