Eventually — if you head west from Portland, Maine — you will snake your way through the mountains and find yourself in the forgotten state of Vermont. Although Vermont is consistently in the news for their progressive, liberal laws, Vermont has remained tucked away in a corner of history that many often forget still exists. Each town is tiny, each person at peace, and everyone knows everyone’s name. In fact, few exceptions can be found for this observation.
No town better exemplifies this phenomenon than Ripton, VT. You can find this charming town just twenty minutes outside of Middlebury, where VT 125 rips right through the center of town. When I visited this quaint village over the past weekend, I stayed at the Chipman Inn.
The Chipman Inn is a typical, New England bed and breakfast. Wallpaper decks every room, lace doilies are practically the foundation of the building, and a single, elderly woman — who has lived in Ripton most of her life — takes care of everything. The woman at the Chipman Inn, though, is particularly talkative. She’ll talk your ear off if you let her, and she’ll reference all the people in the town as if you know them too. One story was worth it all, though; she told us of a band of hooligans who called themselves “The Hoot-n-Holler Gang.” They all lived on top of the mountain in tar-paper shacks and liked to cause a ruckus in town “at least once a week.” Often times it was from drunk driving or other inappropriate drunken behavior. One night — back in the early ’80s — she woke at three in the morning to a loud pounding on the door of the Inn. Now, not wanting to know exactly who was at her door, she decided not to turn on the lights. She did, however, open the door to talk to them. (Read this next bit in a drunken slur): “Missus, the cops are after us. Can you hide us in here?” they asked. She responded, “I’ve got all sorts of guests in here, there’s no way I’m hiding you. But come here.” And — at least the way she told the story — she then proceeded to grab him by the scruff of his neck and drag him to the back door. She throws the out through the back door and says, “Now you climb up that mountain. You live up there, you know how to do it. Don’t go up the road because that’s where the cops will be. You climb up that mountain and get home!” That was the last she heard from them. The cops never found them, and she always expected the cops to come to her door and ask her if she had seen anything, but they never did. And, she emphasizes, she didn’t actually ever see anything.
We enjoyed our stay at the Inn, but there were some faux-pas. She forgot that my boyfriend was gluten-free, so she served a breakfast of french toast and he had to skip the meal. Also, if you have even the slightest allergies during the springtime, the old building is not conducive to them. My boyfriend, who usually doesn’t get allergies, was coughing throughout the whole night. However, regardless of these small missteps, the Inn was comfortable, clean, and everything you would expect of a New England B+B. The unique feature, though, was their bar. Locals will come all the way from Middlebury to drink in the small, dark room lit by a red-light in the hall. And, moreover, this bar has a church pew as seating. It was quite adorable. She even keeps a Christmas tree up year-round.
The town of Ripton has a lively night life, though. In their community center, which is right next door to the Chipman Inn, they often have “rockin’ concerts.” They’ve had some bigger bands, but it’s often local talent who play in the Hall. Cars will pack the small parking lot and fill up the entire section of VT 125 that runs through town. It’s a sight to see in such a small town. Even with these modern bands playing, Ripton could never forget where it came from. Right next to the community center is a sign from the days of carriages in 1800s.
Across the street from the Inn is another old-time feature of the town: The Country Store. It’s charming and you can get a few things in there. The largest section is for wines — Vermont made, of course. Apparently, though, the rows of mailboxes in the store are a fairly recent addition (like in the ’90s).
Yet, even with these small-town gems, the most attractive part of Ripton were the vast trail networks. The first day we were there, we hiked the Spirit in Nature trails. These trails have been designated with carious religions, such as Christian, Bahai, Native American, Pagan, Buddhist, Quaker, and many more. On each path, signs with quotations or sayings from the religion are posted for you to read. These trails are beautiful, and the longest one is only 1.5 miles. You could do all of them in an afternoon. They also have a Sacred Circle in which campfires and interfaith gatherings take place. There are also plenty of places to go off the trails and explore, perhaps even see some wildlife.
On the second day, we explored the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. Robert Frost summered in Ripton for thirty years. Much of his poetry was influenced by the trails and wildlife of the woods there. On this trail, various poems of his are posted along the walk to inspire you. Now, I don’t find Frost a particularly interesting writer. His work is very obvious, there’s not much to divine from it, which is why he’s so popular I suppose. However, Frost and I have very similar relationships with nature. We’re both radical environmentalists and firmly believe in the spiritual enlightenment which can only be found in the natural world. This trail was, in my opinion, much better than the Spirit trails. The ecosystems were more diverse, and the poetry was placed along the path in a strategic way. Plus, there was an amazing climbing tree by the meadow.
Overall, Ripton was a lovely weekend spent. I would suggest it to fellow travelers, although it’s not good for much more than a weekend. It was a wonderful way to rejuvenate and step away from the stresses of technology and everyday life. The thing I will take away from Ripton, and specifically Robert Frost, is to always remain actively aware that humanity are the coniferous trees and those are the end of the cycle.