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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Road to Killington

Vermont
Keith Perkins

It was of Vermont in winter that the poet Robert Frost once mused: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep..." As I head east on New York’s Route 4 just shy of Vermont’s western border, there are "miles to go" before I too retire for the night. I gain solace, however, in the fact that these same New England mountains that so inspired Frost are presently my own private visual buffet as my Nissan Sentra ushers me and my two road trip companions towards Killington, Vermont.

It is late afternoon. What remains of an early winter sun bathes the surrounding mountaintops. Rutland is still 30 minutes away. From there, it is a roughly 15 minute climb up winding Route 4 before Killington’s 6-mountains fully reveal themselves.

My car holds all the tell-tale signs of my impending rendezvous with this winter playground. Two snow boards belonging to my cousin Nick and nephew Cody are stacked in the back seat. As the sole skier, my equipment cuts a long, straight line from the trunk to a point just behind two now room-temperature coffees perched in cup holders to my right.
A half-empty bag of Doritos litters the passenger seat floor. A lone snicker bar wrapper decorates the carpet under the break pedal. Overstuffed travel bags, ski boots and a few loose sweaters further complicate the busy interior.

Scant room is left for Cody, who sits behind me, Ipod blaring. Nick slumbers serenely in the passenger seat as the village of Fort Ann, New York beckons. Its quaint, white-washed church stands guard in the town center. I pass the church and drive carefully down the town’s main street. The equally subdued village of Whitehall looms as our next landmark just a few miles ahead. From Exit 21 on the New York State Thruway all the way to Rutland, the drive to Killington is marked by sleepy towns like these. St. Ann, Whitehall, Comstock and Castleton all dot this largely quiet New England map.

The verses and prose are many extolling the virtues of the New England’s outdoors. Even the iconic J.D. Salinger remains secluded at home somewhere in these woods, still refusing to grant interviews. I can hardly blame him. The vast openness stretching outside my window seems to match the sanctity of the most revered houses of worship. I entered a Manhattan yoga studio years ago and was greeted by the following warning affixed to the door: "Absolutely no talking!" As I drive east on Route 4, the mountains seem to whisper that same admonition. I can even envision Holden Caulfield accusing any violator who dares to defy such a call to silence as a "jerk" or a "phony." As I am pondering whether such a commandment can be stretched for a trio of Jersey boys occupying the cramped interior of a well-worn Nissan Sentra, the silence is broken.
"Where are we?" Nick inquires.
"About forty minutes away," I respond.
"You want to eat?" he asks.
"We’ll stop in Whitehall."
As I exceed the town limits of Fort Ann, the open fields and mountains once again announce themselves. A farmhouse braces itself against a cold wind. Several cows form a tight bunch in an adjacent field, lazily competing for their share of a bounty of hay.

A glance in the mirror finds Cody, with head down, sending a text message. Perhaps he’s trying to immortalize the view outside by penning some choice verses to a dame back home. I then remind myself that he’s 18 and mildly reprimand my inner romantic.

The English poet Percy Shelley took stock of France’s towering Mont Blanc, spinning the following verse after pondering its awesome beauty: "The power is there, The still and solemn power of many sights, And many sounds, and much of life and death." As I cross the border from New York into Vermont, these age-old hills seem to urge that same contemplation of life and death.

After a brief late-afternoon snack in Whitehall, more open, wild country is exposed as I cross Vermont’s western frontier with New York and formally gain sight of the state’s Green Mountain range. Route 4 widens into a 2-lane highway here and the views become even more grand. The mountains rise slightly and it’s now easier to appreciate why three Jersey adrenaline junkies are opting for Vermont’s alpine real estate over the closer New York-area resort options.

We approach Rutland via its western "suburbs"—a distinction that is rare in this largely rural state. The town of West Rutland quickly merges with Rutland proper. This is hardly a metropolis, but it’s considerably more vibrant than any address encountered on Route 4 thus far.

The main street is lined with motels, restaurants and retail shops of all sorts. While there are flashes of ambiance—particularly in old Rutland with its charming colonial architecture, the town still exists perpetually in Killington’s shadow–both literally and figuratively. For to end the journey here would be akin to ending ones travels in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, never venturing beyond to experience the myriad splendors within the city of lights.
So onward we drive, past the traffic lights and fast food options within the city’s limits. We begin our final uphill push towards the decidedly less animated Turn of River Lodge, our home for the next three days. The last few miles are steep. My ears pop as we ascend the dark road through thick woods.

It is dusk as we enter the parking lot. The wooden lodge is nestled up against one of Killington’s many mountains. A gentle stream tumbles towards a creek in the rear of the building. The more formidable Ottauqueethe River flows beyond a field across Route 4, but it has no connection to the lodge’s name. That distinction is reserved for a neighborhood located, ironically, in Stanford, Connecticut. The previous owners of the lodge were so smitten with Stanford’s Turn of River neighborhood that when they constructed the current lodge in 1960, they brought the name with them. When the property was sold in 1975, the name stayed.

As I park the car adjacent to the lodge entrance, I notice smoke swirling from the sizeable chimney. We begin to lug our equipment inside. The woods just a few feet beside us are, as Frost similarly observed, "dark and deep" and rise precipitously. The only sound other than the crunch of snow under our feet comes from the stream murmuring in the rear of the lodge. That distant Manhattan yoga studio’s stern admonition once again echoes in my mind’s eye: "Absolutely No Talking!" The large wooden door of the lodge creaks open, and the spacious lounge area with its roaring fireplace comes into view. Cody and Nick enter first and I follow, backpack in tow and skis over my shoulder.
I enter silently. There are no further "miles to go before I sleep."

©   Keith Perkins Feb 2009
kperkins at hccc.edu

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