Waking up from the EVERFROST
The night was, to be honest, miserable – even with fleece blankets to line my sleeping bag, I was VERY cold. Cold to the level of going into the fetal position inside the sleeping bag, and arms in armpits to maximize heat recirculation for my body, and still shivering. And I am a big guy, so I don’t really shiver.
I woke up/decided to get out of the tent and start moving around 6am, a process which went something like this:
After checking extremities for frostbite (my left pinky and all my right toes felt VERY cold, in that “oh shit” kind of way), I got out of the tent and started moving as much as I could. To say the least, I was not happy with the -20 degree rating on my sleeping bag… but as my brother has since explained to me, -20 rating means “you MIGHT not freeze to death in -20, and you’ll be really warm and comfortable at -5″… which is a bit different than how I understood it. As they say, you (barely) live and learn.
I checked online, and the capitol of the state, 13 miles away, was -14 degrees F during the course of the night – and locals in Waterbury reported -18 on their thermostats. Chilly indeed, even if the above photo looks like a nice winter day. But cold is nothing new, so I departed for… a McDonald’s in order to get out of the wind and thaw a bit. I cannot overstate how thankful I am that the closest one, a 30 minute drive away, had a fireplace in their dining room… as I got to warm myself for the 2 hours unscheduled that morning!
Even with the FROST-PERIENCE and racoon-popsicle discoveries of my evening and morning, one cannot overstate the gorgeous views across the top of the Little River dam and reservoir:
The Long Trail, starting at the Green Mountain Club Headquarters
As I have hiked on the Appalachian Trail before, my intention was to spend a good set of the 272 miles on VT’s famed Long Trail while in the state. When I began to look into that, I found there is a non-profit organization in the state, which is responsible for maintaining those miles and miles: the Green Mountain Club!
Green Mountain Club HQ
From what I read online, their new headquarters building was built entirely with local sustainable lumber, and is powered fully by solar. Once I got there, I found out fascinating additional details: they had to build the new building because the old one burned down; they have composting toilets so produce very little wastewater; they use a special sort of boiler for heat and water heating, which is crazy efficient; and the list of cool things went on and on.
The building was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the specifics of the building, the Long Trail, and just more of my immersion into the friendly and jovial culture of Vermonters. Also, they happened to be well-situated in order to see Camel’s Hump Mountain, which is where I was planning on hiking:
The lunch of champions: stopping by the Ben & Jerry’s factory
On my way towards the GMC, I passed by a place I had visited in my childhood with my family, the Ben & Jerry’s factory. I knew I needed lunch on my way south to Springfield VT, so I figured I had found my diner!
After ordering and enjoying a cookie-layered sundae with hazelnut ice cream (yes, I probably got diabetes from typing that, much less eating it), I snapped some photos and then got into the car for my trip down south.
Observing Stellafane Amateur Observatory
The highlight of the trip for me, in some ways, was a visit to get a private tour of the Stellafane Observatory. I drove the 2 hours south to Springfield, to meet with Ken Slater, the vice president of their club, who was happy to give me a private tour of the grounds.
The catch, of course, was that we had to snowshoe in over the unpaved hills and dales, which was (as snowshoeing is wont to be) tiring but worthwhile!
Atop the hill sits the pink lodge building, with several telescopes in it, and then the famous Porter observatory off by itself.
Ken told me all about the peculiarly important place of Stellafane in the history of astronomy – basically, it was a place which took the telescopes as curiousities of the rich in the 1900s and 1910s, and began to turn it into a club for enthusiasts… until the magazie Scientific American picked up on their existence and wrote an article.
An article which outperformed every single article they had ever written… and the editors caught on when they received boatloads of letters indicating their interest. The voluminous article-writing after was big enough to necessitate the bound books (some of which can be seen above), and was really interesting to learn about!
The classy and dapper 1910s gentleman being the symbol of Stellafane (seen above, atop the front door to the lodge) ought not give the wrong impression – the interior of the lodge is split between cooking space for guests, and teaching space for learners:
The astronomical curios in the room were 1) awesome and 2) tempting as all hell to stock up on as quickly as I can, in order to outfit nerd-rooms in my future house (note: all rooms in my home will be nerd rooms… so I will need a *lot* of curios):
One of my favorite pieces in the lodge was the series of glass plates with images taken decades ago by the amateur telescopes of the club:
Ken got a photo of me checking out the Porter observatory through my Pentax, with the not-so-clear-skies above:
As has been alluded to above, Stellafane actually is home to multiple telescopes… and that number grows, as they offer once per month courses on how to grind your own mirrors, to make your own telescopes. I REALLY want to make it up there to do this, not least of all because astrophotography CAN be done with DIY telescopes… which is REALLY awesome:
As a matter of fact Stellafane almost has more telescopes than they know what to do with; Ken got a shot of me with one of the larger (gigantic and enormously heavy) telescopes in storage, awaiting refurbishment and installation somewhere:
But refurbish they do, using some fascinating tools: a polishing tool made from common ceramic floor tiles to scrape the glass evenly:
At the end of another long but excellent day in Vermont, I drove north and snapped a few photos along the way, as I continued to marvel at the scenery along the way. VT is almost *too* visually appealing in the winter, so I assume in the summer it blooms with the force of a thousand Edens. Though it bills itself as “Green Mountain State” on its license plates, I would offer: it ought to be re-motto’d as “Lands of Unending Subarus”, with their all wheel drive and ease of use for moving sporting equipment.
I slept VERY soundly, once I got back to the tent, not least of all because it was a sweltering 12 degrees F outside.