(Host) Commentator Alan Boye recently took a walk along the banks of the Winooski River, following paths that Ethan Allen himself might once have roamed.
(Boye) At 50 miles per hour, I zigzag my car through the afternoon rush hour traffic. I slam on my blinker in order to get off of the controlled access highway. I drive up a suddenly remote-feeling Vermont winding road, and finally reach the Ethan Allen Homestead. I get out of my stuffy car and walk along an inviting trail. The trail follows the top edge of a steep cliff and leads me to the stout, wooden farmhouse where Ethan Allen and his wife Fanny raised their six children.
In 1787, Vermont’s most famous Revolutionary War hero picked this lovely site for his home. Ethan Allen’s homestead commands one of the most beautiful views in all of New England. Below me, the lazy blue waters of the lower Winooski River shine in the sunlight.
The trail leaves the manicured farmland and drops down the bluff to the river-bottom. The landscape suddenly changes to marshy woods. Strange reddish stones – unlike any I have seen before in Vermont – poke through the soil at the bottom of the steep embankment. The trail turns into a wooden walkway suspended above a watery patchwork of cattails, rushes, birds and bugs. A red-winged blackbird tries to scare me away with his sharp whistle and his military-red shoulder patches. A thick line of trees a quarter-mile away marks the banks of the Winooski.
To find this place, Ethan Allen had to come up the river from Lake Champlain. The winding river was the only road. In summer, the family would canoe from place to place, and in winter the Winooski’s frozen surface served as a highway for horses and sleds. I imagine Fanny Allen seated in a sleigh. She is a guiding a horse through the packed snow in order to reach the frozen river. A few of her six children are bundled in robes around her. Life here certainly would have been isolated. A visit to her nearest neighbor was never an easy task.
Today the sun shines through a hazy gray. Beyond the persistent squawking of that red-winged blackbird, I hear a faint whirring sound. I listen. It’s the soft purr of automobiles on the nearby highway. Steady traffic zooms this way and that between Burlington and Winooski. I think about those of us who now live in Ethan Allen’s home state – high-speed highways, email, faxes and cell phones make it simple for us to contact countless neighbors. Still, today it feels as if I am all alone in this small wilderness, this isolated spot. The solitude allows me to take stock in what matters most in life. I bow in thanks to Ethan Allen, and the ones who have preserved his homestead, then turn back towards the busy highway and home.
This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.
Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.