I posted this message on Facebook last week:
HELP! Mom of month-old baby with a brain mushy from nighttime feedings seeks inspiration for her bi-weekly column on Vermont life. Sooooo: Anything you’d like to see written about Vermont? Any unanswered Vermont questions? Anything Vermont-related keeping you up at night? I’ll entertain any ideas!
My desperate plea generated more responses than I’d expected; unresolved Vermont issues are apparently keeping some people up at night.
An early responder expressed outrage at the Addison Independent’s maternity leave policy. “How are you not on leave from your column?” she fumed. So, let me set the record straight: that I never took leave from this column is entirely my fault. Leave was offered, but I was cocky; this was my fourth child, and I had enough material pre-written to publish a month past my due date. I failed to take into account that the baby might be two weeks late, or the possibility that I’d still be tired one month post-partum. My bad, as they say.
My little experiment in reader participation revealed a divide between Vermonters and non-Vermonters (henceforth referred to as “Flatlanders”). It was this: Flatlanders almost all responded to my query with questions about Vermont; Vermonters tended to respond with “factual” statements that they wanted to pass along. I’ve concluded that Vermonters are a pretty self-satisfied group. Among the things they’d like you to know:
-Vermont was rated the 5th Happiest State in which to live.
-Vermont is also the #1 Healthiest State and the #1 “Foodie” State. (I’m not quite sure what that means, nor can I cite sources, but Vermonters are proud of it.)
-Many wild Vermont plants that are considered “weeds” are in fact edible and/or medicinal, such as cattail roots and Plantago major.
So, there you go!
My outlier was the smart-aleck Vermonter who wondered, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?’
ANSWER:Woodchucks, also called groundhogs, are rodents whose name is an Anglicization of the Native American word for these animals (“wuchak”). They do NOT chuck wood, butone strange experimentapparently proved that a single woodchuck could eat 361.9237001 cubic centimeters of wood per day.
And yes, there are woodchucks in Vermont.
Now, for the serious questions.
QUESTION: Are there snails in Vermont?
ANSWER: Yes. (For specifics, see thisVermont snail survey).
QUESTION: How far are you from Canada and have you taken any road trips there yet?
ANSWER: We are about 77 miles from the Canadian border.
As for road trips: This past March, our family took a spring break trip to Montreal. We spent two nights in a hotel and took the girls to the Biodome, which is sort of like a small, indoor zoo. It made such an impression on our girls that, four months later, not a day passes without someone asking, “When can we go back to the Biodome?”
QUESTION: Why do so many Vermonters have tattoos?
ANSWER: I’m not sure that SO many Vermontershave tattoos; my in-depth research revealed that Vermont was not represented among the 10 Most Tattooed Cities in America.This question was posed by my father, who’s spent much of the summer taking his granddaughters to the lake; surrounded by all those uncovered bodies, he’s seen a disproportionate number of tattoos.
That said, if I had to venture a guess about why Vermonters get tattoos, it would be this: There’s just not that much to do around here. I myself am probably raising four tattoo-prone girls: My fall-back activities on slow days are “Mom’s Nail Salon” and “Mom’s Tattoo Parlor” (using temporary tattoos left over from birthday goodie bags).
QUESTION: What do you do if you meet a bear?
ANSWER: Vermont is home to black bears, which are known for being shy and afraid of people. I have yet to see a bear here, although friends and neighbors have. If you DO see a bear in Vermont, the rule of thumb is to keep your distance and let it know you’re there by making lots of noise. If you end up close enough so that the bear becomes aggressive, speak in a calm voice and maintain eye contact while slowly backing away. If attacked, fight back. Kind of like parenting.
It’s probably best not to follow the example of our friend who came upon a sleeping bear while hunting. Since it was winter, he figured that the bear’s metabolic rate was low enough to make it easily out-runnable. So he woke the bear, snapped a photo, and took off. But then, he was also armed.
QUESTION: What’s up with those huge mounds of tires that I see on farms while driving through Vermont?
ANSWER: Those are silage piles. Silage is fermented fodder made from grass or field crops and fed to ruminants, like cows or sheep. It needs to be firmly packed to keep from spoiling, and at one time was primarily stored in silos. Because silos pose various safety hazards, the favored method of storing silage is now to put it in a large pile on the ground, roll it with a tractor, and cover it with plastic held down by tires.
QUESTION: What are your midnight musings during those nighttime feedings, and the sounds of Vermont when nocturnal creatures are stirring?
ANSWER: I wish that my “midnight musings” were as poetic as this question; unfortunately they tend to center on thoughts like: When can I go back to bed? and I wonder if my other children will sleep late tomorrow....
As for the sounds of Vermont: It’s been a hot summer, so many noises are drowned out by the whir of the ceiling fan (as is common in Vermont, our house lacks central air). Most of the nocturnal stirring is done by our dog, who moves from her dog bed to the floor and back again throughout the night. Occasionally I’ll hear large insects smashing into the window screens. Less frequently I’ll hear a barred owl hooting in the woods, which I consider reassuring proof that the mice are being kept in check.
Speaking of which: This is the first summer I have NOT heard the nocturnal noise of mice in our walls. Either we’ve finally managed to mouse-proof our house, or else the mice are as fed up with this hot, wet weather as the rest of us, and have taken off to cooler, drier climates.
Your questions: answered! I wouldn’t mind doing this again sometime, so if you have Vermont questions that didn’t appear here, please submit them in the “Comments” section of this page or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Consider it a public service to an exhausted mom.