Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Top Ten Things Vermonters Love To Do In The Spring

It’s been a weird spring already in Vermont, with a shot of early warm weather coming in the middle of winter, an early end to the ski season, and unusually warm temps in May. In fact, spring has already happened, in one and two day shots sprinkled throughout April and the first week of May. I had my last fire in the wood stove over the first weekend in May. 
But now spring is meteorologically over. The calendar gives us another month of spring, but it’s summer time: temps in the high 70s, thunderstorms, and the return of Japanese knotweed all mean that summer is here. And with it comes the list of the Top Ten Things Vermonters Love To Do In The Spring--or summer. 
10: Gardening. We love to garden up here. Maybe it’s because the window for growing things is so short that we hustle to get our plants in and up and harvested. Or maybe it’s because we’ve been deprived of nutrient-rich vegetables over the winter (Central American lettuce and Dutch hothouse tomatoes in January with more frequent-flyer miles than the Boston Celtics long for nutritional value) that we crave the opening of farmer’s markets. But by Memorial Day, everyone’s got their tomatoes and zucchinis in the ground, and here at the Auberge, Chantal is busy turning our rhubarb into strawberry rhubarb crisp and rhubarb ginger jam.
9. Splitting and stacking wood. While we like to enjoy the season we’re in, Vermonters are always looking ahead, usually to the next winter. For some of us, that means shopping for ski equipment. For the rest, that means getting next winter’s wood split and stacked. Once that wood is stacked and covered, it can age for five months, leaving it with just the right amount of BTUs when the snow flies next November--or October, if we’re lucky.
8. Yard Sales. With the arrival of sunny Saturdays comes the excitement of sale-ing. Notices go into the local paper, or onto Craigslist, advertising a yard sale. Vermonters cruise the roads looking for hand made signs directing them to someone’s front lawn, where a collection of someone else’s junk is too tempting to pass up. Last weekend I saw a half a set of golf clubs covered in cobwebs, an old pair of Aiwa speakers that didn’t work, and a toilet seat. I passed on all of those, but we did end up with a nice towel bar for our new bathroom.
7. Burning. April was a red flag month, with high temperatures and dry winds turning the Vermont countryside into a tinder box. As the weather pattern changed and more moisture entered the picture, Vermonters set about to burn as much as possible. The cleanup after a long winter is extraordinary, creating huge amounts of brush that need to be dealt with, and the way we deal with that is with fire. On any given weekend day, columns of smoke can be seen twisting up from the valley into clear May sky. After a long day of yard work, there’s nothing finer than standing around a fire with a beer as dusk falls.
6. Mowing. After the burning comes the mowing. Everything must be mowed down, especially around dwellings. This keeps the bugs away, plus it allows us to run small engine machines at all hours of the day. Many people with tiny lots of grass ride huge, zero-radius turn mowers all morning long, filling the air with the smell of fresh mown grass. 
5. Fishing. From the middle of April on, our friends over at the Fly Rod Shop in Stowe begin peppering us with pictures of trout hauled from the local rivers. In the backs of pickup trucks, gun racks are filled with fishing rods, and trucks that appear to be abandoned by the side of the road are actually betraying someone’s fishing hole. Forced to pass so many gin-clear trout streams on the way home from work, many people don’t make it, as they wait out the evening hatches. 
4. Cycling. Almost as soon as the line of dirty snow along the roadside has disappeared, brightly colored cyclists appear on Vermont’s roads, and I’m one of them. After a winter spent telemarking across Mt. Mansfield and sweating it out in the Swimming Hole, I’m ready to hit the road with my cycle. And since there’s no stretch of road that’s flat for more than 100 yards (Vermont state law), riding is never dull, and it’s never easy. All that climbing and descending means beautiful scenery. But cycling isn’t just for the road; the Stowe Mountain Bike Club has opened up miles or the best mountain bike trails in the world, right here in Stowe. 
3. Selling Cars. There’s a long tradition of selling cars in the spring and summer in Vermont. Most of these cars are summer cars, rear-wheel drive muscle cars that can only be driven during the five non-snow months of the year. Cruise up and down Route 100 or Route 15 and you’ll think you’re in the middle of the world’s biggest used car lot: Jeeps and Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs, rusting pickup trucks and even heavy equipment (there’s a huge Caterpillar front-end loader for sale in Morrisville right now) are all available. Pick one up this spring, and sell it next spring; it’s cheaper than renting.
2. Eating Creemees. Vermonters have a slavish devotion to the creemee, and the roadsides pop up with seasonal shacks selling this local soft serve delicacy. Creemees showcase everything that’s great about Vermont: seasonality, sweetness, quirky flavors, and community. If I were running for some political office, I’d make sure I toured every creemee stand in the county. There’s no better place to bump into your neighbors after a long day of splitting wood, mowing, gardening, buying someone else’s junk, fishing, cycling, and selling your teenage son’s car. 
And the Number 1 Thing Vermonters Love To Do In The Spring:
1. Drive Around With Empty Trailers. There is nothing more sacred to a Vermonter than driving up and down our potholed roads with an empty trailer banging behind a pickup truck. After the snow is melted, Vermonters hook up their trailers and leave them attached until October. They may only use them once or twice--to take the zero-radius turn mower to the small engine repair shop, or to haul a few hay bales--but the trailers never come off the backs of the trucks. The sound these empty trailers make is audible from sunup to sundown, an explosive clanging, the sound of metal twisting. Proficient drivers know how to gain enough speed and find just the right pothole to cause the trailer to bounce sideways, coming up alongside the truck, and rattling the windows of houses along the road. It’s truly the top spring pursuit in Vermont.