Winter has always been a fun time of the year for kids in Vermont, even though the adults are worrying about the heating bill. As the snow mounts up, kids see it as a great opportunity to make another snow fort, sliding trail, or make a higher ski jump.
When I was a kid growing up in rural Vermont, I remember we had an old logging road that opened up a clear path on the side of the mountain next to my house. We went to great lengths to groom the “sliding tracks” in the middle of it. Kids from all over the valley came together to go there and slide down the hill. There were only a few slight corners on the trail, and depending on how fast you were going, and on what you were riding, the curves were usually fairly easy to negotiate. Even so, there were several times I barely made it to the bottom in one piece!
One winter day, one of the neighbor boys named Joe came over to slide down this particular hill. He brought his toboggan that fit three people. We dragged it up the steep part of the hill to the spot where the pines started to get a little thicker, on the first flat area. It was a long way for a couple of kids, probably between 1/8th and ¼ of a mile. Joe was to be the back passenger and use his feet to help brake and turn the back of the toboggan. I was the front navigator as I kneeled and used my hands to twist the front curve of the contraption.
Joe always seemed to have a wide grin on his face when we were ready to start our “flight” down the hill. I think we were both over anxious. About half way down the trail, there was a railroad crossing with snow banks on either side of the tracks, and you could catch air going over them. Then there was a steep straight away all the way to the dirt road at the bottom, which was flanked by very high snow banks. We would turn sharply before we got to the first snow bank and slide sideways up to the edge of it to stop. (At least that was the plan.)
This particular run started off with a heart stopping push and we quickly got into position as if we were Olympic bob sled contestants. I was kneeling and Joe was holding down the back as we passed quickly through the first clearing and swung into a narrow corner. I could see on the edge of the trail was a low brush pile. I gripped the curl on the toboggan and leaned to the left, and yelled for Joe to put his boot into the snow to slow and help turn the rig. He did as told, and put his foot out, but instead of slowing us down, he caught his leg in the brush heap. Before I knew it, he was pulled right off the toboggan and my ability to slow down was suddenly gone. My heart was racing as I thought of the snow bank at the bottom Continue reading
Stepping on river rocks and ice,
Shadows of trout race by.
Snowbanks rise steeply.
Memories unfreeze my youth,
As warm thoughts of then,
Come back to me.
Eyes closed and vivid sounds trickle,
Boots slipped between snow mounded stones,
Where I searched for calm between the banks.
Freezing air awakened a need to go home,
Though I wish I could stay here listening.
February kept a promise,
Between the lighted window of home,
And time alone on the stream.
© Rick Wyman
I had a lot of things happen in the winter as a kid in the 1950’s and 60’s. It happens frequently that I hear people about my age refer to the deep snow falls we used to have back then. They are constantly comparing them to the snowfalls of now. I imagine most people forget or choose to ignore climate change as a valid factor. I was one of the unfortunate children of the 50’s that had a birthday in the middle of January. January 20th seemed often blessed by a snowstorm of substance, which was great for sliding and building snow forts, but not so great for having a birthday party. We lived on a single lane dirt road in Vermont.
Now that people are getting ready to dismiss their Christmas trees, I am reminded of one of my favorite Christmas memories. When I was just 16 years old, I was looking for something to do to make a little money and feel creative in some way. I remember talking with our neighbor from Massachusetts about possibly getting some evergreen trees from someplace place in the woods. He had a few acres of groomed scotch pines growing near his house that he’d eventually cut and sell. He told me to go up on the hillside behind the houses on a place we knew as Pine Knoll. It was his land and he wouldn’t miss those ungroomed trees. Until that day, I never thought of anyone actually owning the land on Pine Knoll. It was just part of the hill where we deer hunted.
I was excited to have permission to cut a few Christmas trees right out of the woods. I grabbed a bow saw and a hatchet and climbed up the hill with great enthusiasm. After a hike up the hill and a long search, I discovered that nicely shaped trees were fewer and farther between than I had assumed. I cut about 4 or 5 trees and realized that I had to get them down the mountain unharmed, to the house in order to sell them. Big, bulky and delicate trees. I took a rope and tied three together and dragged them down the logging road. Dragging trees down the hill wasn’t that difficult but they were showing a little wear on the bottom long branches. There was no snow so I decided I needed to get a barrier between them and the ground. I used a piece of fabric for the next several trips. The trees weren’t uniformly grown. The height and diameters were all different, but all in all they were pretty good looking trees. I didn’t cut any that were too far from symmetrical. It was a major hike to go up and down the hill while cutting and dragging the trees I’d scouted out and selected. I thought they were all nice trees and surely hoped the people in the town of Cavendish would think so also.
My father let me use his Jeep pickup to carry them up to town. I gave one of the trees to my parents and one to the neighbors a quarter mile down the road, so I had about 10 trees left to sell in the village. At first I thought it would be good to sit by the fire station and lean a couple of trees on the side of the 50’s vintage Jeep pickup, but not one person stopped to ask about the trees. I hadn’t thought of a sign, so perhaps they thought I was just waiting for someone to come for a tree they’d had me save. Then I came up with the idea of going house to house and offering trees for sale so people could come out and choose one. I decided on a firm price of $1.75 per tree. A bargain price, even then, for a cut and delivered Christmas tree!
It was a pleasant adventure for the most part. I offered trees to some of the parents of kids I had attended Duttonsville Grade School with. The cul-de-sac where Stanley Hoskiewicz’s mother lived was a good starting point. I pulled up and knocked on a door, and Mrs. H. came out. She recognized me of course and called me by my last name. She asked, “What do you want Wyman?”
“I’m selling Christmas trees and am delivering them door to door,” I said. I tried to sound cheery and confident even though I was quite shy around the parents of kids I’d gone to school with. She stood near the truck and asked to see a specific tree on the load. I pulled it down off the truck and she asked to see another one. Pretty soon I had unloaded about half the load. She chose one and happily paid me. She suggested I leave them all leaning on the truck and knock on her neighbor’s door. Her neighbor walked over to check out the trees and asked how much. Once I said $1.75, it didn’t take long for them to pay me. I was smiling and excited to see anyone had wanted to buy my trees. I reloaded the remainder of standing inventory. I drove around to a couple more neighborhoods and unloaded a few trees and stood them up around the truck. It was fun talking to the people and having someone actually be appreciative of having me offer the door to door tree sale. It wasn’t long before I’d run out of trees.
This was one of my more positive experiences while growing up. I made less money in selling nearly a dozen trees, than half the price of one tree today. Christmas is a great time of year for memories and thinking of all the great family times around the tree. Real trees and the genuine smell of evergreen are things we relate to our heritage and give us warm feelings. So before you undecorated and throw out the tree, reflect a moment and place it in your memory as a life giving holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
(c) Rick Wyman
Everyone who lives in Vermont has memories of some small hill, or some big hill, they used to slide on during the winters of their youth. Sliding and skiing were about the only things that got me through the winters in the 50’s and 60’s. There were hills and of course there were logging roads on those hills to tackle. There were fields down the road, and the very minor incline on our lawn that qualified as a hill until I was a bit older. I remember the single-bulb outdoor light my mother would turn on at dusk. It was next to the kitchen door and lit up the stone steps down to the driveway. There was a dim, but bright enough glow Continue reading