Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Vermont Weekend at Bread Loaf

Bread Loaf at Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont

I've never gone on a writer's retreat. A tiny home office and solitude is all I need. Since my last child left home in September, I now have a surfeit of quiet time. I'm enjoying my productive space, but I miss the sound of kids coming home, telling me about their days, and our protracted family dinners. My husband and I had been counting the days until Middlebury Family Weekend.

By luck of the family housing lottery, I was granted the writer's fantasy of staying at Bread Loaf, the most prestigious/oldest of American literary conferences (but not open to children's authors.) The campus was closed last year for remodeling, and although the floorboards shined under LED lights, Bread Loaf has not lost its Victorian charm. I sipped local cider while reading (Lauren Groff's Fates & Furies) by the fire.

After seeing our room, I could understand why authors and poets compete for time at Bread Loaf. There were two comfortable twin beds and a pair of desks with ergonomic chairs. The twenty rooms on our floor shared two single-sex bathrooms, but I never had to wait for one of the three showers. It felt like being back in college, making new friends (Ada and David) while brushing teeth and chatting in the cafeteria over a hot buffet breakfast. The biggest difference was that everyone was quiet and considerate, except for one woman yakking on her cell phone (who knew that "rustic" could be a swear word?)

This was the view through my screened window. Bread Loaf is located in the Green Mountains National Forest with acres of hiking/ski trails, which we explored on our last morning. All the buildings were painted a butternut squash yellow to fit the autumnal landscape under golden light. Our Brunswick friends, Maria and Conrad, stayed in one of the annex buildings. Our kids went to elementary school together too.

While my husband sat in on Middlebury classes, my son and I hiked up Rattlesnake Cliffs.

The daunting trail name didn't fit the moderately steep four-mile loop past a waterfall (1K feet of elevation.) Rattlesnakes are rare in Vermont, although another hiker warned us of a black bear on the trail.

We didn't see the bear, but we saw plenty of woodpeckers and Silver Lake. The cliff top was an excellent spot for our Noonie's picnic. Colin is planning to return with friends for peak foliage.

Views were spectacular in all directions. Middlebury is in the Champlain valley, ringed by the Great Lake and several mountain ranges. We hiked for 3 1/2 hours, including a leisurely lunch and photo/wildlife stops.

The next day our son took us to Burlington, the biggest city in Vermont (population 40K). We had a delicious lunch at Skinny Pancake, that would be American for sweet and savory crepes. It was worth the half hour long line for the Josh Panda and Nutella & Strawberry crepes. Yum!

After lunch, we strolled along the shore of Lake Champlain, enjoying the 60 degree sunny weather.

From the pier, we watched a sailboat race before a lighthouse and mountains.

The arbored walkways and outdoor cafes reminded me of Quebec. Being Vermont, the busiest store was The Outdoor Gear Exchange. My son had planned a perfect weekend for us. It was hard to leave but easier knowing that our kids are going to a terrific school in a gorgeous location. I'll return in February when our daughter starts Middlebury College after her gap term. Now back to revising my young adult novel...


Stacy said...

Reading, hiking, writing, and quality time with family. Sounds like an amazing weekend, and your photos are lovely.

I'm starting Fates and Furies later today, and I'm excited about it. I hinted very strongly to my husband that I wanted that book for my birthday, and it seems he listened.

Bee said...

Sarah, you do know that you have pretty much described (and pictured) my idea of heaven? At least the rest of us can get a glimpse of New England autumnal bliss through your blog. To be fair, the weather was October's finest on Sunday and I had a nice lunch at the Trout with Camille and a long, long ramble through Port Meadow/Jericho. You always cross my mind when I'm in Wolvercote. Where did the time go, by the way?

thecuecard said...

Wow what a beautiful weekend Sarah. Thanks for sharing this tour and the wonderful photos. What a great school too. I had the neat opportunity and passed through Vermont in August on our way to the White Mountains. We stayed in Montpelier which was a quaint town. Would love to visit more of Vermont someday. Gorgeous on the Lake.

Rose said...

Such a beautiful way to spend the weekend! I had thought maybe this would be the fall my husband and I could finally visit the Northeast, but with my mother's recent health problems, it is not to be. I'll just keep enjoying all your lovely photos of New England at its finest!

Donna said...

What a beautiful place and what a fantastic weekend! It looks like a wonderful place to live and go to school. Your son is quite fortunate!

A Cuban In London said...

What spectacular views. Loved them.

Greetings from London.

Les said...

Vermont must be as beautiful as Maine, and I am astounded that their largest city only has a population of 40K.

Barrie said...

What beautiful pictures! I miss the fall colors. And I loved the photos of your room. Speaking of Nutella....we (Ellen B and Jody F) did a taste test of Nutella produced in Germany vs Nutella produced in Canada (which is probably what you had in your crepes). Then German Nutella won out. But, let's be honest....all Nutella is delicious!

Petra Pavlátková said...

It must have been a great weekend, Sarah! I love the equipment of the rooms, it must be a pleasure to sit by the fireplace, sleep in the beds and enjoy the views! The scenery along the hike looks beautiful. Having been warned of a black bear on the trail… that must have been part of the impression as well!

Sarah Laurence said...

Stacy, I had mixed feeling about Fates and Furies, now that I'm done. We should compare notes.

Bee, you should come visit us in mid October one year to catch the leaves. Failing that, we must meet up for a reunion pint at the Trout when I'm back in the UK.

cue, small world: my son's girlfriend is from Montpelier. It sounds lovely.

Rose, I do hope your mother's health improves. I'm glad my photos help.

Donna, my kids are lucky indeed. Enjoy your little ones!

ACIL, thanks!

Les, our biggest city in Maine is 60K so I was astonished to find a more rural state than mine.

Barrie, now you're making me want Geman Nutella. The stuff in my pantry is Canadian too. I hadn't realized there was a difference.

Petra, we laughed it off but kept talking loudly to avoid startling the bear. Black bears (unlike grizzly bears) aren't usually dangerous, but still. I wouldn't have mind seeing one at a far distance.

cynthia said...

wow--such fantastic photos, especially the blue mountain shot. And what a great weekend all the way around. But Sarah, I can't believe you've never been on a writer's retreat. They really spark my writing; plus I get to see so many cool spots.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, I'd be happy to be invited to one as a published author (fingers crossed). At the moment I have plenty of ideas and write well at home so it's hard to justify paying for a retreat. I'm a bit of writing hermit. I use my travel time as inspiration/novel research. You do make writing retreats sound fun.