After driving north away from the coast of Rhode Island, I have found myself in a much more familiar place; Brattleboro, Vermont. This is my hometown, nestled into the bank of the Connecticut River with Mount Wantastiquet rising up on the New Hampshire side. When I was in the Boy Scouts, I would trudge through feet of snow with friends to the top of that mountain across the river and throw the switch on a massive star of light bulbs that would shine for the duration of the holiday season until the end of January. I graduated in 2009 from Brattleboro Union High School – just yards away from Smirkus’ latest site at the Vermont Agriculture, Business, Education Center. I used to have soccer practices on the field that is our site. Neither this field nor the mountain across the river has changed – it’s me that’s been on the move, and constantly so.
I have lived in this area since the age of eight and to find myself in the site of much of my childhood was a testament to the powerful connections people can have with their surroundings.
I would have never guessed that I’d be coming back with a circus.
We entered Brattleboro from Exit 1 off of Interstate 91 and drove downtown, past my previous employer’s office (construction). The Brattleboro Food Co Op’s new building was still under construction when I left in February for my semester in Europe and as we drove downtown to an unruly intersection residents aptly titled “Dysfunction Junction,” I noted that the new building was mostly finished and the lights inside were on while customers shopped in the new space. We drove past coffee shops where I spent many wintery afternoons and thrift stores where I found clothes for all occasions.
We drove north and out of town on Route 30 towards Jamaica, where the troupers visited longtime friends of Smirkus, Hank and Toby, who own and operate their own studio where they hand-blow beautiful glass. We met Hank at the shop and followed him to their house. Before pulling onto a road with a visible “Road Closed” sign, Hank cautioned us:
“This was one of the most heavily damaged roads in the state after Irene. Where you see dirt, there was nothing.”
The warning was not without warrant. As we drove, the road became more rugged and the pavement gave way to rough dirt. The gravel road followed a riverbed that had been transformed into a raging torrent of water that destroyed houses and business and swamped entire towns when Hurricane Irene smashed through Vermont last August. Vermont is still recovering.
I spent over an hour playing fetch with Hank and Toby’s two labs, Cocoa and Cannoli while the troupers swam in the pond and raided their freezer always stocked with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. At the end of the day, we drove back to Brattleboro to meet the homestay families. My brother works at a local gluten-free bread factory and dropped off loaves of bread when he picked me up. The cooking staff said thanks and we got out as quick as we could.
Given the transient lifestyle to which I’ve subscribed, it felt very strange to eat dinner with my family, do my laundry at home and sleep in my own bed. I could write forever about the creature comforts of home; the sensation of carpet under my feet, a refrigerator full of food, fresh vegetables from the garden, my yellow lab, and a deck overlooking the field to the west behind my house. The feeling of familiarity here is welcome but like any other site, time is limited and I will find myself on the road again before I know it.
Evan Johnson, Communications Intern