When I was growing up, leaving Malibu to visit family in Vermont felt like a living nightmare. First off, there was the question of what was wrong with my aunt Anita. This is something I worried about endlessly. Anita and her little brother (my father) grew up with the Pacific Ocean as their backyard. They were subject to minimal supervision and had the entire city of Los Angeles to explore. After thirty years of this, Anita gave it all up and moved into an old and definitely haunted farmhouse on a dirt road in a town aptly named Dummerston to live with a man from Connecticut named Ned. As an eight year old, I lost sleep trying to figure out what would drive someone to sacrifice a sprawling city with year-round sunshine and an ocean view for a mostly freezing climate, a bunch of trees and a downtown that consisted of a Friendly's, a gas station and a roundabout.
Oh how wrong I was. It took years for me to see that the things that were initially so off-putting about Vermont are in fact its best qualities. The roads are still dirt and the downtown still makes me claustrophobic but the lack of options for entertainment forces me to limit myself to two activities that make me truly happy: spending time with people and being in nature. At this point, I've fallen so hard for Vermont that even my boyfriend is from there. This has the added benefits of giving me double the reason to visit and double the family to join for walks in the woods. Every trip to Vermont is part vacation, part homecoming.
Going to Vermont with my sister, on the other hand, feels like entering an alternate universe. Here, we are the people we could have been if we, too, had grown up in a Norman Rockwell painting. From ice skating outside on a pond that exists solely for that purpose to joining the local apple orchard's annual sing-along night, these are the things that stop you from becoming a jaded asshole.
You don't spend hours debating where to go for breakfast; you go to the place that's open. And if it's too icy out, you don’t drive. My uncle Ned drives an old blue truck that requires a few slams from a golf club to get it started and experiences the Internet as a limited commodity constantly at risk of running out.
Life without every modern convenience builds not just strength of character but ingenuity. People cut down their own trees for wood, grow their own vegetables, hunt their own game and make their own entertainment. Entertainment here is a broad term. It can be as mystical as gathering around a bonfire as the Milky Way twinkles above or as mundane as watching cows stroll down Main Street.
Being with other people in Vermont allows you to see them at their most human – out contending with the elements and taking a much-needed respite from the hyperconnected world. Collaborating with my sister on a project about the place I now consider my second home has allowed me to see it as I should have the first time. It's a place where it's possible to live without artifice and all that's needed for a day’s worth of excitement is a few friends, a dog or two and a field full of snow.