East Highgate

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(HOST) Autumn is a good time for reflecting on the passage of time, and commentator Alan Boye did just that on a recent walk.

(BOYE) I’m walking down an ancient sidewalk in the tiny village
of East Highgate, Vermont. In places the gray, cracked surface
of the old concrete path shimmers like a river in the sunlight, but
in other places the sidewalk is nearly covered by dirt and sod.

I stop at a building. I study the square front of the old clapboard structure. Back in the days when East Highgate was at its peak
I suspect this place might have been a store, or an Inn. Today
the wide front of the building with its rows of windows looks out
on nothing but quiet countryside.

A hundred years ago the village of East Highgate was a prosper-
ous place. It boasted two hotels, a tannery, and three mills. The main reason for its wealth was the Rixford Scythe Company whose axes and scythes were in great demand.

I come to what was once a 4-way intersection . . . well, it still
is a 4-way intersection except that in one direction I see nothing
more than a pair of ruts disappearing into the dark brush.

With each passing year the Rixford Company sold fewer and fewer scythes. In time the factory closed and the mills shut down; now nearly everyone in East Highgate works somewhere else, and the town seems empty.

The old walkway follows a narrow, paved road. I walk on, past a couple of rundown properties and then a vacant lot. I follow the fading sidewalk until it comes to a number of old, large houses. Most of the homes are still occupied. Some of the them are quite stately; others are modest; quite a few are in need of repair.

Nearly every house along the old sidewalk, however, has a front porch. For generations folks sat on these porches watching people walk up and down this very sidewalk; from the porches they could hear the mill churning down by the river. Now I’m the only one walking on what’s left of the old sidewalk and the old houses
stand somberly quiet in the fading afternoon light.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said he could feel what he called “the vanishing froth of the present” constantly turning into the hard- ened, unchangeable past. He said that being alive was like walking on molten lava, and with each step you take you
watch it turn to stone.

I stop and turn around. Just before I start to retrace my steps,
I hear the Missisquoi River hissing and crashing over the few broken stones of what remains of the old mill.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.

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