I seriously love Vermont.
Not only is it a mere 60 minute car ride from Montreal, (a fact which seems to freak out some of my geographically challenged American friends who seem to think Canada is some distant far-away place closer to the North Pole. Newsflash: Burlington, Vermont is a 90 minute drive away from Montreal, Boston and NYC are about 5 hours of driving away from Montreal, Vancouver is less than 2 hours away from Seattle and Windsor is literally over the bridge from Detroit.) but Vermont is one of the most independent and progressive states within the union, with strict environmental laws, which are the envy of most of the industrialized West and a political movement within the state which is pushing to jail George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (and rightly so I think…). Vermont was one of the last states to join the union and if there ever is another civil war in that country, will probably be one of the first states to leave as well, I suspect. It regularly produces very independently minded politicians like Jim Jeffords and Bernie Sanders, who until a few years ago was the only sitting socialist in the House of Representatives. Anarchist theorist Murray Bookchin lived there for many years as well.
It’s known as the Green Mountain State, in reference to the fact that the Appalachians roll through the entire state, with meandering rivers cutting through bucolic verdant, green valleys in the summer. Autumn here means that the hills are literally alive with color.
Three Nobel prize winners of literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Sinclair Lewis and Rudyard Kipling have all lived, at one point or another in the tiny town of Brattleboro. “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D Salinger lived as a recluse for many years here as well. With family farms sitting beside tiny New England villages, it’s easy to see why artists, writers and other creative types come here in droves to just be left alone, think and be inspired.
It’s the kind of place where if you need to decompress or get your bearings, you can and not be worried about distractions of any sort. Not surprisingly, it is a place, like Hawaii, that New World Order-types have also targeted to ruin. The latest attempt is the new air force base near Burlington which often has eardrum-exploding F-35 fighter jets screaming across the sky practically every hour.
People the world over have always expressed certain springs or certain geographical land features as “healing”. Catholics have places like Lourdes, Fatima or even the House of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus, and swear that the waters from the springs there have healing properties. The Incas had the Urubamba River in Peru, far below Machu Picchu. The Irish have hundreds of holy wells dotting their countryside, each one attributed to some saint or other. Every religion and/or faith tradition has its own spot or place of healing power. I went to the House of the Virgin Mary and had the water there. I also fell into the Urubamba River while rafting. Nothing special happened to me physically at all at either of those places, unfortunately.
Native and First Nations people however have a different take on healing spots. When I visited Mount Shasta, California in 2005, I spent time with the spiritual leader of the tribe who are the real guardians of that mountain, the Winnemem Wintu. Unfortunately they are a tribe who are not nationally recognized and not on the register for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to spend time with Caleen Sisk-Franco their leader, and her family during their annual Coonrod Ceremony in August, to honor the salmon. The meeting also meant smudging everyone before they jumped into the lower McCloud River Falls. A member of Caleen’s family described it to me in this way: “We consider a site or place holy mostly if there is something unusual about a place, geographically. See these falls, how it is almost perfectly round, like an arena or amphitheater? To us, that means something. It means Spirit has been at work here in a special way”.
I have this “thing” about swimming in natural settings, preferably in rushing streams, gorges, rivers or the ocean. Negative ions in the air which comes from the water’s constant movement and splashing or churning probably has something to do with it. It just makes you feel better.
I’m literally the type to carry my bathing suit with me when I go hiking, just in case I come across the perfect spot to jump into, to cool off in. That would explain why I hate swimming pools, artificial beaches and why I find lakes revolting (especially when you walk into a patch of “warm” water and there’s tons of little kids everywhere…). I found this excellent site which lists natural swimming holes all over the US and decided since I was going to be in Vermont for a few days, I was going to explore some of the places listed, particularly around Stowe. I decided to visit and explore Bingham Falls, Sterling Falls Gorge and Moss Glen Falls.
The last thing I had on my mind was healing as I hiked through the woods and clambered down the wet rocks and boulders and made my way towards Bingham Falls. It’s at least a 400 feet drop along one side of a hill, on round boulders, and requires your complete attention lest you slip on these wet rocks on your way down. (Do NOT do this with flip-flops). I was too busy enjoying the beauty of the place, the fresh mountain and forest air, hearing the roar of the water as it rushed through rock pools and small gorges. When I finally got to the bottom and saw the falls and watched boys jump from the top of the falls into the pool below, all I could really do was take in the wonder of the place and realize that these are the hidden places of the world, the real places, where I’m sure the little folk meet on full moon nights, far from the gaze of humans, far from the gaze of civilization. This is where real magic takes place. I just felt happy to be there. I offered some tobacco to the place, in gratitude.
I took my time and went swimming in the pool, clambered over rocks, investigated pools downstream and watched how the water formed a gorge upstream. Talked to people there, some were Hell’s Angels bikers but if you leave them alone, they leave you alone. Most were teens on holiday with their parents from places like New Jersey or Maryland (Stowe valley is a bit of a resort area). Finally it was time to leave and I was not looking forward to climbing up those 400 feet back to the main trail. Mostly because I have always had some inflexibility in my left hip and no matter how much yoga or massage therapy I do, it never gets better. (I made the mistake of taking the stairs up to Machu Picchu and what normally takes most people 45 minutes to do, took me 90 minutes, to give you an idea).
I made the slow climb up the boulders, pacing myself mostly because I didn’t want to get all hot and sweaty again especially after such a refreshing swim, I walked slowly along the uphill trail back to the road and then made it back to my tent. That’s when I realized that there was no pain at all in my hip. In fact, ever since Bingham Falls, I have not felt any pain at all in that hip even after exploring steeper places.
The pain is gone.