Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vermont — There and back again (an independent scholar’s holiday) [Updated]

My Famous Air Quotes!Not too long ago, I traveled to Vermont for Tolkien 2007, a small but rewarding conference hosted by Michael Faletra and Chris Vaccaro at the University of Vermont at Burlington. This was my second time (in as many years) visiting Burlington for this conference. I had a simply wonderful time both years, and I’ll definitely be there in 2008. So at the suggestion of my friend Gary (who lives in Boston and who accompanied me to UVM both this year and last), I thought I would share a tale or two from my adventures there.

The conference takes place in April, but the weather this year was miserable. It was unseasonably cold and rainy for most of my trip (whereas last year, the weather was cool but beautiful). We had hoped it would improve, but it actually got worse, culminating in a veritable Fimbulwinter, the likes of which I had never seen — except in the opening of the film Fargo. After the conference, we ventured up to Montréal for the day (about 100 miles away), and on the way back, we were caught in a blizzard of apocalyptic proportions (quite something for a Texan like me!). Something like a foot of snow fell in just three, maybe four hours. During the harrowing drive through the heart of the Green Mountains in pitch darkness, we ended up careening off the road — luckily, we weren’t on top of a mountain at the time! Within sixty seconds, three separate vehicles full of intrepid Vermonters had stopped to make sure we were okay. Bless them! We were, but we couldn’t get back onto the road on our own steam, city boys that we are. A very nice guy from Milton pulled us back onto the road with a chain and his 4x4. I have pictures of the whole ordeal — in which Gary and I come off looking much more manly than we really are. (I could probably be persuaded to post one. [Update:] How about four?)

But outside of the alarming caprices of Mother Nature, Burlington is a wonderful place to visit. It’s full of progressive thinkers (and more than its share of weirdos — making Burlington the Austin of Vermont, as some people like to say). Speaking of weird people, after making it back from our traumatic blizzard experience, we were accosted by a strange dude from Texas outside the Inn. He kept us out there talking in the falling snow for what seemed like eons. No surprise when he told us, out of the blue, that he was bipolar.

Burlington also has great coffee and tea houses (make sure you visit Speeder and Earl’s Coffee House and Dobrá Tea), plus maple syrup and cheddar cheese factories aplenty! Not to mention Ben & Jerry's and the Magic Hat Brewery. None of which we have in Texas — although Shiner is nothing to sneeze at. Vermont is really my kind of place!

When we drove up to Burlington in 2006, we decided just to chance it on accommodations. We drove around looking for a likely spot and happened on the most unexpected thing of all (but still somehow “typical” of Vermont): a Tibetan Inn, apparently the only one in the United States. I highly recommend it the next time you’re in Burlington. The rooms have a lovely view across Lake Champlain to the Adirondack Mountains in eastern New York. And the proprietor and his family are wonderful people. (Allow me to interject, “Free Tibet!”)

So, if you’re looking for a Tolkien conference and a little bit of adventure, definitely keep Vermont in mind for next year. And if you want to know more about any of this, feel free to comment with questions.


  1. "The conference takes place in April, but the weather this year was miserable. It was unseasonably cold and rainy for most of my trip..."

    I don't know: given that Cleveland has occasionally seen trace snowfall into the first week of May, I don't think this year's weather in Burlington, a couple hundred miles north, was particularly unseasonable. I walked two miles from the bus stop to my hotel (and back) with only a light jacket and no ill effects.

  2. How much of that is lake effect snow, though? You're on the southern edge of Erie, I believe. And you're at about the same latitude as my friend Gary (Boston), but even he called it unseasonable! For me, of course, even a slight dusting of snow in December or January is unseasonable. *snort*

  3. Latitude, schmatitude. Cleveland is farther south than Rome.

    And lake effect is more important early in the season than late, when much of the lake surface is frozen.

  4. Shows what little I know of snow. I would have been totally SOL on Caradhras. ;)

  5. It really was abysmal weather, even by New England standards, but it's also true that the Texan perspective on these things is a bit skewed. Jason, never having been in a nor'easter before, was basically acting like Bruce Willis in "Armageddon," daring Mother Nature to bring it on. Now I'm a Texan as well, but I've lived in the Boston area for ten years of my life -- long enough to know that snow, while beautiful to look at, is generally a pain in the ass.

    Well, anyway, Jason found that out the hard way. To top things off, after a drive from Montreal that was about three or four times as long as normal (where we had, literally, only the ruts left in the snow by previous cars to guide our way), we ended up getting off at the wrong exit near Burlington and just barely making it to the aforementioned Tibetan sanctuary.

    By the way, Jason, don't you think another post is in order -- sur Le Robo? :)

  6. Yes, and we got off at the wrong exit because the signs were all snow-covered and illegible! It's a good thing we had the GPS, isn't it?

    As for Le Robo, I'll think about writing a post about that. I have the feeling some of the humor may be lost of anyone who wasn't actually there, but perhaps not.