Maybe, like me, you endured school essay assignments where you had to compare and contrast something.
Who knew that skill could end up being a useful blogging tool?
Each day as I explore my new environment in Vermont, I can’t help but compare what I experience here to what I knew for the first 48 years of my life living near Seattle, in western Washington state, and more recently, fifteen years in the mountains of Idaho. In so many ways, Vermont reminds me of western Washington. And both of those locales are so different than Idaho. Lots to compare and contrast!
A few examples, in no particular order of importance.
Dog photos. I love that my photos of the boys in Vermont don’t include their bright orange Do Not Hunt Me vests! Instead, it’s dogs being dogs, without fear (by me) of being shot. How cool is that?! Although, Vermont’s hunting season is approaching, so in an abundance of caution and to be safe, the boys will wear their vests for a couple of months.
Dampness. I had forgotten (based on spending my first 48 years in the Seattle area) how bath towels never really dry between daily showers until moving to Vermont. I’m using deck railing as a clothes line for drying wet dog towers and sometimes they don’t completely dry. And morning dew; rare in Idaho, common here. I rarely ended a summer run in Idaho with wet shoes unless I had to cross a creek. Here, simply trekking through the neighbors’ fields any summer morning means soaked shoes because of the dew. Unless I’m running, I wear waterproof boots.
Dog hair. It fluff that the dogs naturally shed doesn’t just drift to the floor here, eventually swept or vacuumed away as it was in Idaho. No, in Vermont it also clings – to me, to my clothes, to towels, to anything dampened by moisture in the air. I even found some clinging to a refrigerator shelf; I’m sure it was transferred from my hand.
Pretzels. I love pretzels, especially Snyder’s Pretzel Rods (I’m addicted). I go through a package of pretzel rods every few days. (I was once accused by a boyfriend of living on “baked air” because of my addictions to pretzels, saltines, and bread.) In Idaho, I would leave the package open in a kitchen cabinet, reaching in to take two or three when I wanted them. No hassle. But in Vermont, the pretzel roads soak up the moisture in the air if I don’t keep the package closed. I don’t like soggy pretzels. I do like soft pretzels, the type you can find at bakeries or county fairs. Soggy pretzel rods are not the same, not by a long shot.
(An aside: I’m happy to report that cheap wine, the kind that comes in a box, tastes just a good in Vermont as it did in Idaho. Damp air has no ill effects.)
Salt. I’ve used a restaurant-style salt shaker with small holes in top for years. In Idaho, it resided on a kitchen counter for easy access. I add salt to everything, so I like having it handy. (Salt is one of a few things that helps with my “quart low of CSF” headaches, increasing fluid retention and decreasing dehydration.) After arriving in Vermont, I put my salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen counter, just as before. But within days, I noticed the salt was clumping inside the shaker. I was banging the shaker on the kitchen counter to loosen the salt before shaking and even then, the salt often clogged the holes in its effort to be added to my food. Apparently, you can put a few grains of rice in with the salt and they’ll absorb the moisture, keeping the salt dry and solving this issue. But when I mentioned the salt issue to neighbors at a dinner, the next day one dropped off a canister of sea salt that she finds at Costco, saying it was an extra. The canister has its own salt grinder built into the lid, which can be resealed after each use to keep moisture out. Problem solved! And the sea salt is much yummier than Morton’s table salt. I really do have great neighbors.
Floors. The Vermont house has wood laminate floors in every room except the bathroom, where there’s some sort of tile. It’s way too easy to see dirt/sand/dog hair/dog drool on smooth, shiny floors as opposed to the gray textured concrete floors of my Idaho house. And dog drool (mostly water right after Conall drinks out of the bowl) takes forever to evaporate from the floors here, where in Idaho it disappeared within minutes in the dry air. Solution: I have a couple of old hand towels that reside on the floor. Using my foot, I slide them over any dog drool I see, “mopping” it up between real moppings. On the plus side, these smooth floors are way easier to mop and vacuum than the textured concrete floors in Idaho. So,there’s that.
Lawn mowing. During Idaho summers, if there was a morning fog, or overnight rain (rare), all I had to do was wait until after noon and the grass would be complete dry for mowing. In Vermont, I don’t think my lawn has been completely dry since I arrived in early July. Seriously. Granted, July was the wettest in Vermont’s history, and August has had its fair share of rain, and high humidity as well (meaning lots of dew every morning), but even by late afternoon on a sunny day there’s still moisture in the grass. Moisture = growth, and my lawn loves to grow. It’s a significant bit of lawn, which is a feature of rural homes here; huge swaths of grass, mowed using riding mowers. I’m doing a lot of mowing, which thankfully I don’t mind. It find mowing to be a mix of mental challenge (how to mow the oddly-shaped yard and spaces most efficiently, taking into consideration the electric cord and avoiding having to move it out of the way any more than absolutely necessary), creative outlet (letting my mind wander as I move and mow), and a nice sense of accomplishment when I’m done.
Soon after arriving in Vermont, I purchased a battery-operated mower because I wasn’t sure the hundred-foot cord on my old electric would reach the farthest part of my back yard and frankly, the cord is a bit tiresome. The first time I “fired” up the new battery mower, I loved it – quieter, lighter, and with a sharp blade, it cut the grass nicely. But then it quit after fifteen minutes. Baffled – the online info said the battery had a life of 50 minutes per charge – I recharged it, which took a long time. The next day when I tried to mow, it quit after ten minutes. When I mentioned this on my personal Facebook page, wondering if I had a defective battery, a few friends responded that if the grass was at all wet, that would “suck” the energy of the battery because it’s harder to cut, making the mower work harder. I recharged the batter and waited to try one last time, on grass that was as dry as I’d seen it (but not completely dry because, well, it’s never been completely dry since I moved in). Again, all I got was ten minutes of power. So disappointed. Maybe these battery-powered mowers should come with a warning, “Not suitable in Vermont or other humid and damp locations.” I had also purchased a weed whacker that can use the same battery, so I’m going to do one last test, thinking the weed whacker shouldn’t be slowed significantly by damp weeds. If that battery test fails, then I’ll return them all.
In the meantime, my old corded electric mower is cutting damp grass like a champ, never complaining, always reliable. I feel like a traitor; why did I ever worry she couldn’t do the job well enough? “Newest, greatest, latest” isn’t always best.
Tootsie Rolls. For years I’ve been in the habit of eating a couple of “Midgees” size Tootsie Rolls first thing every morning, chased by the diet Dr. Pepper I drink all day (again, in part because it helps with my low CSF; caffeine stimulates the production of CSF and I don’t like or drink coffee). Then I dress for that morning’s run or walk. If it’s needing to happen that morning, I hit the bathroom and “clear the pipes” before heading out the door. So much nicer than having to deal with that issue in the woods! (The runners reading this will understand. Most of them get the same effect from their first cup of coffee. The rest of you may consider this TMI (too much information). Sorry. And yes, I see the humor/irony is using Tootsie Rolls, which already look like animal turds, to stimulate bowel movements.)
In Idaho, I had a pretty ceramic bowl on my kitchen counter where the Tootsie Rolls resided. Upon arriving in Vermont, I set the bowl on my new kitchen counter and filled it with a newly-purchased bag of Tootsie Roll Midgees. The first couple of days, all was well. Then, I started noticing the Midgees were slightly melted, sticking to their waxed-paper wrappers when I opened them. Damn humidity strikes again. Once this current supply is gone, I’ll put the bowl and a newly-opened package of Midgees in the ‘fridge, see if that improves things. One plus: I’m eating less Midgees because their current state of meltedness is unappealing.
Hair. Mine is thicker and softer since moving to Vermont, and there’s no static electricity or flyaway hair as I experienced with Idaho’s dry air. I’ve noticed that Finn’s fur is much fluffier and softer as well, with added curls. Conall’s fur is about the same.
Houseplants. I managed to bring five small houseplants with me from Idaho, in the car; no plant would have survived the three-week trip in the shipping container. I find they aren’t as thirsty in Vermont. The spider plant is thriving. We’ll see if the three Christmas cactuses bloom on schedule (November-December), and the African violet bloom anytime soon.
Lightning and thunder storms, and dramatic clouds. Storms are just as close and loud as they were in Idaho, with similar short, but intense, gully-washing downpours, even hail. The difference: in Vermont I don’t worry about the lightning sparking a new wildfire in the forest nearby. Bonus: just as in Idaho, I often see billowing piles of cumulonimbus clouds against the sky, beautiful in their formations and always reminding me of my father.
Ceiling fans in bathrooms. In Idaho, I discovered bathroom ceiling fans were superfluous (unless you’re really odoriferous). In Vermont, like Seattle, they’re critical because steam from the shower coupled with natural high humidity in the air means incredibly moist air where nothing dries quickly, if at all. To avoid mold growing on surfaces, I now run the bathroom fan and keep it running long after I’m done showering.
Dehumidifiers. Early in my search for a house in Vermont, I saw listing photos of basements with boxy appliances of some sort that I learned were dehumidifiers. I was told they were common in Vermont, especially in basements where water often intrudes, especially in the spring when the snow is melting and there’s lots of rain as well. The ground gets saturated and all that water goes where it wants. Upon arriving at my new home, the first thing I noticed when entering into the “old” part of the house was light smell of mildew. (See more about mildew below.) My realtor and inspector had made me aware of water intruding through the concrete foundation in the basement under the old portion of the house, so I wasn’t surprised. I ordered a dehumidifier. Instructions say to not use an extension cord, yet the cord it comes with is only about five feet long. I lugged it into the basement, only to discover that there is only one electrical outlet down there, already occupied by the water pump and the UV light water purifier. I think there’s an electrician in my future. It’s always something.
Mildew. In Idaho, there was no such thing as mildew in the house. It’s just too dry. But growing up in western Washington, with all its rain and moderate humidity, it wasn’t uncommon to encounter the smell of mildew. If mildew is really bad, you see it, a white powdery fungus growing on some surfaces, like walls (in bathrooms), fabric, plants or paper. I had relatives and friends who were “liveaboards” – people living full time or for parts of the year on their boats. Their clothing and the interior living spaces of their boats always smelled of mildew because there was no escaping the moisture.
When I was about four years old my parents bought a 1940s cabin on a lake outside Seattle. For the next few years, we would spend entire summers there. That’s when I became familiar with the smell of mildew; it permeated the interior of the cabin, its wood surfaces, curtains, and furniture, and we kids kept adding more moisture after spending all day in the water, swimming and water skiing, bringing our wet bathing suits and towels back up to the cabin. I have many happy memories of those summers. Eventually the cabin was purposefully burned (a training exercise for the local volunteer fire department) so that a year-round house could be built in its place. No more mildew smell. Until, upon first arriving at my new home in Vermont and stepping into the old part of the house. The smell of mildew was the first thing I noticed. I was instantly transported back to those childhood summers, both by the smell of mildew and by the appearance of the rooms, especially the cabinetry. The old “cottage” or “cabin” part of the house was built in 1957, so it’s incredibly similar in style and materials to that cabin on the lake. (See previous post for photos of this “old” part of the house.) But, as nice as it was to have those childhood memories sparked, I really don’t like the smell of mildew. Thankfully, the “new” section of house is free of mildew. I hope – assuming I can find an electrician to add an outlet to the basement under the old part of the house so I can run the dehumidifier – that before too long I can eliminate most of the mildew smell on that side, although I suspect it will always be there to some extent.
Sense of smell. In Idaho’s dry air, outings into the forest rarely engaged my sense of smell unless Conall found some stinky animal bones or the wild roses were blooming. In Vermont, the vegetation – so lush, so thick – is an olfactory smorgasbord, especially in the evening after the day’s sun and/or warmth. The rounds of hay that are wrapped in white plastic, awaiting transport, are especially pungent, in a good way; a sweet, grassy smell that manages to escape the plastic (see feature photo). When we move through a stand of trees, there’s a different smell that says damp leaves and tree bark, a heavier scent I can’t describe. And as we walk along the local roads, I can smell the sweet scent of clover. Other blooming wildflowers add their own subtle perfume to the air. I’m beginning to understand how fun it must be for the boys to be outside, sniffing all the scent molecules wafting in the air, reading them for information. I remember from my years in the Seattle area that soon, as the leaves drop and decay on the ground, there will be another distinctive smell portending the change of seasons from fall to winter.
Road signs. Instead of the ubiquitous “Deer crossing” signs of Idaho’s highways, in Vermont one sees “Moose crossing” signs. I’ve never hit a deer – despite coming close a couple times in Idaho – and I really, really hope I never hit a moose. Or a deer.
Slugs and snails. I grew up with slugs, big “banana” slugs that are native to the Pacific Northwest, their antenna slowing moving, searching the air around them as they slowly move toward whatever garden flower or vegetable you most prize. They and the other large slugs living in the PNW are the type that leave a silver sheen of slime in their path. I even (I’m ashamed to admit) as a child put salt on them (encouraged by parents who didn’t want them in garden), watching in fascination as they almost instantly shriveled up and died from dehydration. More than once I nearly lost my balance when running down a mountain trail in the PNW, foot landing on an unseen slug and sliding. And occasionally, falling on a trail, I would put my hand out to break the fall, only to smash a slug under my palm. Trust me, the resulting slimy mess is not easy to get rid of on the woods; any natural object you use to try to wipe it off – tree trunk, branch, leaves, soil – just adheres to the slime on your hand, making it dirty and sticky. So, I was happy to discover there were no slugs in the high, dry Idaho mountains. I didn’t miss them a bit.
In Vermont, I’m seeing lots of tiny slugs in my lawn. Or sometimes crawling up the side of the house or a window screen. Recently, re-coiling the lawnmower’s hundred-foot electric cord after another damp mow, my left hand reaching out along the cord to guide it to my right hand holding each new loop, I twice hit a tiny slug on the cord, along for the ride. Yuck! I’d truly forgotten how icky slugs feel on hands or feet, so soft and slimy. At least in Vermont they’re smaller than in western Washington.
Sometimes on Washington trails I encountered huge numbers of small snails, like they’d all been born at once and were suddenly on the move. I suppose particular conditions led to their appearance en masse. But they were hard to avoid on the trail, and when I couldn’t, I would hear their shells crunch under my running shoe. I hated that! But it was unavoidable for the week or two they appeared, given their numbers. Here in Vermont, I was intrigued to see really tiny snails come out in similarly vast numbers after an overnight drenching in early July. They covered the road near my house, going…where? A mystery to me, and maybe to them as well. But the next (drier) day, they were gone, except for those that had been crushed by a foot or vehicle tire.
Daddy longlegs, earwigs and other insects. House flies are the same irritant in Vermont as everywhere I’ve lived. So far in Vermont, I haven’t seen any stink bugs but they might be seasonal, like they were in Idaho, so I’ll remain vigilant. I did find one very large beetle in my house, though; he got a ride outside to the lawn.
I’m becoming reacquainted with two insects that were common when I lived near Seattle: daddy longlegs and earwigs. They’re mostly on the outside of the house but sometimes find their way inside. They’re both harmless, but…ick!
On the plus side, I now live in the path of Monarch butterfly migration. I saw my first one a few days ago, and two more this morning. So big, so pretty, and amazingly agile fliers.
Dirt roads. Rural roads are a mix of paved and unpaved. In Idaho, the unpaved roads maintained by the county were dirt with some loose gravel added on top. They were regraded to smooth out potholes on an irregular basis. Potholes and washboards were a regular aggravation (and hard on vehicles), so winter snow was always a welcome cover, smoothing the ride. My Idaho house was on one such county-maintained gravel road, and in such a dry climate with little rain, the dust generated in summer from that road was awful. Huge dust clouds billowed behind every vehicle driving up or down the road, and much of that dust would find its way into my house, especially if the breeze was right. Another reason I loved Idaho’s winters and snow – no dust!
So far, the “dirt” roads I’ve seen in Vermont are mostly densely-compacted sand with a light dollop of small-sized gravel on top. The rain and humidity prevent any dust, even when a vehicle goes whizzing by. The surface is excellent not only for driving, but walking, running, and cycling, as there aren’t any big chunks of gravel to irritate human or dog toes and hardly any potholes. Now that I’ve seen what Vermont’s back roads look like, I’m considering getting a “gravel” bike (narrower tires than a mountain bike, but wider than a road bike) so I can explore more of them that way.
Sense of direction (related to roads). It has taken me way longer than usual to gain a sense of direction – north, south, east, west – here in Vermont. Early on, arriving at my house, I was sure I was looking south off my deck, only to learn I was looking north. So strange, like my brain is off-kilter somehow. Part of the problem is that in Vermont, straight roads are rare, whereas in Idaho, that was the norm, making it easy to know which direction you were traveling. In Vermont, a road that’s designated “215 East” may well meander north, and south, on its way to – ultimately – some destination eastward. And, because the terrain is so rolling and covered in trees, I can’t find distant landmarks to help me orient along the way. Idaho’s roads, like those in Washington, tend to be laid on a grid, making it easier to know which which you’re traveling. I’ve made many a wrong turn since moving to Vermont, trying to get somewhere, but hey, that’s the best way to learn my way around, right?
Cattle. I may have written in a blog post about how the yearling beef cattle in the pastures near my home in Idaho enjoyed taunting my dogs as we’d walk the adjacent country road. I certainly posted about them on my personal Facebook page because the cattle were photogenic and, while irritating at times, I knew they were bored and just messing with us in a playful way. In Vermont, I don’t see a lot of beef cattle; mostly I see dairy cows, supporting the many creameries. Regardless of type – beef or dairy – so far, the few that we’ve passed on walks don’t taunt the boys. In fact, they show only the mildest form of curiosity as they continue chewing the grass, watching us from where they’re standing in their pasture. Conall is confused by this behavior. He’s on alert, ready and waiting for the cows to approach us, but they don’t. Except one time when a very young cow, new to a pasture, saw us walking by and came running toward the fence as if greeting long-lost friends. That got both boys in an uproar, barking and rearing at the ends of their leashes to fend off what they were sure was an attack by an evil cow! I was glad the landowner wasn’t out and about to witness the kerfuffle.
Forests. I’ll surely visit this topic in more depth later, but for now, let’s just say that in Idaho forests, you can see through the trees. In Vermont, you can’t; too lush, too much undergrowth.
Deer. On August 5th, while walking with the boys through the neighbors’ fields and forest early one morning, Conall saw a buck emerge from a line of trees across a big open field. I followed his gaze and was surprised to watch the buck slowly walk right toward us. It was clear he saw us, but he didn’t seem alarmed at all, just curious. I quickly put Finn on leash, but left Conall off, just kept saying “Stay, stay….” Finn was confused why I put him on leash until he noticed Conall’s keen interest in something up ahead. By this point the buck decided to change course a bit, but he was still out in the open. As soon as Finn spotted the deer, he started lunging at the end of the leash. That movement caused Conall to “join the chase” by starting toward the deer, and me to drop my phone. Conall did stop (otherwise you would have heard a lot of yelling by me on the video), but the commotion – Finn lunging, Conall approaching – was enough to convince the buck to pick up his pace and leave the area, accompanied by Finn’s loud barking.
I hope that video made you laugh as much as it did me.
In Idaho, no deer in the forest would have ever approached us the way that buck did. In fact, I didn’t see that many deer in Idaho’s forest because they would usually hear us coming and disappear into the trees before we got too close. More often, I heard the cracking of branches and the “thump, thump” their hooves made on the ground as they leaped to safety. Where I frequently did see them, however, was in my field, as small family groups made their way from one section of the forest to another, using my lot and those of neighbors as a shortcut. Those white-tailed deer were always cautious, though. If Finn started barking from inside my fenced yard, they would high-tail it (literally; their eponymous white tails flying and waving high over their butts as they leaped and ran). After the encounter with the Vermont buck, I worried that the local deer would taunt us, just like the Idaho cattle, but the next two times I saw a deer near tree line on our morning walk through the fields, it quietly disappeared before either dog saw it. Whew.
I share these observations not to pass judgment on any one location, or to think one better than another, but instead to simply note the differences I’ve experienced. It’s all good, in my view. Life is about growth, change, and new experiences. I’m learning as I go!
Feature image: boys in the neighbors’ field, newly-wrapped hay rounds on the right, tractor ready to spread manure on the left.