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kottke.org posts about Vermont

The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2019

VT Winter Wonderland

I grew up in Wisconsin, and have lived in Iowa, Minnesota, and New York. Except for a two-year stint in the Bay Area, I’ve experienced winter — real winter, with lots of snow, below-freezing temperatures, and little daylight — every year of my life and never had a problem with it. So I was surprised when my last two Vermont winters put me on my ass. In winter 2017-18, I was depressed, anxious, wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning, spent endless time on my phone doing nothing, and had trouble focusing on my work. And I didn’t realize what it was until the first nice spring day came, 70 and sunny, and it hit me: “holy shit, I’ve been depressed because of winter” and felt wonderful for the next 5 months, like a completely different person. Then last year I was so anxious that it would happen again that all that stuff was worse and started basically a week into fall.

Nothing helped: I tried getting outside more, spent more time with friends, got out to meet new people, travelled to warm places, took photos of VT’s beautiful winter landscapes, spent time in cities, cut back on alcohol, and prioritized sleep. Last year I skied more than ever before and enjoyed it more than I’d ever had. Didn’t matter. This stuff worked during the spring and summer but my winter malaise was seemingly impenetrable. The plan for this fall was to try a SAD lamp, therapy, maybe drugs, and lots more warm travel. But then something interesting happened.

Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings. As Matt Thomas wrote, I stopped fighting the winter vibe and tried to go with it:

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming — rather than fighting against — the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock.

Last night, I read this Fast Company piece on some research done by Kari Leibowitz about how people in near-polar climates avoid seasonal depression and it really resonated with this approach that I’d stumbled upon.

At first, she was asking “Why aren’t people here more depressed?” and if there were lessons that could be taken elsewhere. But once she was there, “I sort of realized that that was the wrong question to be asking,” she says. When she asked people “Why don’t you have seasonal depression?” the answer was “Why would we?”

It turns out that in northern Norway, “people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured,” says Leibowitz, and that makes all the difference.

The people in the Norwegian communities Leibowitz studied, they got outside as much as they could — “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” — spent their time indoors being cozy, came together in groups, and marveled at winter’s beauty. I’d tried all that stuff my previous two winters but what seems to have moved the needle for me this year is a shift in mindset.

As I experienced firsthand Tromsø residents’ unique relationship to winter, a serendipitous conversation with Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, inspired me to consider mindset as a factor that might influence Tromsø residents’ sunny perspective of the sunless winter. Crum defines mindsets as the “lenses through which information is perceived, organized and interpreted.” Mindsets serve as an overarching framework for our everyday experiences — and they can profoundly influence how we react in a variety of situations.

Crum’s work has shown that mindsets significantly influence both our physical and mental health in areas as diverse as exercise, stress and diet. For example, according to Crum’s research, individuals can hold the mindset that stress is either debilitating (bad for your health and performance) or enhancing (motivating and performance-boosting). The truth is that stress is both; it can cause athletes to crumble under pressure and lead CEOs to have heart attacks, but it can also sharpen focus and critical thinking, giving athletes, CEOs and the rest of us the attention and adrenaline to succeed in high-pressure situations. According to Crum’s work, instead of the mere presence of stress, it is our mindset about stress — whether or not we perceive it as a help or a hindrance — that contributes most to health, performance and psychological outcomes.

This is the woo-woo bullshit I referred to earlier, the sort of thing that always brings to my mind the advice of self-help gurus embodied by The Simpsons’ Troy McClure urging his viewers to “get confident, stupid!” Is the secret to feeling happy really just to feel happy? It sounds ridiculous, right? This is the bit of the Fast Company piece that resonated with me like a massive gong:

But overall, mindset research is increasingly finding that it doesn’t take much to shift one’s thinking. “It doesn’t have to be this huge complicated thing,” says Leibowitz. “You can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it.”

So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far? It’s only mid-November — albeit a mid-November where it’s already been 5°F, has been mostly below freezing for the past week, and with a good 6 inches of snow on the ground — but I have been feeling not only not bad, but actually good. My early fall had some seasonally-unrelated tough moments, but I’ve experienced none of last year’s pre-winter despondency. I’m looking forward to the start of skiing, especially since my kids are so jazzed up about it. I don’t currently have any trips planned (just got back from warm & sunny Mexico and am glad to be home even though the trip was great), but I’m definitely eager to start prepping for something in January. I’ve had more time for reading, watching some interesting TV, eating rich foods, making apple pie, and working. I went for a 6-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend and it was delightful. And I’m already looking forward to spring and summer as well. It’s comforting to know that warmer weather and longer days are waiting for me in the distance, when I can do more of what I want to do and feel more like my true self. But in the meantime, pass the cocoa and I’ll see you on the slopes.

Kurt Vonnegut: “There Are Six Seasons Instead of Four”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

In 1978, Kurt Vonnegut gave the commencement speech at Fredonia State College in upstate New York. The speech was published under the title “How to Make Money and Find Love!” in a collection of the author’s commencement addresses, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? In the speech, Vonnegut suggested to the graduating class that the traditional four seasons don’t make sense for northern areas of the country.

One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.

Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!

What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.

Vermonters know these six seasons all too well, although they give the two extra seasons different names. What’s going on right now and will continue into mid-to-late December is “stick season”. All the beautiful fall foliage has fallen off of the trees and we’re left with not-so-beautiful sticks until the snow flies regularly enough to call it winter. Between winter and spring — what Vonnegut calls “Unlocking” — is called “mud season” here. That’s when the dozens of feet of snow that fell during the winter, rapidly thawing ground, and Vermont’s rainy season collude to wreak havoc on unpaved roads and driveways, turning them into mud pits, some of which are impassable for a month or more.

Neither of these seasons is particularly pleasant here. Outdoor activities are curtailed — it’s too cold or warm or wet or muddy for your sport of choice — and restaurants and other local businesses often take a break, leaving residents even less to do. “This may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time”, indeed.

Shirley Jackson knew the real Vermont

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 26, 2018

You probably know Shirley Jackson as the author of “The Haunting of Hill House” but you should know her because of the brilliant and eerie “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”

Zoë Heller on the new Jackson biography:

In a new, meticulously researched biography, “A Rather Haunted Life,” Ruth Franklin sets out to rescue Jackson from the sexists and the genre snobs who have consigned her to a dungeon of kooky, spooky middlebrow-ness. Franklin’s aim is to establish Jackson as both a major figure in the American Gothic tradition and a significant, proto-feminist chronicler of mid-twentieth-century women’s lives. In contrast to Jackson’s first biographer, Judy Oppenheimer, whose 1988 book, “Private Demons,” somewhat played up Jackson’s alleged occult powers, Franklin argues that Jackson’s sorceress persona was mostly shtick: a fun way to tease interviewers and to sell books. Jackson was interested in witchcraft, she writes, less as a “practical method for influencing the world” than as “a way of embracing and channeling female power at a time when women in America often had little control over their lives.” Similarly, Jackson used supernatural elements in her work not to deliver cheap thrills but, in the manner of Poe or James, “to plumb the depths of the human condition,” or, more particularly, to explore the “psychic damage to which women are especially prone.”

Heller goes deeper into the gender issues at play:

The tension between socially acceptable housewifery and creative ambition is certainly easy to find in Jackson’s life, but it’s rather harder to locate in her fiction. There’s no question that, in her books, the house is a deeply ambiguous symbol—a place of warmth and security and also one of imprisonment and catastrophe. But the evil that lurks in Jackson’s fair-seeming homes is not housework; it’s other people—husbands, neighbors, mothers, hellbent on squashing and consuming those they profess to care for. And what keeps women inside these ghastly places is not societal pressure, or a patriarchal jailer, but the demon in their own minds. In this sense, Jackson’s work is less an anticipation of second-wave feminism than a conversation with her female forebears in the gothic tradition.

Shirley Jackson and her husband, the lesser-known author Stanley Edgar Hyman, lived in my hometown of North Bennington, in a house just down the street from where I grew up.

In 1945, after their first child was born, they settled in Vermont, where Hyman had been offered a post on the literature faculty at Bennington College. Here, in a rambling, crooked house in North Bennington, they raised four children and became the center of a social set that included Howard Nemerov, Ralph Ellison, Bernard Malamud, and Walter Bernstein. Their domestic life, as described in the comic dispatches that Jackson wrote for Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Home Companion, was raucous and warm. But Jackson was miserable a good deal of the time, as indicated by her increasing reliance on alcohol, tranquillizers, and amphetamines. She felt patronized in her role as a faculty wife and frozen out by the townspeople of North Bennington. (She took her revenge by using them as the model for the barbaric villagers in “The Lottery.”)

This reminds me, she’s not the only novelist to fictionalize my hometown.

Vermont Foliage 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

It’s snowing right now in Vermont, but fall was extra lovely this year, so I’m sharing some foliage shots I’ve taken over the past month or so.

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

All photos taken with the iPhone XS. I’ve previously shared some of these on my Instagram account, where you can see, for instance, that my 11-year-old goes the extra mile to get the good photo by polishing the apples on the orchard tree.

Update: For some other views of fall, try this photo series from In Focus: part 1, part 2.

“I Know That Place, It Sounds Like Vermont.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

Adam Driver hosted the premiere episode of the newest season of Saturday Night Live this weekend and one of the sketches featured a Neo-Confederate meeting where a group of white nationalists debated setting up a “Caucasian paradise” free from minorities and immigrants. They settled on Vermont.

This place sounds nice! Pancakes on the porch, spiced apple compote, the leaves change colors but the people never do.

As the saying goes, it’s funny cause it’s true. Although famously liberal — Trump’s support in VT was even lower than in California in the 2016 election — Vermont is also the second whitest state in the US (more than 94% white according to a 2017 estimate) and it shows.

Earlier this week, I drove past a house with the Confederate flag hanging on a flagpole in the front yard, right below the American flag. It’s not something you see super-often, but you do see it, along with Blue Lives Matter bumper stickers, Take Back Vermont signs painted on barns, and the perhaps well-intentioned older white couple holding up “We Believe Black Lives Matter Because All Lives Matter” signs on a small town sidewalk after the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Last year at the Champlain Valley Fair, there were multiple vendors selling Confederate flags, shirts, bandanas, and the like.

Last week, Kiah Morris resigned from her seat in the VT State House of Representatives due to racial harassment and threats.

Kiah Morris, the only African-American woman in the Vermont House of Representatives, announced her resignation on Tuesday, a month after she ended her re-election bid because of what she described as a yearslong campaign of racially motivated harassment and threats.

The harassment happened on social media and offline:

“There was vandalism within our home,” she said. “We found there were swastikas painted on the trees in the woods near where we live. We had home invasions.”

“It has come and gone and in different waves, but then it picked back up again and of course we are back in an election season so there’s always more,” she said.

The US Climate Explorer

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2017

Last year, the NOAA updated their Climate Explorer tool, which lets you see how climate change will affect the weather (daily max/min temperatures, really hot & cold days, precipitation, etc.) in different parts of the United States. For example, if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase throughout the next 80 years, the average temperature in Miami will increase from a current ~84.5 °F to over 91 °F in 2100…and even worse, the annual number of 95+ degree days will go from less than 10 to 140.

Climate Explorer

Climate Explorer

Which actually isn’t that big of a deal because a bunch of the city will be underwater and uninhabitable because of rising sea levels. Ok, moving on…

You live in the northeast and like to ski? Well, that might be a problem in the future. In Stowe, VT, the annual number of days with minimum temperatures below 32 °F will decrease from about 175 now to ~140 by 2070 even if emissions of greenhouse gases start dropping in 2040.

Climate Explorer

And if emissions don’t drop, Vermont could only see ~105 days of minimum temperatures below 32 °F by 2100. Goodbye ski season.

See also our potential neverending hot American summer.

Heritage, racism, and Confederate flags in New England

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2017

Back in 2015, Emily Heath wrote for HuffPost:

I saw your truck parked in front of the Rite-Aid, right by the Dunkin Donuts. Two large Confederate flags were attached to the back of it, waving in the wind. The American flag was, incongruously, in the center. And, I have to confess, I don’t get it.

Part of me wanted to ask obvious questions: You know you are in New Hampshire, right? And, you know New Hampshire was not a part of the Confederacy?

I ask this because I’m not so sure you do. Here we are in a northern town, a place that gave her sons up to the Union Army and lost them on the battlefields of the Civil War. A place where locals organized early against slavery and led the charge against it across the country. A place where 150 years ago that flag would have been seen as a symbol of treason.

I live in Vermont. It’s a pretty liberal place; along with Hawaii, Vermont had the lowest statewide level of support for Trump in the 2016 election. But it is also a very white place…the second whitest state in the US as of the last census. Earlier this week, I drove past a house with the Confederate flag hanging on a flagpole in the front yard, right below the American flag. It’s not something you see super-often, but you do see it, along with Blue Lives Matter bumper stickers, Take Back Vermont signs painted on barns, and the perhaps well-intentioned older white couple holding up “We Believe Black Lives Matter Because All Lives Matter” signs on a small town sidewalk after the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Last year at the Champlain Valley Fair, there were multiple vendors selling Confederate flags, shirts, bandanas, and the like.

I am inclined to agree with Heath on this: the display of the Confederate flag is racist.

I think you believe that the flag brands you as a “rebel” or somehow honors your outlook on life. It doesn’t. It brands you as a racist. You may not think you are one, but flying that flag is a racist act.

I know that right now you are saying, “But I’m not a racist!” “Heritage, not hate!” But this isn’t your heritage. It’s mine. And it is hate. And it is racism. And every time you put that flag on the back of your car, we all go back in time a little. And the past wasn’t so great for many of our neighbors.

(via @chrispiascik)

Putting yourself “10 feet away” from the people in your community

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

Last Saturday, five teenagers from a small Vermont community were killed in their car on their way home from a concert by a driver deliberately driving on the wrong side of the freeway. As you can imagine, the death of five young people in an area with only a few thousand residents is devastating and will take years for the community to recover from.

The day after the accident, Bobby Kelly, a classmate of the victims, wrote a message in remembrance of his friends and in celebration of his community, which a local ski area posted on their Facebook page:

So today after I heard the terrible news, my family went to Mad River Glen to ride the single up and hike down. As I stood at the top I was looking down at the little strip of road you can see from the top of the mountain. I watched a handful of these cars drive by, and they were so small from my perspective. And I thought to myself, how could something smaller than a pebble take 5 beautiful lives from us? The cars looked so small and insignificant from that far away. Then I started thinking how it’s only my perspective, and if you were 10 feet from those cars, they wouldn’t seem so small.

What I’m trying to say is, the closer you are to something, the bigger it is. There are people in our community who were ‘10 feet’ from the 5 kids we lost. Then there were some looking at them from ‘the top of the mountain’. Obviously, the people closer to them will feel the most pain, and the people furthest away from them will feel the least, it’s human nature. But, after seeing all the posts and pictures in memory of them, I realize that you only have a true community when people at the top of the mountain put themselves 10 feet from the car. We are all one, and the love for each other we have at Harwood and the community in general is something incredible. We will always miss Janie, Cyrus, Eli, Mary and Liam, but we will also always love them, because through this terrible tragedy, we will all heal together.

I don’t know about you, but I had to go take a walk after reading that. I moved to this area over the summer but didn’t know any of the victims because I’m new. The Mad River Valley Community Fund has set up a special Five Families Fund to help the families of the victims through this terrible time. If you’re moved to do so, I would appreciate you making a donation.

The Collective Quarterly: Mad River Valley

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2015

Mad River Collective

The issue of The Collective Quarterly on Vermont’s Mad River Valley is wonderful and gorgeous.

When we visited the Mad River Valley — which includes the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston, and Duxbury — we found grown men who loiter outside the local general store like furtive minors, sheepishly asking inbound customers if they’d be willing to help them circumvent the three-bottle limit on the impossible-to-find Sip of Sunshine double IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids. We shared drinks with backwoods boys, each with a quirky approach to extreme sports: kayaking raging rivers, big-air huck fests in sleds, and cliff-jumping at near-suicidal heights. We met a man who builds houses in the trees for the disabled youth of the Mad River Valley. We found a woman who forges artful kitchen knives out of old horse-hoof rasps from her father’s blacksmith operation. We ran into a socialist German refugee whose politically charged puppet shows in the fields of the Northeast Kingdom draw thousands.

And of course there were the architects. By some estimates, there are more architects per capita in Warren, Vermont, than anywhere else in the United States. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, these freewheeling designers hacked together zany, experimental constructions on Prickly Mountain, heralding the arrival of the design/build movement.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time there, and I can tell you that the magazine definitely captured it. From just this summer, here’s Ollie doing a 360 off a cliff at the swim hole and views of another more peaceful swim hole as well as from a hike I took:

Mad River swim hole

Mad River hike

The kindergarten class in the forest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

Eliza Minnucci teaches a kindergarten class in Quechee, Vermont and every Monday, her students spend the entire school day outside in the forest. The results have been more than encouraging. I love this anecdote about what the forest setting can provide for students of all temperaments and abilities.

When Minnucci started this forest school experiment two years ago, she knew it would be good for the rowdy boys who clearly need to run around more than the typical school day offers.

What she didn’t expect is how good it would be for the kids who can sit still and “do” school when they’re 5 years old. She gives the example of a boy last year.

Inside the classroom, he was one of her best students. But when he got outside and kids were climbing a tree, he couldn’t get very high. “I think he was a little surprised to not be meeting his peers’ ability,” says Minnucci.

Then, partway up the tree, he fell. And got a bit scraped up. “I felt terrible,” Minnucci says. “I thought, ‘Oh this poor guy. He failed.’”

But two weeks later, when the kids were climbing the tree again, he looked over at them. “I want to try the tree,” he said.

“And he went to the tree and he got higher than he’d been before and he was beaming,” says Minnucci. “And I thought, ‘Oh, this good, this is good!’ This is a kid who may have gone so far before he met challenge that he wouldn’t have known what to do when he got there.”

Kids who are good at school need to understand there’s more to life than acing academics, says Minnucci. And students who aren’t excelling at the academic stuff need to know there’s value in the things they are good at. Doing school in the forest offers “something really important” to everyone, she says.

(via @riondotnu)

Finally, real maple syrup at IHOP

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2009

A Vermont IHOP is the only restaurant in the chain of ~1400 to serve real maple syrup with its pancakes.

You can’t open up a Vermont pancake shop without Vermont maple syrup.

This story offers up a microcosm of the contemporary American experience.

The NY Times covers Mad River Glen,

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2007

The NY Times covers Mad River Glen, a quirky ski area in Vermont that has the only operating single-seat chair lift in the country, doesn’t allow snowboarders, and doesn’t groom (that often) or make (that much) snow. “Occasionally, snowboarders will hike to the top from a nearby road and ride down. If they tackle the tough terrain with crisp, accomplished turns, the Mad River Glen regulars will loudly applaud at the bottom. If the boarders aren’t very good, the abuse is just as loud. People will come out hooting and hollering from the lodge.” I’ve skiied there a few times; here’s some photos of the mountain and some videos I took. (thx, tien)

Skiing at Mad River

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2006

Over the holidays, Meg and I went up to Vermont skiing. I skied quite a bit when I was in middle/high school (on the small hills of northwestern WI and east central MN), but I’d only strapped on the boards a couple times since graduating from college. Meg’s family has skied at Mad River Glen for years, so that’s where we went. After three straight days of hitting the slopes, my back got a little wonky, so on the 4th day I brought the camera along to document a run down the mountain:

Mad River

There are a few photos of Waitsfield (the town closest to Mad River) and the surrouding area at the beginning of the set, but most are from the mountain, including some of the best winter views I’ve ever witnessed. The snow covering the trees, the fog at the top of the hill…it looked almost magical. At one point, I was alone on the mountain with my camera, engulfed in fog, no one within 200 yards. With no wind and all the snow & fog muffling the sound, when I stopped breathing, I couldn’t hear anything at all.

Ah, summer

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2005

Well, summer is definitely over in the eastern United States. The leaves on the trees are going or gone, sweaters and light jackets have started making their appearance, and everyone is sick of tomatoes but drinking apple cider by the gallon. As a goodbye to a great summer, here are a few photos I took over the last few months:

Summer 2005

The above photo was taken near the end of the summer on Nantucket, just before sunset.

Thomas Keller gets the butter for his

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2005

Thomas Keller gets the butter for his restaurants from 6 cows in Vermont. The woman who owns them sells more than 80% of her butter to Keller: “When you’re small you can have a relationship with the people who buy your food. The reason I’m not big is because I’m a perfectionist. I’ve got to sell to someone who is the same way.”

Photo of Vermont foliage. “Among factors that

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2005

Photo of Vermont foliage. “Among factors that combine to give Vermont an edge in the U.S.’s foliage sweepstakes are the abundance and density of broad-leaved tree species, each with a contrasting color scheme, and a climate inclined to bring out the best in all of them.”