One sight of the mountains left me unraveled. From the lookout point of a college library, Lake Champlain drifts in sapphire ripples, cut with jagged white sprays of collision. Perched over the water, the Adirondacks rise like sentries. A vision of blues mimicking sky and sea, a cadence of peaks layered on top of one another that ribbon along the horizon. Interrupted only by pompadour domes decorating the tops of the campus buildings, the view is endless. And after my first look, I was hypnotized.
Whatever the reason for returning, with every visit to Burlington, Vermont I’m caught in a romantic swell. It’s less a backdrop, more a featured character in the charades of any given trip. The state’s largest city enjoys the pleasures of outdoorsy urbanity–for a lot of us, a utopia of sorts. The best of both worlds. Swept up in mountain air, drizzled in a feathery light friendliness that maybe only an environment of duality can foster, the city unfurled in its easy, unpretentious way. It unfurled me, too.
Burlington serves up heavy “mood” as an earthy crunchy, flannel slinging, craft beer aficionado hideaway drenched in a sultry indoor-outdoor blend that offers something for everyone. Even a road trip there creates my playlist for me: indie, chill, the musical prowess that the mountains are made of. It’s an aesthetic that appears organically and tries to tuck itself into your soul for later.
I first visited at twenty one, recently back from a semester abroad and chasing those fleeting moments of now more fervently than ever. Amid concrete hills shaded by re-blossoming trees and local cafes, I reconnected with friends. The city found me toting my longing eyes over artisan and homespun goods shops; eating Ben & Jerry’s from the original source, laughing as a sign for Cherry Garcia Street came into view; reliving old days in new bars; inhaling too much liquor and hoping a maple latte the next morning would fix everything. We were legal alcohol consumers, and a good friend and I paired wine responsibly with treats at My Little Cupcake. It was April, and a group of us sat by the waterfront and watched the sky collapse in a parachute of color: azure, tangerine, peach, lavender.
Then I’d come for a boy, drifting through a town now tinted rose and studying blankets of snow from his arms. He taught me how to snowboard, we shared wood-oven pizza over mingled laughter and nerves, and I savored the way Burlington’s bitter cold felt so comforting. As the mountains blurring state lines rushed away from me, I was already eager to go back.
That story ended, but I still (frequently) sought out Burlington. For flights of Citizens Cider straight from the source; for wooden mugs emblazoned with various carvings of Joe Biden’s face; for farmers markets lined with rows of organic meat and maple lemonade; for jazz festivals; for samples of bread and fruit-infused olive oils at the Saratoga Olive Oil company. For supporting local, an entire city built upon its value. For community, and falling into conversations with strangers who make out like you’re a long lost friend.
For celebrating the crisp edges of autumn as leaves cascade over tree-lined streets and maple overrules pumpkin spice. For relishing in the sweet days of spring, when cyclists dust off their wheels and everyone clambers out of their homes to rejoice in another harsh winter triumphed over.
For commemorating college graduation; for reclaiming days not inundated with fresh post-graduate troubles; for catching up over breakfast skillets at Henry’s Diner. For late nights of karaoke and conversations laying out dreams and approaching fears.
And for the mountains, their breath-like rising and falling and exhaling of a new shape and overseeing a quainter balance. There’s a world-altering swagger about them that, woven into Burlington’s narrative, leaves you unwrapped and wanting exactly everything in the moment to last forever. I’ve grown and changed since my first visit over two years ago; still, something like a time warp powers on whenever I’m back, and I’m reminded that some things don’t really change, and that’s okay. Burlington is progressive without ever losing the charm, the familiar nooks and crannies that make it so homey.
Maybe being there in such formative years of my young adult life have made it, for me, a city of the reckless abandon that informs youthfulness. Or, the lack of constraints on this urban hybrid life captured my imagination. There will always be room for it in my travels, because I know it still whispers for me to come. I can just hear it saying, “Welcome, friend. Explore. Breathe. We are so happy to have you here.”
This Wild Heart is a collection of stories reveling in the way places and moments create soul-deep emotional attachments. Look out for a new tale every Thursday.