A visionary sat on a Vermont mountaintop and imagined a long trail traveling the length of the state, a path over the Green Mountain ridge, that would draw others to come see the inspiring beauty in front of him.
In 1910 James P. Taylor, an educator, shared his dream with 20 or so others in Burlington, Vermont, and together they formed the Green Mountain Club. Taylor’s vision got real.
Two decades later the Long Trail, running from the Massachusetts/Vermont state line all the way to Canada, completed its 272-mile route. It became the country’s first long-distance hiking trail. Because of one man’s vision and a group of like-minded individuals, people from all over the world get to walk mile after mile through pristine forests and over picturesque peaks.
Even the famed Appalachian Trail owes its existence to Taylor’s vision. It’s said the Long Trail inspired America’s longest footpath, the AT, which travels from Georgia to Maine.
With a shared vision of building a path for people to get outside and enjoy nature, the Green Mountain Club and Appalachian Trail Conservancy found common ground. In fact, the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail literally share at least 100 miles through the state of Vermont before the AT heads east and the Long continues north.
Learning about the Long Trail’s history inspired me, but walking and climbing there myself truly made me fall in love with Vermont and Vermonters. Warm and fuzzy feelings extended to everything from that first visionary to those Green Mountain trailblazers and builders to all things Vermont.
Cabot cheese, maple syrup, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, excellent craft beer, Darn Tough socks…with so much awesomeness, I couldn’t imagine anything casting shade on my newfound northern travel love. And then I went to get a new set of tires at Walmart.
I volunteered for the duty. Daniel had work to do. Besides, all I had to do was drop the car off and kill time walking around a big box store. No problem.
What I didn’t expect was a waiting room filled to capacity with others. My wait would be “some time” but I’d hear my name over the loud speaker when they were done. Surveying the room, no one looked especially tourist-friendly so without a second glance, I left the Auto Care crowd and headed to the farthest corner of the store.
I’d brought a list of items to buy. Aisle after aisle I checked things off. Finishing my to-do list, I spent time admiring the Pioneer Woman’s wares. I even contemplated the purchase of all new cookware, but decided against it.
After an hour without a shout out from Jeff in Auto, I reluctantly headed back to the waiting area to sit down.
Only two people remained. The elderly gentleman who’d been in front of me in line now paced the hall on his phone. The woman who came in after me sat with her full grocery cart blocking the path to the other five seats. With no choice I sat next to her.
I glanced her way and smiled. Her legs rested on the side of the cart while her face hid in a magazine. If there was another sign that she didn’t want me bothering her, I can’t imagine what it was. With no one to talk to I picked up my phone and scrolled through the news.
The elderly guy wrapped up his phone call and headed in my direction. “Oh, did I take your seat?” I asked. The gal next to me looked up and immediately went back to her Southern Living.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I prefer to stand. I’ve been sitting for far too long.”
His statement interested me and when I asked why he’d been sitting too long our conversation was off and running. Over the next several minutes he told me the story of his oldest grandson’s death. He shared the details of it all. The loss. The tragedy. I don’t know how many times I said, “I’m so sorry.”
Silence filled the waiting room. I think everyone listened and felt heartache for this man’s family.
When he changed the subject I went right with him and soon we laughed about his first experience driving a hybrid car.
“I hit the button. Nothing. I hit the button again. Nothing. Do you know I hit that button half a dozen times before I realized it was on? I think the speedometer said 30 or 40 mph before I even heard the engine.” I had tears in my eyes from laughing.
“My wife decided that when she starts a car she wants to hear the engine roar, so no more hybrids for us!” he finished the story. Even Jeff in Auto guffawed.
I asked him about Vermont things and as he answered another voice chimed in. Looking to my left the woman who’d been completely blocking herself off had changed her posture. The magazine was closed. She’d relaxed in her chair and made space in the aisle in front of her.
The three of us continued chatting. Remarkably we each had a bear story to tell. They were also gracious in offering advice on favorite local diners and special trails they’d visited.
The two of them shared similar feelings about disliking winter in Vermont, but couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Soon I found myself merely listening to the two strangers and marveling at their many shared experiences. They had so much in common.
Jeff in Auto called my name and as I left my chair, the woman invited the gentleman to sit down next to her. The gesture made me smile. She’s opening up, I thought. Good for her.
Before leaving, I popped my head around the corner to say goodbye. The two of them were talking and only stopped for a moment to wave at me.
Walking to my car, I thought about James P. Taylor. His vision as he sat on a mountaintop was a trail that would bring the people of Vermont–and around the world–to a special place. Taylor knew that if others saw what he saw they would work together to value and protect it. He just needed to cast the vision about making a way.
As much as I value nature, for me it’s about people. If I can only see people from a higher vantage point….
I honestly believe we all have a valuable story to tell. I also believe our shared experiences far outweigh our differences. But someone needs to cast the vision. Someone needs to blaze the trail.
There are beautiful sights worth investing in. Sometimes they’re seen from a mountaintop, and sometimes all it takes is a trip to Walmart.