Molnar: Three Ranges

Nov 12, 2013

Now that the trees are bare, the earth’s bones have become visible. Across Vermont’s wide valleys we can sometimes see two or even three mountain ranges at once: the Greens, the Taconics and the Adirondacks.

All three are part of the Appalachian range that runs from Alabama to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. They all run south to north, are all relatively low, and are separated from each other by mere valleys. Yet each has a geologic story different from the others, and as I’ve learned from Helen Mango, professor of chemistry and geology at Castleton College, different rocks predominate in each.

The Taconics yield soft slates, originating from deep sea muds, while the Greens consist mainly of gneiss, an ancient rock created through great pressure. The Adirondacks, which I include because they’re visible from Vermont, yield granites that resulted from the hardening of molten rock. Then there are the 500-million-year-old coral fossils, the oldest in the world, found in limestone deposits along the shores of Lake Champlain.

That’s a lot of geologic diversity in one small state. I think of this driving north from my home in southern Vermont to Middlebury or Burlington, swiveling my head until I’m dizzy, trying to see the Greens and Adirondacks at the same time. From the top of Killington I can see all three ranges at once.

The rich diversity of these different yet similar mountains and rocks make me think of Vermont’s people. Both are mostly well rounded. Both are solid, standing their ground in storms of both natural and political varieties. Both can be surprising. It’s not possible to fit Vermont’s people into neat little boxes based on education or income, as is the norm in many other places. People here defy such easy categorization, demanding time and effort to get to know them.
 
And so do the mountains. It’s fine to observe them from a distance, but to really get to know them, we have to spend time in them, seeing them up close. We have to hike their trails, wear ourselves out in their heights, breathe their cool air.
 
Still, I must admit that despite the calm beauty of these mountains, I have sometimes missed the stimulating craggy profiles of the Rockies - just as I sometimes miss the energy created by the racial and demographic diversity of New York City. But then comes a day when I walk out of a supermarket to see the winter sun setting over the Taconics, turning the snow on the Greens to flame. All this in a parking lot! Fair compensation, I would say.