Sponsored by Green Mountain Power
The Vermont Writers’ Prize is a collaboration between GMP and Vermont Magazine. It was created in 1989 as a way to celebrate Vermont, writing, and to honor Ralph Nading Hill, Jr., a Vermont historian, author, and long-time GMP Board member. The contest is open to all Vermont residents, including seasonal and college students, and you can be a professional or amateur writer.
In Vermont, the weather matters.
This year’s winning essay and poem each acknowledge how the seasons of Vermont shape our lives and life perspectives.
It’s my opinion that the key is to enjoy them all.
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.
TWENTY-EIGHT & COUNTING
By Gail Elizabeth Wind
No, I wasn’t born here, but give me just a smidge of credit. I’ve lived here for almost twenty-nine years. THAT’S TWENTY-EIGHT WINTERS AND COUNTING!
When we first moved here, every woman I met asked me, “Have you spent the winter here yet?” When I said, “No,” it was as if I’d put on Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Unless you’ve done at least one winter here, you aren’t worthy of being invested in as a friend.
About a week ago, I met a woman in the grocery store who told me she just moved to Vermont with her husband. I said, “Oh, that’s nice; have you spent the winter here yet?” Her response in the negative reminded me of many young and old folks I’ve met in the last three decades who’ve come to “try out Vermont” and didn’t make it a full year. I told her gently, “Well, hunker down, Vermont winters are nothing to smirk at; I hope I see you next spring,” and went quietly on my way.
We moved to our home in Newark, Vermont in a very strange way. Thirty-one years ago, my husband said, “We’ve lived in Illinois near your family for almost ten years. I’d like to live near my family in Vermont.”
Knowing that he was not a terrific self-starter, I said, “Sure, put a sign in the yard.” He did more than that. He hired two realtors, one to sell our home in Illinois and one to find us a home in Vermont. That part of the story is nearly book-length itself, because it took nearly a year and a half, but we got here.
Hubby drove an overloaded U-Haul truck towing a 22-foot sailboat. He had one of our children as a passenger. I drove a ten-year-old blue Subaru Station Wagon with our other child. We switched kids at mealtimes and rest stops. Our eighteen-year-old cat, Smokey, rode in the sailboat. Our very pregnant, two-year-old cat, Poundcake, rode with me.
We arrived at our home on a dirt road three days before Mother’s Day, and after three days of heavy spring rain . . . in mud season.
We left the truck up on the road because our door yard was very spongy. We planned to bring the truck closer to the house when the yard had dried out a bit.
Overnight, our truck’s right rear tire sank up to its axel in the mud. We found our garden shovels, dug it out, moved it four feet up the road and it sank again. So we spent the day hauling things seventy-five feet from tailgate to front door.
We were lying in bed early on the second morning when we heard a terrible din coming up the road.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“That’s just the road grader,” hubby informed me. “It chops up the road and then flattens it out.” I didn’t quite understand, (we flatlanders usually leave our roads alone unless we need to fill a pothole) but I knew from the sound that the machine must be huge.
“Get up, get up!” I commanded. I slipped on a pair of shorts and a pretty blouse, not my usual truck-unloading costume. I ran down to the truck, pushed up the rear door and grabbed something too large for me to carry alone. I struggled with it until Russel Bedor the grader operator came up the hill across from our house.
He eyed the truck, me, the house, me, the truck again and then said, “Stuck.”
“Yeah,” I said, with embarrassment. “I guess we are.”
His next words, verbatim I swear, were, “Want me to snick you out of there?” Like that Queen-Mary-sized U-Haul was an Easter Basket that had blown into a thicket of burdock.
Russel got down and began dragging an uncommonly heavy length of chain off the back of the grader and started hooking up the truck. By this time, hubby was out and humbly following directions. Russel did indeed ‘snick us out,’ and by then it was just dry and sunny enough that we stayed on top of the road.
After we got settled and took the U-Haul back, we built raised bed gardens from scrap lumber we found on the property, and it was my pleasure to work in the garden each morning. One day a fellow in a noisy, beater Ford LTD stopped by the garden’s edge. He was sporting a three-day stubble and was in a scruffy, elbows-out lumberjack shirt. I gave a little wave, (as I’ve learned everyone does to everyone in Vermont) but he didn’t move on. I went a bit closer to his car.
“I understand you have a little girl, first or second grade,” he said.
Now, that opening line just didn’t set well with me. Had he been watching our home? All the alarm bells a mom can have went off simultaneously.
“How would you know and why would you care, IF I did?” I challenged.
“Well, I live a couple miles away. I have a little girl just starting first grade. Not too many children on this road, and I hope they could be friends, so I thought I’d say hello.” I shut off the alarm bells, and introduced myself. We chatted for a minute and he left.
“Nice garden,” he said as he pulled away. A week later he dropped off a stack of two-by-tens he’d pulled off an old trailer so we could finish our raised beds.
Our daughters did become friends. I have photos of them washing doll clothes in an old white enamel pan in front of our home.
Speaking of gardens, mine was my pride and joy. I followed all the advice for double digging, turning and sieving the soil. I added mature manure – gifted by a farmer in Sutton. By midsummer, the garden was so vibrant and so full that people driving down our road would slow down to look at it.
One morning, I woke very early and decided I’d try to sneak out before the black flies were up and get in a little work before breakfast. Of all the days I didn’t bring a camera, there was a young moose sleeping in my raised bed “cornfield.” Six rows by twelve feet. He managed to crush all but about fifteen stalks of corn. At first I thought it was a young horse and nearly went to where it lay, but then I saw small horns on its head.
I stood by my garden shed door and made enough noise to waken him. He rose, stretched languidly, and set off down the road at a leisurely pace. It was my first moose sighting. I still thrill at the sight of one, young or old.
That first winter of 1993 was a heavy snow season. Our house was in a kind of mini-valley and the wind drifted the snow against it higher than our window frames. We woke to a bright day, but a dark living room and kitchen. Hubby had to dig out the windows to let the light in. That day we saw a fox walk across the snowdrift in front of the living room window. I thought it was cute. Hubby loaded his gun. I was appalled.
“No self-respecting fox would come that close to a house full of noise and activity unless it was sick,” he explained. “He might have rabies. Keep the dogs inside.” Later that afternoon, our dogs began barking like mad. They rushed out into our small closed porch when I opened the kitchen door. I thought we had company.
The fox was trying to burrow through the sill crack under the porch door and our dogs were trying to get at it from inside. I had to take them and the kids to the far end of the house. Hubby slid the barrel of his gun under the porch door and shot the fox. Fish and Game confirmed the little guy had rabies. Despite knowing the facts, I cried. It was my first sighting of a Vermont Fox.
I admit I thrill fairly easily when it comes to the animal kingdom. From my car, I have followed and photographed flocks of turkeys, pairs of geese, a Momma bear with cub and many, many deer. But nothing beats the people of this state.
Mid Covid, I was about eight miles from home and two miles from a gas station when I ran out of gas. I called my son, who by now is a grown man, and he promised swift rescue. In the brief time I sat in my car, eleven Vermonters, young and old, guys and gals stopped to make sure I was okay, warm enough, not injured, and had a phone and help coming. That’s why Vermont will always be my home.
GAIL ELIZABETH WIND
I’m seventy-one years old. I am the second of seven children, mother of four, step-mother to five and Gramma-Gail to nine. My mother
preserved the newspaper article that had my first by-line, written when I was sixteen! Her faith in me is what built my faith in myself. I’ve self-published the first in a series of Girl Scout mysteries, and I am still confident that my novel, The Missing Mile will get traditionally published.
I’ve lived in many places in this country, and was not totally sold on the idea of moving with two small children to Vermont in 1993, far from my family in the Midwest. But we thrived in Vermont, my children loved their schools and school friends and we’re here “as long as the Good Lord sees fit to let us”
I collect too much stuff, garden with a vengeance, and will attend any social event in Vermont that is “cheap or free,” from reggae music at the Highland Art Center to a Native American Exhibit at the St. Johnsbury Museum. I can truly say I’ve never been bored.
By Ann Cooper
The changes came so subtly at first,
the random leaf, but soon the random bush or tree,
hints of oranges, yellows, reds to come.
Occasional leaves dot color on the ground
—not carpet yet
of brilliance turning brown.
Now change happens constantly
despite the calendar,
which says that fall is still some days away.
My favorite part of autumn is the time
when its exuberance equals summer’s calmer hue,
just before all is set ablaze.
But even at its peak I know,
I dread, what lies ahead:
gray cold, stick silhouettes
against the steely sky.
So on these early days of color shouting to the equinoctial sky,
I take long walks among the still-full trees
and marvel at the luscious grass,
storing up the memory of green.
I have worked for nonprofits all of my professional life, having served as editor of The New York Historical Society, New Jersey Coordinator for Hands Across America, a national event raising awareness of hunger and homelessness in 1986, and as consultant to state and local NGOs in New Jersey and Vermont. I also held elective office in New Jersey, serving on my town council and a county charter study commission.
From 1995 until 2002, I published Historic Roots, a magazine of Vermont history designed for the adult new reader and used also in the 4th-6th grades. I was an interfaith chaplain at Fletcher Allen Hospital Center in Burlington, where I also helped to train chaplains.
Since moving to Vermont in 1988, I have served first as consultant, then as board member and then chair of the Vermont Symphony. I have served on the Executive Committee for the Center for Research on Vermont and the board of the Marlboro Music Festival. I also served on the New England Board of Higher Education, appointed by Governor Dean.
I received a BA from Wellesley College and an MA in History from Columbia University.
Lest you think I am all work and no play, I am a passionate Mets fan and an even more passionate fan of my children and grandchildren, who live all over the globe.