Highs, Lows and Epiphanies: A Year in Vermont

On trail crew we have a tradition of “de-briefing”—quite frequently. We gather, circle up, hold hands, and share with our crew the highs, lows and epiphanies we have had throughout the week. We do this in order to keep a constant line of communication open with our peers, but also simply to better know those we are living and working alongside.

Due to Sunday being my last day as an official Vermont resident (at least for a season), my roommates and I, after spending the evening at House of Tang and inhaling a Scorpion Bowl complete with an Everclear volcano—which, by the way, I highly UNrecommend—very traditionally circled up to complete a final debrief.

A year in Vermont, almost to the day: Highs. Lows. Epiphanies.

My low was a lot of things? I laughed as I said this aloud to my roommates, remembering the numerous traffic tickets, the being homeless, the bank card being hacked, the insanely draining new job, the snowboarding injury and the family crisis back home in St. Louis. I suppose the ultimate low was feeling sometimes entirely helpless—not for myself, but for others. I wanted to help my clients. I wanted to help my family. And in both instances I was far, far from able to due to literal and metaphorical distance.

My high? I suppose just as there were many lows there were many highs. My roommates were an absolute high. I have had the privilege of always having incredible co-habitants. In fact, of the fifteen or so I have had in life, I don’t think I can complain of a single one. But Sweet16—wow. From weekly, sometimes nightly roommate dinners to walks to town to Deep Thought Mountain coffee to Gilmore Girls binge watching to endless mancronyms to a house full of love and jam-sessions and work boots and empowered women. . .  life in our apartment really was fantastic and lacking in absolutely nothing.

VYCC was another obvious high, as it is what brought me to Vermont to begin with. And, looking back I realize that big red barn was more “home” to me than my apartment ever was. It was where everything started—my first trail season, my life in Vermont, and community so deeply rooted and long-lasting I don’t know that I’ll find anything like it again.

And the beauty. Vermont is easily the most beautiful place I have ever lived, and probably more than anything else I will miss seeing endless winding rivers every time I drive anywhere. And Vermont maple syrup. . . and Cabot cheese and kind people and not being judged for wearing Carhartts and work boots and no make up when going out on the town.

The highs are infinite.

And lastly but not leastly, my epiphanies.

I learned that I appreciate a challenge and I learned that I am resilient.

An hour or so ago I wandered into an art store in downtown Lewisburg, PA. The owner struck up a conversation with me and asked if I was a student at the local university. I explained that no, in fact, I am simply passing through. I had been living in Vermont for a year and was now headed south.

“So, You were in Vermont for the winter???

I grinned ecstatically and answered that yes in fact, I was.

“Wow. Oh wow. Well good for you. I always know when I meet someone that has survived a Vermont winter they must really be a rugged soul. Good for you.”

Of course, I walked away proudly, having felt I had indeed, conquered the world. A flatlander survived a Vermont winter unscathed. . . mostly.

There were a lot of things I had survived. My first trail crew job. Being homeless. Unemployment. Negative 22 degree mornings complete with frozen nostril hairs. A really, really terrible job in the mental health sector. Being far from family during difficult happenings. Hiking Mt. Ascutney with a twenty-five pound pack and an eighteen pound iron rock bar. . . without my inhaler . . .

There were easy things too. Summer was an easy thing. While my fellow Conservation Crew Leaders spent eight weeks living in tents in the woods with their crews, essentially working sixteen hour days when all was said and done—I worked eight hour days and then went home to my adorable little suburb in Raleigh, North Carolina where I was fed grilled salmon and red wine and spent my evenings taking strolls around the block or watching Netflix with my host family.

I remember texting my friend Ellen as we updated each other on crew life whenever she could find cell phone reception somewhere off the Appalachian Trail. She always had insane stories about her crew life—about how difficult it was. There were endless stories about all of the things going wrong that could possibly go wrong.

And all I could think, while lying in my full size bed, under a roof, snuggled underneath a down comforter was,

Come trade places with me?

I think that was the first time in my entire life that I wanted a challenge.  I do not remember a time, ever, that I desired to do something difficult and wished for it to be so. It has never been a thing for me. People do not generally say of me,

“Oh, that AmyRose—boy does she love a challenge!”

But Vermont taught me that I do.

My summer was full of incredible projects, a “Dream Team” crew, and the best sponsors we could have asked for; I would not change a thing about it. But it made me aware more than ever of how I crave closeness to broken people. My corps members were easy. They were well-educated, hard-working, emotionally and psychologically sound, hilarious young people.

They didn’t need me.

I think the summer I had was the summer I needed. It gave me the trail building, bridge-building, playscape-creating, and sponsor relations experience that will forever be useful in whatever future I pursue. But perhaps more useful than all experience combined was the realization that in order to truly thrive, I need to be challenged. I need to be with the ‘difficult’ humans. The ones that attack me—physically, verbally, emotionally. The ones that come from a past so horrendous you would think it stuff only of movies and not real life.

On a road trip to Boston recently, my friend Jake asked me why I do what I do. Why social work, when there are a plethora of other much more wonderful things I could be doing with my life?

My answer, was “Because I can.”

I explained to Jake that I recognize all people are made of entirely different elements of ability, passion, desire and skill. My skill is that I am good at loving people—specifically the hard to love ones. I have my mother to thank for that—not because she is hard to love, but because I watch her love sometimes the most ridiculously awful and mean and treacherous people there ever were.

In a phone conversation with Jake a month or so ago, as he was assisting me in figuring out just what the heck I was going to do with my life—he mentioned to me that perhaps I was going back to Missouri because it was “safe.” Because of all of the choices I had—wilderness therapy in Utah or Hawaii, Crew Leading in Vermont, or Adventure Therapy Camp back “home”—Missouri was the easiest, so perhaps that is why it is what I chose.

At that point, I had one of those I-am-realizing-this-just-now-as-I-say-it-aloud-to-you moments.

“Missouri is not the safest choice or the easiest choice. It is neither. It is the hardest choice. It is leaving a place that I love to go to a place that I don’t. It is living in a tent. It is working with psychotic and abused and really difficult children. It is going to be hard as hell—that is why I’m doing it.”

Missouri is going to be hard and that is why I am going. Because two years ago when I came back from Korea and got comfortable (see 2014 February: Silver Spoon, Plastic Bowl) I promised myself I would do all that I could to ensure it didn’t happen again. Vermont became comfortable. Too comfortable.

So now I will drive 1,600 miles south to get a life guard certification and a high ropes certification that at this moment, I am not physically capable of getting due to I cannot, in fact, actually swim 300  yards or tie eight different kinds of knots. I will work sixteen-hour days and get paid less than I ever have and I will be, by far, the oldest Camp Guide there. I will be out of my league. I will be lost. I will challenged. I will live in a tent.

And I will thrive.

 Because I am leaving Vermont knowing great Truth. . .

I am strong. I am resilient. I welcome Challenge.