slipping into summer

Starksboro, Vermont bonfire

Homebodies.  Tom and I left our city life behind several years ago to wave the white flag and retreat to Vermont.  At the time, going back home was a needed relief but left me longing to do my own thing, away, apart from where I was raised.  I spent 7 years in Boston, living on my own and piecing each year together to build a fine, humble existence there.

Back in 2001 I got the word I was headed to Boston and cast an enthusiastic wave to my rural roots.  City girl.  Subways.  Busy, rush, rush, rush.  I loved the rude dismissive way we passed strangers on the street.  I loved the dead pan stare on the subway that communicated I’m not crazy, but I’m not interested in talking to you.  But, sometimes I liked the conversational strangers.  DJ Night Train with his over-sized head phones that dangled, unplugged, near his waist.  He spun music, silently, and without turntables, for us on the B line.

The late Mr. Butch, a homeless man living in my neighborhood, occasionally took a break from playing Jimi Hendrix on his busted string guitar to help me with my groceries.  I looked ridiculous riding a bicycle with the handlebars lined with swinging strained plastic bags.  I took photos of Mr. Butch and printed them for him to keep.  He appreciated it and remembered it, I think, as his eyes always had a glassy lack of focus above a genuine smile. I regret missing his street march funeral when he passed several years ago.

I loved the guys at Diamond Cutz, a salon tucked into a rough neighborhood in Cambridge.  Tom’s neighbors.  I popped in for photos with the pointed stares from the girlfriends working weaves in the back of the shop.  They joked my hair had no business in there.  Too silky and straight, what the hell would they do with it?  Makes sense.

Instead of going to historic game 7 of the ALCS Series between the Red Sox and Yankees, I went to the Boylston fire house for spaghetti dinner with the fire fighters.  I wanted to find a different angle to cover this potentially historic evening.  A humble photo story turned into a thrilling evening when the guys got called out to a fire and had me tag along.  I froze. How do I manage myself and my gear while sliding down the fire pole?  They laughed.  “We use the stairs,” they said while tossing me a helmet.  Of course.  The photos were terrible from the ride as we jostled through Boston’s busy and narrow side streets.  I put down the camera to squint through the streaking neon lights and watch as the men continued to suit up, checked their radios, secured the seat belt on my springy jump seat (chivalry isn’t dead?) and prepped for arrival.  I’ve never traveled through Boston so quickly.  The cranky drivers I encountered every day with their flippant flip of the bird were cautious and respectful.  Not bad.  I was in good company.

I loved the buildings, the cobblestone streets, the food and the history within the brownstones on Marlboro.  When I lived on the top of a fifth floor walk-up brownstone on Baystate Road, I liked cheating my good smarts into thinking that the whir of Storrow Drive wasn’t rush hour traffic but instead waves.  Really, it does sound like it.  But, in winter the view across the Charles was bleak.  Boston winters were spent indoors, something I wasn’t accustomed to.  I needed better balance.

With an overstuffed UHaul, our dog on the passenger seat and my fish, Butter, sealed in a Tupperware on the dash, we left.  We left Boston on a whim, disappeared from our jobs and went north.  The move was comfortable since we both knew and loved Vermont, but the Vermont we found when we arrived was different and unknown.  We didn’t know anybody.  The familiar faces had left.  We didn’t have jobs.  Really, all we had was an apartment we couldn’t afford and an unwavering debt load.  Our professional futures were looking grim but our life outside the grind was rich.  We kayaked, we swam, we hiked, biked, cooked, celebrated our sunburns and applauded our freedom.  Our dog was happy, we were happy.  We had space, green space at that, and friendly sidewalk smiles.  Suddenly the conversational people we encountered weren’t outrageous drifters but instead our neighbors and fellow residents.  Huh.  Our eyes didn’t dart but instead met a smile or a wave.  Huh.  Our lives were full even if our wallets were empty.

Now our role is to provide that escape, that country experience, to our friends that still live in the cities.  From Philly, to New York to Portland, our friends make the long haul to northern Vermont to spend their weekends with us.  We don’t go out, we stay in.  Our days are wild, while our nights are calm.  With a big breakfast in our bellies we hit the neighboring mountain range for a hike and soothe our achy muscles with a dip n’ sip in a local swimming hole.  When the sun sets we retreat to the house to grill whatever we’ve collected that day and sit by the fire with a local brew.  It’s simple but necessary.  Every weekend I hit the reset button here in Starksboro and rediscover, all over again, why I left it all to move up here.  Sometimes you’ve just got to leave to know a good thing when you’ve got it.

Warren Falls Vermont

Warren Falls with our Portland and Philly crew.

Mount Abraham Lincoln Vermont hike

Mt. Abe in Lincoln with fellow Boston transplants.

Hammaka Hammock in Vermont

Dog time in the hammock with Monica, our fine Portland friend.

Jack Daniels whiskey Lewis Creek Vermont

Post-brunch soak and pre-dinner float.  Tough day.

Lewis Creek Starksboro Vermont

Happy dog.

Alchemist Heady Topper beer in Vermont

Barber may have driven here from Portland just for that beer and I’d understand.

Sailing on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont

Family.  The tug that wouldn’t let us go.  My sister-in-law with her daughter on the 4th of July.  Beautiful moment.

Sailing on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont

The smile that never quits.  Tommy.

Sailing Vermont Lake Champlain

So grateful for this photo.  My niece and I.

Starksboro, Vermont bonfire

Leftover sparklers found their way to the bonfire on a recent weekend.

Sam and Luca leave New York City and find the country

Sam and Luca leave New York City and find the country

Starksboro, Vermont bonfire

One step in cleansing the city from these kids.

Vermont summer bonfire

Snake Mountain Addison Vermont

Luca escapes New York City to take in the view from Snake Mountain during a drizzly day hike.

Emily McManamy self portrait

 Me.  Hammock time.

Thanks all for an unbelievable summer.


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  • Terry Burgee

    Hi Emily- Saw this through Bethany and loved your description of the move back to VT.  It seems many of the “kids” are coming back to their roots and rediscovering what brought their parents here in the first place. Your pictures are gorgeous and capture the essence of summer. Hope you and Tom have found a way to make it all work here.  Terry Burgee

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Terry!  So nice to hear from you.  Beth and I were just joking that this may be the only way I can lure her back to Vermont.  Maybe someday?  Yes, life is good up here and our “quick stopover” 5 years ago has proven to be better than we ever expected.  Have a great rest of the summer!

  • Christian Polidoro

    Great story, Emily. Your full circle journey back to Vermont is a total storybook.  

    • Emily

      Thanks Christian – very, very kind.