The area’s most popular tourist attraction was closed. Granted, it was a crisp Sunday in the hills and valleys of Montpelier, Vermont, so most places were closed. Even popular tourist attractions on the busiest fall weekend of the year.
This was unexpected. Everything else on the trip had gone off without a hitch, from smooth flights to great weather to perfect fall colors as we meandered over the countryside.
I had wanted to visit Vermont in the fall ever since I was a kid. From elementary school through my senior year of high school, I was one of those pale kids in the library, reading whatever I could get my hands on. I must have read about the autumn foliage in a book or seen photographs of the sprawling, vibrant vistas.
That is my only explanation for having “Visit Vermont in the Fall” on my bucket list since I was ten years old. Apparently, I was a very serious child, but not without humor. Also on my bucket list: flip a table while causing a scene in a crowded bar and slam my open palm on the hood of an NYC taxi while crossing the street and yelling, “Hey, I’m walkin hyeah!” These two are simply a matter of time.
Earlier this month, my bucket list childhood dream of visiting Vermont in the fall came true. The trip unfolded in the most random way. The only solid plans included who was going – my partner, his sister, and myself – and where we would stay that weekend.
We got in the car, hit Route 100, and stopped where we wanted. Each stop was perfect, starting with the Yankee Candle flagship store, continuing with endless rolling hillsides of flaming fall colors, and ending in Montpelier, where we wanted to see the center of all things granite, aptly named Rock of Ages.
And it was closed. Along with the Granite Museum. And the Flannel Museum. And most stores. And even some restaurants.
But we had gone there to see granite, and were determined to do more than glimpse the still water of the quarry from the roadway. With the help of Google maps, the three of us followed every possible road that would take us to an opening or lookout or viewpoint.
We were stopped at each point, mostly by concrete barriers and “No Trespassing” signs. Eventually, we pulled off the side of the road, a random place to park on the edge of a neighborhood, not sure what to do next.
We got out of the car and wandered, faced with the last concrete barrier and signs warning us to stay out. On the edge of ignoring the signs and climbing the concrete, I caught a glimpse of mountain bikers down the road, exiting a trail that was not well-marked. In fact, if the bikers hadn’t been there, we would not have seen the trailhead at all. Just the barrier with posted warnings that, from a distance, looked like No Trespassing signs. Instead, they were signs that warned hikers not to dive or swim in the quarry; having seen the quarry, this is good advice.
Like Frost’s two paths in the wood, we chose the path that was almost hidden from us, found through a gift of timing and serendipity, really.
We ended up at a place called The Grand Lookout. An outcropping with a 270-degree view of the valley below and the Green Mountains in the distance.
As I stood on that ledge, I thought about how life begins when plans fall apart. So we didn’t see Rock of Ages or the Granite Museum, both of which would have been educational and fun and worth our time.
Instead, we had an adventure we could not have anticipated. Hiking a historic trail that used to be a quarry railroad route. Granite walls of blocks and pieces that were considered junk but were carved into pieces of beauty by artists who did not leave their names behind. A carpet of crimson and apricot and gold, crunching underneath our feet and waving from branches overhead. Quarry cliffs of pearly, sparkling granite surrounding a deep, clear lake in the center, filled over decades.
I stared over the valley of crimson and apricot and gold, my eyes struggling to take in the beauty of the landscape. My life’s plans had fallen apart over the last few years, in much more serious ways than a closed museum. My marriage of 24 years had deteriorated, a tree with drab, leaden leaves that had died on their branches without falling, precipitating a series of life changes that I had not anticipated on my wedding day.
When I got married at 20 years of age, I planned on being a teacher. Having a couple of kids, maybe. Retiring after 30 years. Traveling and laughing and growing old together with my husband, facing life’s challenges head-on.
After a lifetime of trauma and resulting post traumatic stress disorder and depression, I was going to have a simple, uncomplicated, and even boring life.
This did not happen. The well-traveled path I had planned disappeared. I peered into the murkiness and picked my way forward, sometimes losing my way. Falling down and picking myself back up. Unable to see what was ahead, relying on the faint light of hope and encouragement and belief, sometimes supplied by me, most often given to me by others who loved me. Lost, but not alone. Grieving, but moving forward. Powerless, but free.
Standing on the Grand Lookout ledge, I looked forward, I looked back. The flames of colors matched the fire in my heart.
Left up to me, I would take that dim, unmarked path again. On that path, I found color and light and adventure. On that path, I found freedom and love and hope.
On that path, I found myself.