Sunday, August 17, 2008

the great ox roast

Last night around dusk, I left the cabin for the ox roast with two very important things in hand. A pie and my fiddle. Generally, people who show up with fiddles and pie are welcome in nearly every enjoyable place in America. (And as a rule, not welcome in every horrible place.) This is a truth to live by, friends. If these two items are not welcome where you spend your free time, you messed up somewhere along the road.

So when I crested the steep rocky driveway of the farmhouse, I knew instantly that the night would be pro-pie/fiddle. Sprawled out before me were old colonial buildings and a big white barn. All over the lawn were picnic tables with fresh flowers. Sandgatians smiled and nodded as they sipped iced tea in mason jars. The twilight sky was lit by table lamps on wooden pillars or set high in barn windows. (Extension chords were the workhorses of this fine evening, that much was true.)

All around me were hundreds of people, kids, and the occasional dog running around off leash. In the center of the comotion were three musicians in red plaid shirts playing a fiddle, guitar and upright bass. They were sawing out a version of Blackberry Blossom, a beloved old time fiddle tune. My heart swelled.

These were my people now; Vermonters. A feral group of New Englander’s who square dance in tie-dye or tap their Maples in stoic red plaid. They’re farmers, loggers, small businessmen, bookkeepers, and florists. Pretty much any odd job that lets them be the boss of their own lives. But most of all, they were a happy wild-eyed people who wanted to be outside with their neighborhood instead of inside with their televisions. For that, I wanted to kiss them.

This is not a group of people who drive their garbage bags to the curb and don’t know how house next door pays their mortgage. This is a community, and now I as a true blue newcomer, was going to get to spend a night getting to know it a little better. It was a bonafide first date. My mom always asks me if I’m “seeing anybody” because she hates that I’m 26 and still single. Well, call me a hussy but that night I was on a date with the whole 247-year-old town. I stood there in my old hat, holding a cast iron skillet of apple pie, a fiddle over my shoulder and walked into the beehive smiling. I told myself men will come in time darling, but tonight - let there be food and music!

Food and music there was! The smell of a steer on a spit put everyone in a potent last-hurrah-of-summer mood. It was chilly for August. You could see your breath as you talked to people. Which got me all wound up (if you don’t know me all that well yet, you will soon learn I live all year for the month of October. Dogs, sheep, and Autumn are my whole world. My three pillars.)

A huge potluck spread filled rows and rows of tables. There was a giant cantina of iced tea and an outdoor freezer sporting our local hero's product – Wilcox Dairy Ice Cream (which is all southern Vermonters around here eat, since Ben and Jerry’s is from Northern Vermont, it’s not local enough!)

Of course, there was also a full cast of characters live and in-person. People like the maverick genius who wired up the UN’s initial phone service. People said they drove people in his DC suburb crazy with his antics and backyard projects (He belonged in Vermont, one older lady said as her flock of old lady friends nodded in silent approval. She said this as matter-of-factly as if he had broken a leg and needed a cast.) I spent most of the night hearing stories of the people who lived here. My favorite was about an Original Norman Rockwell Painting found in someone’s deceased parents house jammed behind a false wall. And there were the two women who built the Sandgate covered Bridge (by themselves!) I listened wide-eyed and enamored.

How the hell did I end up in this amazing town? What fates had me find my cabin in a random want ad from 3,000 miles away? By pure chance I landed here. Like a baby that falls out the second story window in the arms of a mailman – I was blessed.

As the sun went down and my stomach was full of good food and maple ice cream, I pulled out my fiddle and my neighbor’s beau Sam and I played music while other people digested. Simple guitar and fiddle tunes in lonesome chords. We stopped when the paid-band started up again. Slowly, people made their way to the dance floor, which was lit up by a tiffany-style lamp hoisted up by a ladder from a tractor. People twirled around while the string bands’ bassist called out square dancing maneuvers. The local kids knew all the words to Red River Gal. There is hope for America yet, I tell ya.

We stayed for a few more hours. Mostly to talk, sip wine, and hear this and that. I left pretty late and folks were still dancing when I pulled away in the station wagon. But I was happy. As far as first dates go anyway - I’d say I’ve got a serious crush on this place.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great experience! I got all nostalgic and teary-eyed thinking about the great sense of fun and community here just a bit less than 2 hours from when I have to head into the supposedly family-friendly "community" of a boarding school and officially end all of my free time and start the academic year. I can also relate to your frustration on the "why are you still single" front (I'm 33 and single). Sometimes life can be a bit romantically isolating, even when you're surrounded by people and activity.

I only recently found your blog - maybe 3 or 4 weeks ago - and have been wondering how exactly you moved from Iowa to Vermont - it just sorta happened suddenly online, without much discussion of why and how. 'Till now. So, as I struggle along saving pennies to try to accomplish ends very similar to your goals (but I'm way behind you in the progression), I have to wonder - how did you find that random want ad? In what publication? Were you regularly searching the want ads? Surely a post about that process would be enjoyed by many!

August 17, 2008 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

chad - I used to have another blog, which was three-years thick of posts (nearly 800!) but when the book thing happened I realized a really personal blog wasn't a good idea. The old blog, dogcoffin, which is now a private blog for my family, exlpained it in detail. The summary is:

I was living in Idaho for a little over a year, and when the company I was working for started laying people off in droves - I hightailed it out of there and looked for a job back east (my family and I, are all from PA) So I left the wild west for Vermont, a state I had a crush on since highschool. Now I work for a company here during the day. And I am learning to farm in my rented cabin on six acres. Someday I hope to be able to afford my own farm and raise sheep there. I'm not there yet.

But that's why the move was so sudden on here. It all happened so fast. I interviewed for a job here and I felt the interview went okay so I bought a local paper. I took it back to Idaho with me and when I was offered the job, started making calls from the want-ads section. By chance I found sandgate. Not a day goes by I'm not grateful.

August 17, 2008 at 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the want ad was in a local-to-there paper. Makes more sense. Some of that back-story I had gathered from this blog, but not the whys and wherefores of the move.

Congratulations on finding such a great situation! I'm quite a ways off from buying my little homestead, but also "practicing" what I can on my little rented 1.1 shady acre. So, sorta the same idea as you are doing, but on a much smaller scale, and with much less available time (at least 9 1/2 months out of the year...). That's why I was so curious about how you managed the move and rented mini-farm.


August 17, 2008 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

It sounds like you found your piece of heaven on earth. Having been raised on a dairy farm in rural Central New York (south of Utica) I remember the simpler days filled with hard work, chicken bar-b-ques and homemade ice cream.

I have been living overseas (Germany) for almost 19 years, when I read about your experiences in down home America, I feel the tug of home deep inside. Maybe someday I can convince my German wife there is a better life waiting for us in a small town such as yours, until then I guess I will just have to enjoy reading about your experiences.

August 18, 2008 at 2:30 AM  
Blogger Sojourner Design said...

A magical evening.

August 18, 2008 at 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the interior lamps on ladders and barrels. How ingenious! So glad you got to fiddle a bit and had a lovely evening. But, Idaho still misses ya, gal!

August 18, 2008 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Becca R said...

I live in Burlington and have been trolling craigslist on a daily basis looking for spinning equipment. I kept finding ads for angora rabbits from southern VT-- which I must say, has tempted me greatly.

In another round about way I was poking around the internet and came across your blog and realized you're the one selling the angoras!

Just wanted to let you know that you're blog & bunny pictures have tempted me-- but I'll wait until I have a better set up.

Thanks for the great stories!

August 18, 2008 at 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another wonderful story. Sandgate sounds like a very special place.

August 19, 2008 at 9:33 PM  
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