One can’t put a price tag on one’s peace of mind. In the hustle and bustle of 21st century life, one often wants to yell: “Slow Down!” The world moves at a frantic pace. Every second, there’s some new piece of information to process: an image to look at, an email to respond to, the happenings of a casual acquaintance on Facebook, or an update from a friend via text. It all gets to be a bit much. The mind rebels. It has spent too much time on overdrive and yearns for simplicity, for quiet time, and for a peaceful respite. Modern life has made us increasingly isolated from our neighbors. One yearns for community. One craves the permanent things. Man must get back to his roots. Where can one find these things? A small, rural environment provides the solution. The New England town, once extolled by the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic Democracy in America, has the answer for re-establishing the social contract (between individual and community) for the modern citizen. I found my tranquility in Vermont.
Before I get to that, I should describe myself. I grew up in suburbia. Clear Lake City, as a matter of fact. This community sits halfway between downtown Houston and Galveston Island. My neighbors hailed from the professional classes; they served as doctors, lawyers, accountants, and astronauts. I spent my first eighteen years in this community. I wanted to see a different part of the country for my university years and found myself attending a liberal arts college outside Boston. I graduated and headed back home to Clear Lake. I’ve always lived in asphalt communities. That is, places without a lot of green areas. I’m a city boy and noticed how this shapes my outlook and demeanor.
The city of Houston stretches for miles. I-45 connects north and south, I-10 bridges the east and the west, the 610 loop circles the city. Traffic is a burden and a constant headache. People moved out of the city to get some distance between the house and the office. At one time, the suburbs offered a respite from this fast paced life. Technology and the evolving city took away suburban peacefulness. Now these areas (of which Clear Lake is one) have just as much hustle and bustle as the city.
This fast paced world has made me feel increasingly frantic, stressed and feeling fed up. Traffic annoys me. Large crowds make me feel (increasingly) uncomfortable. I am unhappy in my current environment. I yearn for a break—for something different. I crave a world that slows down…where one can stop and smell the roses. Where does one turn? How can one escape? I found a quaint little spot in Vermont. It offers a refuge. My visit there gave me mental clarity and a presence of mind. It gave me hope and optimism. In short, this environment gave me a blueprint for my future.
One notices the natural beauty when one enters northern New England. It has stunning scenery. The Green Mountains stretch for miles. Lake Champlain forms a beautiful border (to the west) with New York while the Connecticut River flows along the east and separates the state from New Hampshire. Lake Champlain is gorgeous. Situated near Burlington, it has the clearest waters one can imagine. Under blue skies, one can see for miles. One feels in touch with nature. The artificial nature of modern life seems far removed. The smog and pollution of city life are a distant memory. City life makes me feel down. But, when I breathe in fresh air and feel energized. That’s it. Vermont makes me feel alive. Possibilities seem endless. There is hope and optimism. Bad times and past struggles fade away in the distance. Vermont offers hope, new beginnings, and a place to realize one’s dreams. In short, one feels serene and ebullient (in large part) because of the majestic scenery of this place. Color fills the area and creates bright pictures. These snapshots linger in the back of my mind. The trees and the grass seem like a different shade of green—a sharper, brighter color. My eyes focused in on this scenery as they did years ago when catching my first glimpse at a baseball diamond. They lit up at the sight and knew that this area had significant meaning. Deep inside, I recognized that this was a unique place.
Great friends make a place feel special. Few made me feel as welcome as the Campbell’s. I feel like family when I’m around them after spending many of my college evenings in their company. Bryan and Sarah invited me (and several other classmates) to visit them in Burlington last January. They are great people. Bryan was a history major and we had several classes together. We became friends and bonded over the trials and tribulations of class work. Over time, we learned that we shared several interests—such as music, food, sports, beer, etc. Oftentimes, Bryan invited me over to his apartment to watch a football game or some hockey. His wife Sarah always made sure I felt comfortable and offered all sorts of snacks or soft drinks. She’d go in the bedroom and get some homework done while we goofed around. Periodically, she’d come in and make sure we were alright and inquired if she could do anything to make us more comfortable. I found myself appreciating her warm presence. When she left, my attention turned back to Bryan and often whatever happened to be on the television screen. I sat in his living room as the Red Sox clinched the 2007 World Series and we rode into Boston for the celebration. He got me interested in the Grateful Dead and we spent some Friday nights following “Playing Dead,” (a tribute band) perform in the greater Boston area. These times bonded us together.
In the spring of 2008, we worked together on our thesis papers. We spent several stressful nights finishing up the project. This cemented our relationship. We saw each other stressed out beyond belief and knew that we had a friend. Each one willingly helped the other out. I did some editing for Bryan. He made sure I had a full belly. We offered moral support to each other. When either of us felt beside ourselves, Sarah came in and cheered us up. She put things in perspective and insisted that this wasn’t the end of the world. We would finish one day and never again have to deal with a forty page paper. We just had to stick with it. As a psychology student, she knew that if we put our minds to it, we would finish. We must keep our resolve. We did. The papers got handed in and we both graduated.
During our Vermont weekend together, Bryan and Sarah showed me around Burlington. I fell in love with the city. It has a small town feel about it. It feels downright quaint in comparison to Boston. Yet, there was plenty to do. Downtown had several restaurants we could frequent for lunch. We grabbed a bite at a local brewery. Church Street Marketplace offered plenty of (outdoor) shopping. We spent a delightful afternoon walking around these stores and looking into to see what sales were available. There was plenty to do and lots to see.
That weekend offered an escape and a refuge. We left Burlington after a few hours and went back to the family cabin where we reminisced about old times. We had some laughs, drank a few beers, jumped in the hot tub, dried off, and played a board game or two. Later that evening, we turned on a football game and continued our casual conversation. It was lovely. We all had a great time together fellowshipping with one another. Great friends strengthen bonds. They make one feel as if they’ve become a part of a community When one makes these connections, one feels a part of something bigger than self. One feels appreciated, attached, and at home.
I appreciate Vermont because it made me feel like I was at home. Though I know only a handful of its residents, I felt tranquil. Napoleon once said: “the best cure for the body is to calm the mind.” My body refused to rest for days on end and my mind seemed to operate on overdrive in my city life. I had no respite. I never felt at peace. I felt alienated and isolated—deserted in my thoughts. Visiting Vermont changed that. For once, I had peace of mind. One cannot put a price tag on that. I want that back. I want that now. I want to live in Vermont.