Ego habui monte Vermont. Doesn’t much matter whether you read Latin. The first and last words are the most important.
I lived in Midtown by way of Capitan, New Mexico. Manhattan was not a super happy place in 2002, and the city isn’t a natural fit for people like me, regardless. Autumn of that year I started looking for a weekend getaway. Real estate seemed a safer place to park what savings I had left after the stock market tanked.
The green wilderness of Vermont: pristine as advertised. I found my mountain on Fire Hill Road between Pittsford and Rutland, where the express train dropped me.
It’s a little mountain, some 830 feet of rise, and affordable because of difficult access, meaning if you left the dirt road you would not ascend so much as impact the land. No worries. I have heavy equipment. I have a chainsaw. Talent with explosives, if required.
The sellers, two bickering siblings, were the last of their clan. Previous owner of the property: The Church of England. I thought that was cool at the time and no portent of how newcomers might be viewed up here.
There were bear, moose and fisher cats. Old growth timber. A crystalline spring. A dive bar only twenty minutes away. By 2003, my weekend retreat had become something grander in scope, something worthy of sabbatical. But I required help. Or a reliable witness.
A friend, a poet and a wise man I’ve known more than twenty years, who spent his spare time working as a drafter for the City of Dallas, was recently laid off and seemed in need of temporary purpose. I pitched my idea.
“Bud, we shall make our way up the mountain and there build a proper cabin. We shall live deliberately, off the land, and occasionally visit Price Chopper for provisions.”
“I’ll get my toothbrush.”
We loaded a triple-axle flatbed hitched to my F-450. He followed in his Jeep, towing still more equipment, flanking the Ozarks and traversing lengthwise the western foothills of the Appalachian Plateau. The third morning we awoke in a Rutland motor court, road weary but eager.
He took point this time, through town and into the countryside. I required 13 feet of clearance and 20 tons of load capacity across bridges. We arrived at noon three days before Halloween. With a bit of sawing, a bit of pushing, we got vehicles and implements a few feet off the road by late afternoon.
We assembled a plywood enclosure on the gooseneck and there made basecamp; me, Bob, and a mastiff named Brutus. We imagined tough work ahead. Imagined we were equal to it. We had yet to introduce ourselves, so we caught stares from the half dozen passersby.
As the moon rose, I played the pocket harp while we sipped Jack Daniels and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes beside a small campfire. Bob wondered aloud just how relative the term comfortable would become. He’d heard New England could get a bit nippy toward year’s end. And into March.
“Smell like rain to you?” he said.
A sudden downpour quashed the fire and ran us into our box. We huddled there most of the next day, too, the slope above us churned into mud-flavored Jell-O.