The Portal.

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguard, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour master, schedules, reservations, brassbound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.” – John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.

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As Maya mentioned, we did very little advance planning for this trip. We can blame it on lack of time, but in retrospect, maybe it was because we’ve travelled together before and because we knew exactly what Mr. Steinbeck was talking about in the opening lines of Travels with Charley. For us, it is frequently the unplanned that has led to memorable experiences. We let the journeys, as it were, lead us.

But sometimes, they lead us with the help of the internet.

The day before I flew into Burlington, I hastily made a reservation for a campsite at Four Springs Farm, an organic CSA farm in Royalton, Vermont, the part of the state that made the northerners scrunch their noses in disgust. Had we done more research, it would have been unlikely that we would have seen the view above, which was the first thing I saw on Sunday morning and my favorite non-food view of the trip.

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As soon as we arrived at the farm, we decided to upgrade from a wooden tent platform to this tiny cabin. It was a $20 difference that would guarantee a dry night.

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The farm is run by Jinny Clelands and a couple of cats. Together, they raise hens, chickens and turkeys, as well as fruit and vegetable CSAs for 50 families. I spent some time with Jinny and her birds. The chickens, she explained to me, are beautiful but uninterested, uninteresting. A stark contrast to the turkeys, the smartest of her birds.

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In sweat pants and rubber boots, she went about her morning, allowing me to tag along, camera in tow. Every day she waters and feeds her animals organically. Every day she moves their houses, so the birds won’t have to sleep in their own feces. I wondered if she considered her daily chores an act of cultural rebellion. I wondered, but didn’t ask. We were in Vermont, after all. Locavorism isn’t a movement there; it’s just a part of life.

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In our cabin, Maya and I found a pamphlet that invited us to go on a quest, a tour through the farm and the surrounding land. Part map and part epic poem, the paper acted as a guided tour of the places I’ve always longed to touch. I know that there are open fields, forests, streams and farms in Ohio. That these areas do exist outside of Royalton, but I have very rarely, since my childhood, at least, been able to make contact with these places. Four Springs Farm, through a silly little poem, was the first portal in my adult life to offer me the opportunity. And for that, I’m grateful.

farm6

Next are houses of solar energy
This is the best place for new plants to be
Here seeds are sown
Transplants are grown
Food begins here, to feed your family!

Heads in pamphlet, Maya and I saw fields of vegetables and flowers, greenhouses, fruit trees and bushes, all the while getting wet from the morning dew. The pre-coffee morning dew.

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Jinny told us that she wants to lower her number of CSA shares so that she can focus more on education. While the children of Vermont (in my perfect little world) know where their food comes from, it occurred to me that there are likely children out there – or even adults – who have never set foot in a greenhouse. And, I must admit, while I know a little about farming, yours truly had difficulty recognizing the trees mentioned in the poem, the symbols and landmarks to show us our way.

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Now dive ito the Hemlock Hole,
Be prepared: it’s dark, quiet and cold,
Step over the lip,
Careful not to slip,
Down into the woods deep and old.

We wandered around the woods for a good forty-five minutes, following streams, hiking on an abandoned logging track, and stumbling across an empty sugarhouse. As soon as I saw the property deep within Jinny’s woods, I imagined a setup wherein I cleaned it up for her in exchange for free rent. Maya called me out on this vision before I could even voice it. I suppose I’m predictable.

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After getting lost for a bit, the maple trees opened up to show us our cabin in the distance and the corn that Jinny grew for herself.

In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck makes his way through the top of Ohio, a detour from his intended route west through Canada. In the parts where he could have been talking about places like this, he writes, instead, about our highway system.

“These great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the car behind and the side mirror for the car or truck about to pass, and at the same time you must read all the signs for fear you may miss some instructions or orders. No roadside stands selling squash juice, no antique stores, no farm products or factory outlets. When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

Travels With Charley was published in 1961, the year before the first Walmart opened. I can only imagine what Steinbeck would say about his beloved unguided ventures throughout the United States today. When Maya and I first left Royalton for our next destination, Brattleboro, we took the freeway, a sterile and generic experience. It was as if our trip had been put on pause for an hour or so. It began again, with joy, when we encountered a side road and began to look at southern Vermont from a slower speed.

Note: I learned about Four Springs Farm at vtfarms.org.

Four Springs Farm
776 Gee Hill Road
Royalton, Vermont
802.763.7296

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3 thoughts on “The Portal.

  1. Lisa says:

    Absolutely gorgeous Jill…the photos, the fog and the recount of your trip beginning with Steinbeck.

  2. Jill says:

    Thanks. I really enjoyed writing this piece.

  3. Jennifer says:

    The sun finally broke throught the clouds that morning just for Jill & Maya… beautiful Vermont photos.

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