Photo Essay: A Vermont Summer
by Stephanie Choate
Here in northern New England, the weather is notoriously fickle. Winter is long—a record snowstorm blanketed the state in late April this year—and spring and fall are riddled with raw and rainy days. But for those few months when the world is green, temperatures warm, and the days unbelievably long, we are all convinced that there is no better time and place than summer in Vermont.
Having grown up here, we look forward to certain things each season, and these things have become traditions. We frequent the same swimming holes, hike the same trails, grill the same favorite meals. This summer, our last in Vermont for a while, we wanted to make sure we carried out all of our traditions, as well as do some new things we’ve always had in mind.
Here are a few highlights of our summer in and around Vermont—we think we can call it an incredible success.
In May, fiddleheads pop up by the thousands along this path, eventually unfurling into a blanket of ferns. Fried in butter, they are a tasty reminder that summer is almost here!
Lake Champlain— though decidedly not a Great Lake—is a major part of our identity in this corner of the state.
Wind and waves are common on the long lake, but late May brought one of those rare evenings where the lake was glass. It felt like we could have paddled across to the New York shoreline with no effort at all. Instead, our route took us from McNeil Cove in Charlotte south into Converse Bay and around Garden Island. We hugged the coastline for most of the way; shale cliffs loomed above us, dotted with twisted cedars that seemed to grow right out of the rocks. On the return trip, the paddling was so easy and the evening so pleasant that we looped up around the lonely outpost of Sloop Island and still beat the last ferry back to shore.
The Winooski is a perfect kayaking river, each new bend bringing a classic Vermont vista. The river floats lazily along most of the time, with a few easy rapid sections to keep things interesting. Just try not to swallow too much of the water, since it flows through miles of farmland!
Flowing into the Winooski, the Huntington River is its complete opposite. Clear, fast and rocky, its many deep pools make ideal swimming holes.
Dugway Road parallels the Huntington, and cars cram into anything that remotely resembles a parking spot, including ditches and people’s yards, at the popular holes. There are normally a few people at our usual spot, but on the hottest Friday afternoon of the summer, we were surprised to have one of our favorite places in Vermont all to ourselves.
The perfect jumping rock!
If you stand still on the rocks long enough, minnows appear to nibble your toes and legs.
On long July days the sun hits certain rocks until well into the evening, allowing us to spend hours after work alternately soaking up the rays and cooling off in the water.
Lake Iroquois has an unusually high number of motorboats for such a small lake, and just one heavily-used public access point. Our roommates led us on a serpentine route through old summer camps to a spot at the end of the lake where we found ourselves all alone. A small concrete dam nestled between private camps and docks proved to be a perfect spot to cool off on a hot summer day! It seems like everyone in Vermont has their own secret places and favorite traditions.
An ideal Fourth of July: good friends, food, beer, and weather. The Richmond Bridge was a great vantage point from which to watch the fireworks. The cool breeze from the river eased the balmy temperatures that even nightfall hadn’t done much to abate.
Moss carpets the rocks in this series of pools at Honey Hollow, watered by the constant mist of small waterfalls. In the shade all day and running straight down from Camels’ Hump, this stream is always icy.
Running the length of the state, the Green Mountains offer a variety of hiking trails, from easy rambles to arduous daylong climbs. This section of the Long Trail on the north side of Camel’s Hump is shady escape from the summer sun.
We camped at one of the water-access sites on Lower Saranac Lake with our friends Cam and Callie, and spent two days canoeing around, swimming, drinking heavily and relaxing.
Our steel canoe was enough of a tank that the waves from numerous motorboats didn’t bother us. Except for a few panicked moments when we were parallel to a massive and rapidly approaching wake and someone was suffering from slow reaction time and a natural inability to steer. To be fair, most of the blame falls on Mr. Cuervo from the night before.
Best summed up by the words of our good friend Sam, who grew up here but recently sold his nature-loving soul for money and now lives and works in Washington DC: “I think this is the life and you are living it.” We love you Sam!
It’s also great to leave our landlocked state behind for a change of scenery and head to the ocean. At the end of July, we took a camping trip to Hermit Island near Bath, Maine, where Nathan’s family spent time every summer while he was growing up. Although we didn’t know each other then, my family always went to Camp Seguin, a now-closed campground just a few miles away.
Paddling along the inlets and islands of Maine’s intricate coastline, we got a glimpse of the day-to-day routines of people who take their livings from the ocean. His boat docked at a small wharf, a man went through his morning’s crab catch. The lucky undersized crabs were pitched over the side, many of them hitting the wooden piling with a thwack. A teenage girl in yellow waders powered a fishing boat out of its mooring at top speed, dodging several other boats by a few feet—obviously not her first time behind the wheel.
Through most of the season, Flag Island is an off-limits bird sanctuary. Assorted sea birds I wish I could identify swept across the island, and a pair of ospreys watched us warily from their nearby perch.
After heading down a wooded path on the quiet side of Hermit Island, we were the only ones watching the sunset in this little cove.
A quintessential Maine scene: a lobster boat checks traps one last time before the sun sets.
Unfortunately, the solitude meant we were the only dinner option for a voracious cloud of mosquitoes. Also unfortunately, we forgot to bring a flashlight with us, and had to make our way back up the questionable path with only the light of one cell phone.
At low tide on the nearby Popham Beach, we clambered across to Fox Island, which is cut off from the shore when the tide returns.
For some reason we have never been able to work out, one section of Popham Beach is always strewn with thousands of tiny square pieces of driftwood. Why? Is there a wood-chip factory around the corner? A sunken ship being bashed to bits just offshore?
After work toward the end of the summer, Nathan and Cam took an evening hike up Mount Mansfield to watch the sun set and the full moon rise. I was stuck in a meeting and seething with jealousy.
Looking south down the summit ridge to the rest of the Green Mountains.
The lake glows silver and the mountains change colors as the sun sets over the Adirondacks.
Despite having a wonderful summer and the pictures to remember it by, there is never enough time to check off everything on our list. When fall and winter arrive, it always seems like they just left. But maybe summer here is so nice because it is so short, making it a treasured time that we never take for granted.
We’d gladly take a few more months, though!