“Daddy, will you take me to the North Pole where Santa lives?” The obligatory “no” was imminent. However, there is nothing quite like the imploring wide eyes and rosy cheeks of a five year old daughter to render any worldly father powerless. You would succumb as I did. But where does one go for Santa’s realm and a white Christmas? I tried my luck with Vermont in the hope my fraud would remain undetected.
Here, you are experiencing authentic New England back-country, something real of Old America. There are no rude highways or ubiquitous malls to scar the horizon, only roads which bend with the timeless landscape and weather-beaten general stores. Modest streams wend across the frosted meadows, the denuded, stark trees hibernating along the banks. The water flows here and there, often gurgling beneath plates of ice.
You could say that farms line these back roads. However, this is the kind of country which feels more like you are momentarily invited onto the farms themselves, such is the landscape’s welcome. It’s quaint and cuddled, but the harsh life of the people is evident. Farmers lay hay for their horses in perfect circles slightly off-centre their snow-blanketed paddocks. Grey smoke wafts against grey sky from chimneys of farm-houses long in need of a lick of paint. Handwritten road-signs beckon the traveller to buy fresh eggs, firewood or glass-blown handicrafts.
If you take time to explore the back roads of Windsor County, you will come across lakes Amherst, Echo, Rescue and Pauline fed by Black River. You happen upon three old men sitting on the middle of a frozen Lake Ninevah. They crowd over a tiny hole sawn through the ice, fishing contently. Their only comforts: a bucket each for a seat and company enjoyed in silence.
Vermont means ‘green mountain.’ This is fine for most of the year but should be Blancmont in winter. Opportunities abound for skiing and, if you must, snow-boarding. Better, if the sheer majesty of nature and a good workout offer you more kicks than the monotony of slalom, there is telemarking or the indulgence of exploring isolated forests in snow shoes. You sometimes see deer. At every glance, you spot an eagle soaring in search of a feed.
The temperatures dip to North Pole levels with dusk serving as a serious warning of the imminent chill. You can experience -15⁰ Celsius (US: 5⁰ Fahrenheit) in the sun, let alone at night. It is a mistake to linger in the outdoors too long with snow in your boots. Frostbite lurks. Come properly clothed. Respect the weather.
The icy clime belies the warmth of the locals. Perhaps it’s an over compensation for the temperature outside. Whatever the reason, you discover that Vermonters are welcoming. One flinty character, helpfully self-identifying as Yankee, explained that “only Vermonters of old-settler, farming Anglo-Saxon stock can lay legitimate claim to the term.” It was an open, shared moment with a stranger and reminded me Yankee is a context-dependent, nuanced word which Elwyn Brooks White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, put thus:
To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.
You can experience all these charms in and around the little town of Ludlow. From New York City, it is a five hour drive. From Boston, it’s only 3 hours by car.
Vermont may not be the North Pole. I have a couple more seasons before my fraud is revealed smile. However, for the harrowed, information overloaded and stressed among us, it is a North Pole fantasy. And what a daily dose of fresh mountain air and outdoor living does for sleep. For the sleep-deprived, Vermont is a dream. And as if to underline its magical powers, what can a father say when his child snuggles next to him in front of a Vermont log fire and says, “I have an extra present from Santa this Christmas, Daddy.” A thoughtful pause ensues. “I have both my parents here.” There was nothing to say. There was just a hug and the discrete wiping away of a tear or two.
A beautiful nook of your Anglosphere.
Visit to appreciate it.