robertisenberg

Middlebury

In Vermont on June 24, 2009 at 12:00 am

Christmas in Vermont 022

“So where are you from in Vermont?”

“Do you know Middlebury? Middlebury College? It’s kind of, you know, in the middle?”

“Oh, yeah. You’re from there?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“But I’m from Cornwall, right outside of it. And Middlebury is the shire town.”

The questioner snickers. “Shire… town?

“Yes.”

“Like, The Hobbit?”

“Well, it’s the county seat—”

“You really call it a shire town? Wow. So you’re from Middlebury, huh?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

For a tiny town of only 8,000 people, Middlebury has many distinctions: Woody Jackson lives here. The Morgan Horse Farm is located here. Woodchuck Hard Cider is brewed here, and so is Otter Creek beer. The foot-bridge that spans the creek was used for a scene in Me, Myself & Irene. Middlebury College is triumphantly mentioned at the beginning of The First Wives’ Club, although the opening scene was glaringly shot somewhere else. I briefly waited tables for the Waybury Inn, where “Newheart” allegedly took place (although not a single room was used for the show).

The tourists like to walk Main Street and see the stone church, the gazebo, the large-ish Battell Building. They buy hemp shirts and smelling salts and bandanas with cow-patterns. When you grow up in such a tiny town, the tiny shops become iconic: The Rainbow Room, with its pendants and greeting cards; Comics & Collectibles, the basement nerdtopia where I whiled away summer afternoons; Skihaus, the ultimate over-priced ski-supply store; and my favorite place in the world, the Vermont Book Shop, whose narrow stacks of books always smelled of must and sandalwood.

If you were really autonomous MUHS student, you could stroll down to the Marble Works — an industrial neighborhood where marble was once cut. The converted warehouses are all constructed from rough-looking marble blocks, and in the summer the white stone gleams incandescently. When I was finally allowed to leave my high school campus during free periods (a luxury reserved only to seniors), my friend Rory and I would spend hours at Lee Zachary’s, a colossal pizza parlor tucked into one of the Marble Works warehouses.

But the most illustrious landmark in Middlebury is the waterfall — this is why outsiders see New England as magical. Middlebury has a main street, simply called Main Street, which is the developed section of Route 30 (pronounced: “Root Thrr’dee”). In the middle of Main Street (which is to say the middle of Middlebury), there’s a stone bridge that arches over Otter Creek. The architecture of this bridge is magnificent enough, as it’s composed of roughshod masonry that looks venerable in any season or light. But the bridge also overlooks a powerful waterfall that crashes beneath it — a waterfall that’s routinely frosted over in ice or shrowded in mist.

My relationship with this waterfall is complex: picnicking next to it, climbing the boulders around it, make-out sessions at its frothy foot, and so on. My brother once waded across the water to chop free a dead tree-trunk that was caught on the cliff’s edge. And most remarkable of all, legend has it that escaped slaves once hid beneath the water as they rode the Underground Railroad to Canada.

As a teenager, it was chic to trash Middlebury as a pit of universal despair. To us, it was a colony of hypocrite yuppies and braindead rednecks. We’d wait to see which worthless dickwad died in a drunk-driving accident, and we’d laugh when the yearbook was dedicated to him. We’d wonder which drop-out farm-girl would get knocked up with twins. Our cynicism was pointless, and we knew it, but we claimed our lives would only be worthwhile if we abandoned ship.

Now I’m a tourist, and Middlebury is just a spot on the map. It’s a nice promenade, and the sights are particularly handsome in summer. The thugs I once feared have grown up or moved away. And when people give me attitude, I just remember that I’m not from Middlebury. I’m from Cornwall.

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