Burlington, Vt., Sept. 9 – I drove 65 miles from Rutland to Burlington last night, thought it seemed like a 100 miles or more on plodding U.S. Route 7.
I couldn’t see the full Harvest Moon, which hung somewhere over the Behemoth, but I saw just about everything else. The Vermont countryside was suffused a preternatural glow.
Everything, truly, was illuminated.
I could see the red barns, and the white farmhouses. I saw the silos with their metallic domes and the fields flush with rolls of hay. I could see the derelict buildings with their windowless frames and the farm stands with their colorful stock of yesterday’s produce.
And since this is Vermont, I could see the goddamn churches with their alabaster spires climbing high into the luminous night.
I plodded through one tiny town after another. I rumbled through Pittsford, and Brandon, and Salisbury, before getting to Middlebury, which by this point appeared like a burgeoning metropolis. I finally reached the outskirts of Burlington after 2. I was fading fast. I pulled over at the Price Chopper supermarket, which is open 24 hours a day, and crashed for the night.
I didn’t wake up till nearly 10:30. I headed downtown and figured I’d take a walkabout and maybe even ride the ferry to the New York side of Lake Champlain.
But the price seemed a little dear, $16 for a round-trip,especially as I’m trying hard to view this as a working trip and not a vacation. The crossing to Port Kent, N.Y., takes 70 minutes, and the whole adventure would’ve tied up too much of the day.
So I walked along the waterfront, careful to dodge the flood of tourists, joggers and bicyclists. And tranquil.
Once upon a time, the Burlington waterfront was a raucous, roiling riot of activity. The Champlain Canal was completed in 1823, opening up shipping traffic to New York City and signaling boom times for Burlington.
In the mid-1800s, more than 1,000 canal boats loaded down with logs chopped from Vermont’s lush mountains traversed the canal back and forth to New York. Burlington’s prominence soared. At one time it was the third-largest lumber port in the nation.
Now it’s all over, save for the museum exhibits and memories of long-dead men and women.
All’s quiet along the waterfront today.The only thing disturbing the peace is the gentle lapping of water being driven ashore by a stiff September breeze. I walk and walk, eventually landing on a popular bike path which now courses through the dusty heart of a construction zone. At one juncture a worker in safety helmet and orange vest looks both ways to make sure no head-on bicycle mash-ups occurred on his watch..
Just last month the city launched a $9.1 million waterfront renovation project. The S.D. Ireland Co. is making hay now. This being Vermont, the largest chunk of that money, roughly $1.4 million, is earmarked for the construction of a new skate park.
Eventually I walk out of the construction zone. Once again I am free to admire the coruscating waters of Lake Champlain. Up here in Vermont, we appear to be stuck in a transitional phase between summer and fall. Or more aptly, we are in the midst of summerfall.
The nights come with a biting cool that requires blankets and sweatshirts. They make you think of hot apple cider, pumpkin patches and burning leaves. The days remain sunbaked and sweatstained. Or at least I was.
Who but a hapless curmudgeon doesn’t find delight in sunlight dancing upon winddriven, whitecapped water?
I see at least one woman taking advantage of the beautiful weather and taking a dip in the lake. Looks like a good idea, but my bathing suit is back in the Behemoth, which is parked somewhere to the south, maybe a mile or two behind me. I’m not really sure.
I have no idea when or where this path will take me. At this point it seems like it might go on forever. Worried I’ll never see the end, I cut up a dirt trail and start to make my way back.
Soon I’m walking along North Avenue, and then Battery Park, where I pass by a small group of Rastafarians who have just about finished off a bottle of MD 20/20 Electric Melon. They might be fun to talk to, but my courage fails. I keep right on walking.
When I get back in the vicinity of the waterfront park, I keep walking. I pass the ferry dock. I pass Vermont Rail’s freight yard. If my aimless peregrination teaches me one thing, it’s that Burlington denizens are mad about sunflowers. They grow like magic beanstalks in the front yards of half the houses in the south end neighborhoods. They crane their necks and reveal their flamboyant crowns. Shameless show-offs.
Ginsberg saw a sunflower and thought of Blake. I see sunflowers and think of Ginsberg.
I’ve been on an OK roll lately. When I embarked on this trek, I figured I’d run across some crusty character, perhaps a former longshoreman or an embittered sailboat captain. But I came up empty. Nothing out here but cleanscrubbed 20-somethings, weary tourists and Pine Street hipsters.
Eventually I make it to Calahan Park, a sprawling, multipurpose complex. I avail myself of the adult-sized monkey bars and sneaked in a little exercise.
When I finish, I make the short walk back to the Behemoth, which is parked on St. Paul Street near Marble Avenue. When I get there, I fire up the engine and head back for the suburban sprawl out on Route 7.