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Savoring the sounds of silence…

The sound of silence. Tucked into these woods off the marsh and ponds of Cranberry Meadow, the only sounds you’ll hear are birdsong, the babble of brook water, geese being territorial, once in a while a dog barking at the distant rumble of a passing truck or the moose that wanders through the yard some mornings on his way to the marsh.

Cranberry Meadow Road {Photo by Robin Bradley]

As I hunker down Off the Road in America, I am stunned by the silence. In the past two weeks (excluding actual travel time on commercial carriers), I have not heard a single cell phone shrill its annoying ringtones. Oh, cellphones were occasionally evident. A few people (literally, two or three) were seen actually using them. But unlike mainstream urban and suburban America, I couldn’t actually hear people talking on them because they kept their voices low, unobstrusive. I didn’t hear the details of their private lives, or half of any conversation. I never even heard the phones ring since they were apparently set on vibrate.

As I sat at a picnic table under the trees, nurturing a dessert of homemade biscuits with fresh strawberries and handwhipped cream, an electric cart whispered by, created a hint of a noiseless breeze. One of my tablemates looked up at a solitary cellphone user and said “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in touch every minute of the day.” I smiled in agreement.

There is is different mindset here, on the Goddard campus and in the area in general. Shop in Montpelier, or Johnson, or stop in Marshfield or Woodbury’s general stores and if a phone rings, it’s a land line for business.

The same concept applies to radios. There are no booming basses rupturing the tranquility.

A drive around several of the many recreational and private lakes in the area yielded not a whit of noise, other than the sound of paddles wielded by a kayaker cutting through the water, or the whisper of wind pushing sailboats across the surface from shore to shore.

The all-American pop and boom of fireworks peppered the 4th of July weekend, echoing from hill to hill, sifting down through valleys as each of these small Vermont towns held their own celebrations. Watchers cheered from hillside folding chairs or the back of their trucks, or a nice spot on the beach at Nelson Pond. Dogs barked, startled by the unusual nighttime sounds. The local paper ran a story on how the booming noise of fireworks disturbs dogs, and urged people to leave their pets at home.

For the past five days, the day time air has been cut by the intermittent buzz of a chain saw clearing out underbrush, the crack of selected trees tumbling earthward, the rustle of leaves on branches being stacked to burn. This nurturing of the forest is both aesthetic and safety-minded. More light filtering through the remaining maples, less brush to burn if a forest or brush fire comes over the mountain. Each action, each cutting, each clearing is meticulously planned for the ultimate health of the forests and the streams within it. [At left, the author watching Hunter’s bravado).

Remmie dog paddles behind hunter on the “pond in progress.”

By the time this task is done, there will be a slate spillway tumbling water from a spring-fed pond over stones to the meandering brook below, a tall embankment covered in slate and natural plantings, all looking out toward an expanse of the lower lawn. It’s a huge project, part of a vision for this piece of land. My friend and I walked over it many times, envisioning it through eyes focused on a mix of aesthetics and good forestry and land management. The house has a small footprint; it belongs to and is ruled by the land.

For the past five days post-school, I’ve been at the home of my friend and adventure partner, Robin. I’ve enjoyed the crackle of an open, tended fire, brush burning, sending its curls of smoke across the pond, as natural deterrent to summer’s black flies and mosquitoes. I love watching her grandchildren paddle around the pond still murky from the dredging and forestry. I laugh and sometimes grimace as the dogs, a black lab and a mixed breed, race around the lawns and the forest before plunging into that pond to cool off, just as we are apt to do. [At left, Remmie, 10 months old and 60 pounds of Black Lab puppy, cools off in the icy spring water trickling over the slate spillway].

Late in the day I hear the deep thud of heavy slate (rough edged sheets of it) slamming the earth to edge the natural spring pond, home to a number of healthy trout and other creatures. The slate is harvested from the 15 acres of forested mountain my friend lives on, and today Robin has two strong sons to haul the stones and set them in place. Robin used similar slabs of slate she pulled from her mountain to build the floor of her home.

The land line phone may be ringing at her house on the hill, but we aren’t about to answer it; we can’t hear it from our spot beside the pond. And if it’s important, they’ll call back, or drive over. Or wait ’til tomorrow. No cell phones here. No loud music. Just a lot of birdsong ushering each new day.

Images of the Woodbury area [Photos by Robin Bradley]

A quiet sail on a peaceful lake…

An original and historic sawmill, open to the elements…

It’s not Vermont without cows…

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