Southern Vermont has been a winter and summer sanctuary for me since the early ’80s. In that time I have watched as the ski areas have developed into ski resorts, their two-person chairlifts without safety bars replaced by high speed, padded, six person lifts. More uphill capacity, more crowds on the slopes. Since 2005, trips to the Green Mountain State have become far less frequent.
When I was reminded that my son Hudson had a Friday off, I figured a long weekend would be the perfect opportunity to take a drive north with the family. Damn near simultaneous with that thought a friend of mine called me up and asked me if I had heard anything about this little country restaurant that Wesley Genovart (of Degustation in the East Village) and his wife, Chloe (most recently of Per Se) had opened in South Londonderry called SoLo Farm & Table. I hadn’t, but it certainly sounded like it warranted exploration.
After a little investigation we discovered that the space they renovated used to be the 3 Clock Inn, a place in which I had dined many times over the years, the last time a little over two years ago, with Jori. The 3 Clock was the only place in the area to go for a reliable French meal. In fact, I had almost taken a job there, early in my career, but my journey was diverted to Napa. In speaking with Wesley, we learned that he had worked at the 3 Clock Inn years ago and returned to purchase it, smarten it up (the bar room with hand-picked Danby marble bar top and a roaring fireplace is an easy place to linger for hours on end), and with the addition of Chloe they’ve turned it into what surely is one of the best restaurants in southern Vermont. We love to see talent breaking away from urban areas. A toast to better food in beautiful places!
Jori was on board for our short trip, and Hudson was ready for some rock hopping along mountain streams.
I called a friend who owns a place on Stratton Mountain in the hopes that we’d be able to crash there for the weekend. We were in luck. The stars seemed to be aligned and the wind, we thought, was at our backs. That is, until the first hike. In order to break up the drive, we stopped at our place in Columbia County for the evening. Hudson pushed open the car door before we had even come to a complete stop, eager to get into the woods. It was a bit after 4 p.m. and already dusk. A hike in through the fields is a wiser choice than the woods at this time of evening. Hudson was adamant about going into the woods and I was easily persuaded as I was under his spell, a spell that left me convinced he was capable of making smart, well informed decisions about anything. A parental Bermuda triangle — where all analytical and discretionary faculties disappear.
Boots on, flashlights still in the house, we climbed the back hill up into the woods. In order to find the paths in these particular woods you have to break trail for about 100 yards. Once there, a number of trails twist and turn through elms, pines, oaks and maples. Hudson and I were wise enough to mark the point at which we entered the woods with a giant X made from two broken tree limbs. Tree limbs that looked like ever other twig. Log and limb scattered about the forest floor. Shootin’ the shit about life, girls, school and girls, we sped along one path to the next, relieved to be out of the city clutter. The sun had dipped below the ridge behind, the sky was a dark purple against which the trees were just dark silhouettes. It was time to take the path back to where we had entered.
Which path was that? They all look the same at that time when the sun is powering down and the moon is powering up. I took a not so confident step down the path I thought I recalled being the one that I almost always, but sometimes not, I think, take back to that place where I usually enter the woods. Whoa. What had happened to my certainty? Shit, I thought, these paths crisscross in a confusing manner during daylight. Screw it, just go. So we walked and walked and probably walked right past our giant, standout, tree limb X. We must have as we nearly circled back to where we had been when I had determined we should head back.
At this point, flashlights still safe on the shelf at home, it was dark. Hudson was squeezing my hand, jerking his head from one side to the next, searching the shadows for the source of each creak, squawk and rustle. I picked up my gait, pulling him along, squinting, trying to follow the path, any path that would lead us to something familiar.
As far as Hudson was aware, I knew where we were heading. Everything will be just fine because dad is with you. No need to worry. And, I was right, or he was right…we both were right because we saw a light. A light from a house on a hill in a meadow a few hundred yards away, on the opposite side of the ridge from our house. To save face I played it cool and said, “Hey kiddo. Do you want to walk through the dark woods? The path’s right there and we’ll be home in about half an hour (if dad doesn’t get lost again) or, we can walk through that meadow and down to the road, it’s a little longer but not as dark.” He chose the road and I was relieved.
We rambled through the meadow, running and laughing in the cut grass and tractor tracks. When we hit the valley floor we found the train tracks and decided it would be more of an adventure to walk alongside the tracks than on the street. Fortunately, I knew exactly where the tracks would take us. Our nerves calmed somewhat, we began swapping stories about scary images we saw in the dark and all the creepy places our minds go when the light goes out.
Two hours after dark we were coming up onto our house. All the lights were on and we saw headlights in the lower field. Christ, I thought, Jori must be freaking out. Sure enough, as we approached I heard her yelling my name. Hudson turned to me and tugged on my jacket, “Jori’s worried about us!” he tugged over and over, “that makes me so happy!” I didn’t share the same sentiment, but I certainly understood where he was coming from. We hugged her and decided that was the last night hike for the weekend, all others would take place during daylight hours only.
Read the previous installment of The Alimentary Canal: Archive of Ethnic Foods in NYC