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Residents pen love letters to their Vermont towns

A photo collage of six letters, some typed, some handwritten, made out to towns in Vermont.
Graphic: Elodie Reed, VPR
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Images: Courtesy

Earlier this year, Come Alive Outside asked Vermonters to write love letters to communities they call home.

The Rutland-based nonprofit received submissions from all over the state. Vermonters ranging in age from 10 into their 80s wrote about their experiences and fondest memories of their small slices of the Green Mountain State.

Here are some of the submissions read by the writers themselves.

Tanya Sousa, 55, Norton

For 55-year-old Tanya Sousa, the small Essex County town of Norton was a salvation during a tough transition in her life:

Tanya's love letter to Norton

Tanya Sousa: Dear Norton, I loved the little house the first time I toured it with a real estate agent. It was in your tiny village, which some say is hardly a village at all. Boasting eight houses or so, a post office with scant but true hours right next door, and the Canadian border within walking distance. You're out there, and miles from most anywhere by most people's standards.

The price on the little house was unbelievable though. And despite the fact that it needed some work, the big expensive things had been fixed. I didn't play games and bought it right away, a demure, 1,000-foot property, with a quarter of an acre that still felt like living in the heart of nature.

I needed to buy something as inexpensive as possible, because my world had turned upside down after my husband of 20 years sustained a brain injury. And after working at it for some years, we both had to admit he wasn't the same and we weren't the same. I left our house and almost everything in it with him willingly, and had to start anew somehow.

I didn't know much about you, Norton, then. I was incredibly blessed to find the place furnished, right down to the pots, pans and cutlery. The place had been used as a camp for years, and the things left behind were outdated and mismatched at best. But they were mine, and would certainly do.

A photo of a person next to a town sign for Norton, with fall foliage in the background.
Courtesy
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Tanya Sousa.

I saw my neighbors, your people, out the window or as I walked my dog, and they seem to watch me carefully from a distance. An elder man who drove by on his lawn tractor nearly every summer day. A younger couple with some children. An older woman and her husband, the husband at the tail end of the fight with cancer.

I didn't have a lawn mower. So I approached the elder who drove by almost daily on his riding lawnmower. And as it turned out, he was one of your selectmen, owns the post office building and drove by so frequently, because he took it upon himself to care for a very old cemetery that most people had forgotten and abandoned, way up, nestled in your almost-Alaskan forest. He agreed to mow my lawn for very little, and as we chatted, I told him my other visions for the small backyard where there were some trees choked in brambles and bracken. I wanted to clear that out and have it become a small area for shade, eating outside and relaxing. You know, someday.

A month or so later, I looked out my window and saw the elder gent in my backyard with pruners, a rake, a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a sweatband on his white-haired head clearing brush. “Oh, no!” I gasped when I ran out to him. “There's been a misunderstanding, I don't have money to pay you to do this.” He looked at me as if I lost my mind. Waved my words away. “I need the exercise. This is something I want to do.” I continued paying him for lawn mowing, but by the fall he'd cleared the back exactly as I envisioned and out of the goodness of his heart.

I’d come home from work and find more and more done each week. It was like unwrapping the most marvelous gift each time. I'd send him soups and other cooked goodies to share. This man was and is like the soul of you, Norton, his family part of your wildness for generations.

Oh, and you are wild. Winter in Vermont, especially so close to Canada, can be a fearsome thing. And the first big snowstorm struck. I had a shovel but nothing more, and hadn't found anyone to plow the driveway yet. I was curled up on my couch, watching the near-blizzard out the window as darkness fell over your breathtaking mountains. I'd have to get up before dawn to shovel so I could get out for my morning meeting, I thought.

There was a noise, then what looked like a light coming into my driveway. The man with the young family next door was snowblowing my driveway. My jaw dropped open, and I bundled up and hurried to him to let him know how grateful I was. What did he charge? He shook snow off his winter hat. “I'm not going to charge anything. My father took care of this place, and now that he's gone, I'm going to do it.” He said nothing more and started up the snowblower again.

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The woman who manned the post office next door could see my little dog sitting on the windowsill each day, watching the comings and goings of patrons. When I went one day she handed me a wrapped item. “I made this and I thought it would be really perfect for little Pogo,” she said. It was a woolen dog vest, that also functioned as a harness.

Also, when I walked Pogo down your main road each day, the young woman who worked at your one gas station would come running out, waving her arm. “I have a treat for Pogo!”

I couldn't have landed in a more perfect location, Norton. It made my huge life changes something magical, despite so much pain from what brought me to you. “This is not ‘Norton.’ This is a much more wonderful place than that,” I told friends. From now on I'm calling it “The Land of Nortonia.”

Much love, Tanya

Bianca Zanella, Rutland and Nelson Jaquay, Tinmouth

Bianca Zanella of Rutland and Nelson Jaquay of Tinmouth share their awe and activities:

Bianca and Nelson's love letters

Bianca Zanella: Dearest Rutland, oh darling, how lucky we are to love one another.

Nelson Jaquay: Fifty years of small moments in Tinmouth, Vermont. Coming down Cobb Hill in any season, into the moonlit valley, a deep sense of gratitude for our sweet home Tinmouth never diminishes.

Bianca Zanella: So often I meet people who live here who are not in love. And what does life hold for them? Nothing terribly thrilling. But for you and I, my sweetest darling, life holds every possibility.

A person holding their arms up and standing next to a sign reading "welcome to tinmouth"
Courtesy
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Nelson Jaquay

Nelson Jaquay: Betti and I have lived here much longer than any other of our childhood homes. Fifty-four years this year. Daughter Sarah came home here from the Rutland hospital 50 years ago, and she spent all of her childhood here. A rental from Marcus and Alba and frequent apple and custard pies from Alba’s farm oven. And we've been launched and nourished in Tinmouth, and one after another, we've gathered family around us in this town like no other.

Bianca Zanella: I adore the man in waders in February, sending out his line near the bridge. I stop to stare and wonder and feel the sun. I adore discovering the kindness of a stranger who plowed the end of my driveway, unasked, even when I really wish I could thank them. I know it's not necessary. I will pass along this kindness, I promise.

Nelson Jaquay: Little did we know it when we arrived that we'd moved into a welcoming community with an interesting mix of natives and all the rest of us who had more recently chosen this little corner of the Taconics. Most meetings happen at the town office. Out back we share our dear Tinmouth Library, which hosts the Book Group, our Motley’s Writing Group, political caucuses, the knitting group, and any other groups needing a small gathering place. The community center built with much donated money and labor, hosts everything from town meeting to school gym classes, and even adult volleyball and exercise classes.

A photo of a person wearing ice skates on a frozen lake with a hills in the background.
Courtesy
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Bianca Zanella.

Bianca Zanella: Pure bliss to open my door to a hot homemade doughnut from my game warden neighbor. I adore my biases and expectations being thwarted: Butcher a whole deer hanging by its hooves off the oak tree, and she bakes a delicious delicacy.

Nelson Jaquay: We're always surprised at what we are capable of when we put our hands to tasks around town. So when asked by down-country folk, “What do you do up there in the mountains?” We would reply, “Where do we start?”

Bianca Zanella: Every day is a collection of awe, here. Every day lived is a poem when you see what and who is around you as imperfectly beautiful.

Nelson Jaquay: Tinmouth is a safe, welcoming, beautiful, secure place to live. It not only takes a community to raise our children, but it also takes one to support each other and get all the necessary town jobs done. What do we do up here, indeed. Not much sitting on the porch in a rocking chair spittin’ in whittlin’. And lastly, did I mention all the rich opportunities for enjoying and making music?

Bianca Zanella: Every love letter is a thank you note, is a poem — in my book, at least. Unexpected or unread, discovered or mysterious. Could be both or neither, a reminder of our continuous community conundrums. I'm in awe.

Kimberly H., East Ryegate, Monika, Clarendon and Darren C., 10, Lemington

Kimberly H. of East Ryegate, Monika from Clarendon, Darren C. from Lemington write about the seasons, moose and fishing:

Kimberly, Monika and Darren's love letters

Kimberly H.: Dear East Ryegate, Vermont …

Monika: Dear Clarendon, it's me, Monika …

Darren C.: Dear Lemington …

A photo of a person holding a baby.
Courtesy
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Kimberly H.

Kimberly H.: East Ryegate is nestled between West Barnet, Peacham, Wells River and Ryegate Corners. Always something to do, depending on the season.

Monika: I know it's been hard to get to know each other during this pandemic. The social distancing thing has been a real drag on our relationship. I've only been flirting with you since January 2021. When we bought our little fairytale house,

Darren C.: All along your side runs something very special to me: the Connecticut River. Just across it lies your neighbor, New Hampshire, where many small brooks and streams the little trout trickle into its waters.

Kimberly H.: I love winter birds coming to visit for a bite of food. I love sliding on snow-covered hills. Ice skating on the pond, figure eights. I love walking in the woods with snow shoes, crunching snow as I go. Time to go inside when cheeks turn red for a warm cup of cocoa.

Monika: It was love at first moose-sighting for Brian and me. We knew we absolutely must have a home on the same street that we saw Mr. Moose. Imagine our delight when we found out that not only do we have a real live moose, but we also have a delightful metal moose to admire every day as we drive to work.

Darren C.: I love the Connecticut River because it's calm, calm and quiet, and flows free as the wind. When I fish, I feel free as a bluebird flying high above the clouds. I feel free when I fish because I don't have anywhere to be, don’t have anything to do. You just become like the river, and don’t have anything to worry about.

A photo of a person smiling and holding large carrots
Courtesy
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Monika.

Kimberly H.: Rain, shine, sleet or snow, Tim the mailman always comes through with a smile on his face. I love spring flowers peeking through the snow. I love spring, when robins come back around to have their young. I love going for walks on dirt roads. Not too cold now.

Monika: From our wonderful sweeping mountain view in our backyard, to our close-by neighbors who get really — like really, really — into holiday lights and decorations, everything about you has been a dream.

Darren C.: I'm glad that I'm safe when I ride my bike then Route 102 to a fishing spot on the river. I'm safe because I have a caring community. I don't have many neighbors, but the ones I do know me and will look out for me.

Kimberly H.: I love going to West Barnet Quick Stop for a cold drink with the wooden floors. I love leaves falling from trees, insulating the ground, and walking in the crunchy leaves in place of snow. I love welcoming the next season in my town of East Ryegate.

Monika: So thank you Clarendon, for coming into my life at the exact right moment. Thank you for providing the perfect tucked-away corner for our little house. Thank you for being just far enough away from Rutland that it's quiet, but not quite so far that the commute is obnoxious. And finally, thank you for just being you. With your soft and gentle nature, your beautiful scenery and for being rural enough that no one minds my hound howling at the top of her lungs.

A photo of a child, wearing jeans, a tucked t-shirt and no shoes, next to a stone wall.
Courtesy
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Darren C.

Darren C.: I love you, Lemington, because you are remote, and a very natural place. You do not have a lot of buildings or roads. Most of the ones we have are dirt. I'm very lucky to live where I do, because some people have to travel very far away to be in such a unique place as Lemington. They even pay money to fish where I do on the Connecticut, whenever I want. And in the summer, I fish every day, for nothing!

Kimberly H.: This is why I love East Ryegate, Vermont. Sincerely, Kimberly H.

Monika: I hope you're as committed to me as I am to you, Clarendon, because I wish with all my heart that this is a long and joyous relationship. Love, Monika

Darren C.: That is why I love you, Lemington. Sincerely your best resident and angler, Darren C.

The love letters were collected by Come Alive Outside, a Rutland-based nonprofit that aims to get Vermonters outside.

VPR’s Brittany Patterson helped produce this story.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Marlon Hyde @HydeMarlon.

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