RU Home for the Summer: Vermont

It’s no secret that most of the students who attend Radford University are from Virginia, or at least from the surrounding areas. Often when I tell people I’m from New England they stare at me curiously for a second, and then inquire as to why I don’t have a British accent. I give them a “You’re kidding me, right?” look before realizing they’re being serious, and walking away. And yes, this has really happened to me.

I’m a native of Northern Vermont, and I grew up about an hour south of Canada. To put this in perspective, I live about 14 hours from Radford. The only times I get to see my friends and family are when I go home to visit for the summer and for winter break. Moving away from home is definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also probably the greatest, and I recommend taking the leap to anyone who’s considering it. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

If you’ve ever visited anywhere in New England, you know we are a unique group of people. We are a contradictory cross of passionate Yankees and Red Sox or Patriots and Giants fans, and we treasure the warm sunny days we get, because there usually aren’t a lot of them. Vermont in particular is a very unique and isolated region.

Tye dye is very popular and always homemade. Photo by Kaileigh Ashby.
Tye dye is very popular and always homemade. Photo by Kaileigh Ashby.

I live eight miles down a dirt road. The nearest grocery store is called Hannaford’s (the equivalent of Food Lion) and is 40 minutes away. The mall is an hour away, along with the closest and largest city in the state of Vermont: Burlington, whose population is just over 42,000. (Roanoke’s is 96,000).

Cell phone service? Forget it.

You’re more likely to get bears in your backyard or a moose blocking your car than you are to get a signal in Vermont.

Honestly though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Vermont is an escape from the commercial world. We have a huge “eat local” movement, and our communities are constantly striving to better serve the environment and to make where we live a better place. Since I moved to Virginia two years ago, I’ve returned to discover new windmills spinning on top of the mountains that generate electricity for Burlington, and solar panels showing up around every turn of even the most rural back roads. It makes me proud to call myself a Vermonter (similar to — but definitely different than — a “Vermonster“).

From the top of a lift at Smuggler's Notch. Photo by Kaileigh Ashby.
From the top of a lift at Smuggler’s Notch. Photo by Kaileigh Ashby.

My favorite part of growing up in Vermont is something I’ve taken for granted most of my life, and that’s freedom: freedom to love whoever I want to love, regardless of gender, freedom to believe what I want to believe, regardless of popular opinion. If you think God exists, great. If you think God doesn’t exist, great. If you like boys or girls or both, no one cares; it’s beautiful. I hope one day every part of the world will open up and be as accepting and welcoming as Vermont is.

If you ever come to Vermont you definitely have to check out Church Street in Burlington. I also don’t care what anyone says, Smuggler’s Notch is absolutely the best skiing around, plus there are hot tubs to hang out in after a long day. We have our fair share of history and fame (the famous band Phish got their start at a local bar in Burlington) but overall Vermont is moving slowly and steadily into the future. We’re all finally starting to get rid of our dial up internet, although you still need a satellite dish to watch TV. Baby steps.

When you think of Vermont you probably think of Ben & Jerry’s, Burton snowboards and snow. But I think of being able to see the stars poke out of the sky before the sun sets, of getting around better in the winter on a snowmobile than in a car, of best friends and small class sizes before cyber-bullying and sexting even existed.

Even though I spent years itching to get out of this tiny state and small town, now I treasure the few short weeks I have here every year. It’s true how the song goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone.”