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HARD TRUTH
Alexander Wolff
March 29, 2004
"From heres" know that Vermont is grittier than its image suggests
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March 29, 2004

Hard Truth

"From heres" know that Vermont is grittier than its image suggests

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In vermont it's our custom to subdivide the year almost infinitely. We have our four seasons and our sports seasons, of course, but we also shoehorn into the calendar sugaring season, lambing season, mud season, planting season, strawberry season, haying season, color season and deer season. Vermont is Ecclesiastes run amok. � These temporal turns offer the stranger a chance to riddle out who we are. A better chance, anyway, than the easy stereotypes do. Yes, if you know of our reputation for earnest communitarianism, you won't be surprised to learn that, a few years ago, neighbors filed a grievance with the district environmental board complaining that the cannon shots after touchdowns at Rutland High School football games constituted noise pollution. Or that a wrestler at Mount Anthony Union High, in Bennington, recently caught using a choke hold in competition was ordered to write his wronged opponent a letter of apology—and then ordered to write another because the original wasn't considered apologetic enough.

But burrow beneath the surface, and you'll discover more grit and competitiveness than Suzanne Sugarbaker ever conceded us in those Designing Women episodes, when she mocked Miss Vermont for being a pushover on the pageant circuit. During holiday parades in towns like Norwich, Landgrove and Stowe, that figure waving from a flatbed trailer is less likely to be a beauty queen than one of our former Olympians, a ski jumper, downhiller or half-piper, of whom Vermont (pop. 613,090) must produce more per capita than any other state. In 2001 seven of the top nine players on Hanover High's New Hampshire state championship basketball team came, subversively, from our side of the Connecticut River—in the endless rivalry between the states, a delicious touch�. And no Vermont sporting venue draws bigger crowds than Thunder Road in Barre, where the racing goes off on Thursday nights because for years the town's granite quarries paid their stonecutters on Thursday afternoons. The best seats are still those beyond the quarter-mile oval, on a rise known as Bud Hill. Howard Dean, favorite son of a beer-can, stock car state. Who knew?

Natives refer to themselves as "from heres," and to newcomers as "come heres," and the two sometimes butt heads. But when thrown together, as we are this time of year at town meetings, Vermonters hash things out, reconciling the poles of Freedom and Unity, the oxymoron that passes for our state motto. As it happens, freedom and unity are the two things a good team must hold in balance, as our University of Vermont men's basketball squad has proved of late. Representing freedom was star forward Taylor Coppenrath, the pride of the Northeast Kingdom and a classic from-here. If you didn't catch him springing for 38 points in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion earlier this season, not to worry; just swing by the general store in his hometown of West Barnet and the clerk will lend you, on the honor system, the Coppenrath highlight video kept behind the counter. Fans spend winter mornings listening to coach Tom Brennan's drive-time radio show, and evenings filling Patrick Gym in Burlington to its 3,228 capacity only because enough of them have freed up space in the bleachers by checking their bulky down jackets in the lobby.

With biorhythms so finely calibrated to the turns of our many seasons, we take particular notice when one interval overlaps another. My neighbor Karl is a lifelong Red Sox fan, albeit one refreshingly free of the knuckle-cracking angst that afflicts other members of his tribe. Early last October, having just filled a couple of jugs down the road at Ebenezer's cider press, he stopped his pickup to chat. I asked after the Bostons, who had just begun to sputter in their playoff series with the Yankees, and studied him for signs of fatalistic dread.

"Hey," Karl said, "I'm just happy with another ball game."

The leaves are a few days from peak. You've got freshly pressed cider in the back of your beater. The Sox are still playing ball. Life is good.

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