“Would you ever consider moving to Vermont with me?”
The first time I asked my wife Ang this question was a long time ago. We were living in Seattle, not married yet, still dabbling in “what if?” scenarios for the future. We were at a serious stage in our relationship, already living together in our sweet, tiny, best-we-could-afford bungalow on the outer-edge of North Seattle. I might have been surfing Vermont real estate websites, or maybe I had just gotten off the phone with my mom. What I know for sure is that the question came from somewhere deep inside me, somewhere that knew Ang and I were headed for long term commitment and that I wanted to raise a family with her. For me, “raising a family” and Vermont have always been inextricably linked in my heart of hearts.
“Probably not. I would miss my mom.”
So we moved along in our sweet life in Seattle, surrounded by our family of friends as expansive as the extensive network of parks, trails, waterways, and beaches that we frequented with our lab, Carbon, to feed the part of each of us that needs green spaces and fresh air. In 2010, we had a beautiful wedding on the rocky beach of Lincoln Park, right next to the ferry dock on a drizzly, gorgeous Seattle November day. Over the next few years we changed jobs and cell phone providers and brands of whole-grain organic non-GMO bread. We took a meditation class, traveled to Ang’s native Kauai, saw each other through surgery and lay-offs and went to Disney World. Then we decided to have kids and got down to the elaborate business that lesbian couples take up to have kids. When I got pregnant with the twins, I felt it again: that gravitational pull toward my family and my home of Vermont.
What’s weird is that I love Seattle. I make sense there. I’m an outdoorsy, left-leaning lesbian Social Worker with a penchant for Indian Food and quirky independent films. I’m practically invisible there since there are so many of people like me in the greater Puget Sound region. I moved there for grad school in 2000, built a successful career and professional network, and made the kind of friends you would bury a body for. The life that Ang and I were living was fun, happy, comfortable and fulfilling. So what is it that pulls Vermonters back from other wonderful places?
This story is not my story alone. Many of my generation of VT natives went boldly out into the world seeking new shores. We wanted to travel, go to school, see something beyond the borders of our tiny towns. I was lucky enough to find a place that I loved to be, one that allowed me a dynamic urban life, the opportunity to come out as gay in a safe, supportive and vibrant LGTBQ community, and to become the professional I wanted to be. And here I was, wanting to walk away from that, wife in tow, and plant myself and my babies-to-be in a drafty farmhouse on a dirt road next to the wood stove for the duration.
I feel what it is that pulls us, but it is hard to put it into words. Vermont is beautiful, but there are many beautiful places. It’s “family friendly”, but there’s plenty of that too. What calls us back is a “Vermont-ness”, a certain synthesis of all the best things we want for our children’s childhood: safety, rich community life, meaningful cultural experiences, unspoiled natural beauty, a collective ethic of inter-dependence nuanced by independent thinking and close family ties. I wish there was a word that could transmit the true sense of what “Vermont-ness” is to the uninitiated, because it’s hard to explain to all those friends back in Seattle (not to mention Ang’s mom) why we packed up our 10 month olds last fall and shipped out.
The simplest thing I can say is: I feel like I can walk barefoot in the grass here. In Seattle, and every other place I’ve ever been, I don’t walk barefoot. I am wary of broken glass, spoiled food, soil soaked in pollutants from traffic run-off, and all other things that urban and suburban places–heavily-populated and anonymous–host in their green spaces. For me, walking barefoot is like a litmus test for contentedness. I want C and B to grow up walking barefoot.
After our trip this summer, during which we all walked, played, rolled and lounged in the grass, Ang came to me and said, “I think I want to move to Vermont.” It felt right, it felt necessary, to bring our family here. We miss our people and places in Seattle, but the babies are walking now and each day of this long snowy winter we get closer to walking barefoot in the grass as a family.