My neighbor and I, about to go for an afternoon hike, stood on my deck, and faced the hills. I shaded my eyes with one hand and pointed with the other at a grassy hilltop across the valley. “Let’s go over there, to the Glebe.” She looked looked confused, pointed to a hilltop a few degrees north of my “Glebe” and said, “But isn’t that one the Glebe?”
I had no idea idea, having learned the term and location from our house’s former owner. There are certainly no signs, and these minor hills don’t appear named on most maps.
“Well, I don’t know, but let’s just hike over in that general direction?” And so we did, down our bit of hill, into the tiny valley carved by the west branch of the Ompompanoosuc river, and back up into the hills until we reached a spot that I call the “Glebe” and she does not, and from which spot we could look back at the house and porch we left an hour earlier.
That was years ago. A couple of weeks ago, a friend came over to the house for the first time. We went out back to meet the goats. She took a look around our yard. “You live on the Glebe!” she said.
I live in a valley of hills with unfixed names.
I suppose when people think of Vermont (if they think of Vermont at all), they think first of the confetti colors of the fall leaves, the maple syrup, and the skiing. The downhill skiing mostly happens in the Green Mountains ( Verd-Mont), the spiney range that divides the state lengthwise into west and east in terms of population and weather.
Here on the eastern edge of the state, on the west bank of the Connecticut River, we live in the rumpled valleys between Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s Whites. We’re ringed by hills and a few elevations that are accorded mountain status (Mount Cube, Black Mountain, Smarts Mountain, Cardigan Mountain and, further off, Mount Ascutney and Mount Moosilauke), but most of the ridges I see from this patch of green are nameless and personal, known by those of us who live next to them or hike their trails, but of little interest or consequence to peak baggers or serious mountain types.
Which is just fine by me.
Most weekdays in the year, the dog and I take ourselves down into the river valley. Our river valley is one among many in the region. Our little river, the Ompompanoosuc (the “Pompy” if you’re on familiar terms) is split into two branches that wend their way through the valley that cradles it. The hills that rise on the western shore slope gently down to the Connecticut River valley. The Pompy feeds that river, as I like to imagine our hills (the gentle diminution of the Greens to our west) somehow feed the more majestic Whites to our east. Certainly they are all connected in my mind, as stepping stones or dotted lines on a map or the flow of water from one place to another.
But that is neither here nor there, because when I’m on my daily walks, I’m not thinking of mountains. I’m surrounded by them, but my feet and my thoughts are on the gently rollercoastering trail, into the valley then back above the valley, from one nameless rumple to another.
When I walk, I think and I write. Or, at least, I think the thoughts that later become what I write. And I’ve recognized lately that my thoughts often follow the contour of the land I traverse. I’m thinking as much about the hill as the valley, of the negative as the positive, of the what-is as the what-is-not.
The fact that you cannot have a valley without a mountain is plain to any schoolage child. The fact that you cannot have a mountain without a valley is maybe not as obvious at first because when you’re on that mountain, that’s all there is: the uphill trail, the miniature trees, the rocky outcroppings, the promise of a summit that will show you distant peaks, the ones with names marked on your map.
But down here in the valley, in the untitled hills, we’re living our mountain life, too. The mountains stop the clouds, divide the rain and snow, make a barrier between us and the westerly wind. The mountains draw the tourists who stop at our restaurants and farmers markets. The mountains make the bold statements on the terrain, while we spend our working days in the italics.
On a summer day, you’ll find the dog and me walking the trails, stopping at the river for a cool wade. There are birds everywhere, speaking their own language, and a constant buzz of insects. There’s a steady hum going on around us, the hum of life living and the world doing what needs to get done before autumn. There’s probably a perfect word to describe this, but I’m suddenly wordless, planted solidly as a white pine, feeling the valley breeze in my needles, and my roots digging far beneath the soil.
- Rebecca Siegel (all words and photos author's own)
Rebecca lives in Vermont amongst the hills, and is a writer and poet. Her own blog and writing can be found here. She is also on twitter @hobnob.