The thawing back roads are a mess – rutted, soupy, pot-holed – but I drive them anyway, in part for the challenge, and in part because the back roads of Vermont are where I’m most comfortable, where I can watch the part of the world and the way of life I know and understand best unfurl beside me. The listing barns and haggard cows of the few remaining hill farms, less prosperous by the day, the trailer homes with mechanical detritus slowly spawning through the receding snow, the newer homes (or the tastefully restored older ones) of those retired or with town jobs, the ones that pay decent money, health benefits, 401k. I won’t lie: Sometimes I want one of those jobs. Then a long line of roadside maples warted by sap buckets, one tree after another, sentinel in their bearing. I crest a hill, and in the trough below me there’s a mini-van, rusted and weary looking, buried in mud to its axles, the driver standing fender-side in the road. He’s older than me, baseball-hatted and looking weary as his van, stoop-shouldered and skinny. I stop and roll my window down, say damn, sorry, wish I could help (I’m driving our little low-slung, two-wheel-drive car, as useless to his predicament as a screen door on a submarine), and he smiles, shrugs those stooped shoulders, says it’s ok. Someone’ll be along.
And he’s right. Someone will.