We were planning to commute from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, to Windsor, Vermont, all in one day, visiting three cities in Connecticut and two in Massachusetts on the way. However, most of our stops dragged out longer than expected, either because our one-and-a-half-year-old would not cooperate, or the places were very inviting and disposing to a proper walk. As a result, we could not get to the first item in the Vermont todo list the same evening, and had to postpone that until the following morning.
The morning was a bit gray and murky, so we leisurely packed our things and headed towards the American Precision Museum in Windsor. Located in a strange kind of place, and surrounded by a small water cascade, a tiny forest, a power substation, and a dirt road, the museum is nonetheless well within the city limits.
The artless entrance and importunate cashier aside, the museum was very much worth the visit. The exhibits feature all sorts of mechanical and engineering machinery, including measuring devices, drilling and milling machines, typewriters, screwmakers, and so on.
Perhaps August was not the best time of year to be on the photo-hunt for the natural beauty of New England: the foliage has already paled off but has not yet put its fall finery; and the weather is still hot but already rainy. And though constrained by a number of circumstances to choose August, we still tried to see the best of New England’s flavors and capture them on camera.
In quest for northern scenery, we decided to track down Jenne Farm, one of the most photographed farms in the U.S., properly hidden among the forests of central Vermont.
To continue the rural theme, we went north to make a near stop by Billings Farm, at the outskirts of Woodstock. The place gained popularity because most of the animals at the farm can be patted and photographed. It was probably interesting for our little one to see the sheep and horses, while it was more entertaining for me and my wife to find out how the milk cows are kept and taken care of.
Away from the farms, we proceeded north to the highest mountains of Vermont. Because only a few mountain peaks are accessible by ground vehicles, most people do not bother driving up those winding hilly roads to appreciate the scenery that this part of the state is famous for. Coincidentally, the staff of ski resorts that would otherwise be idling in the summer time are living off of devoted height-lovers who agree to pay generous ticket fees for an opportunity to enjoy a cable ride to, and from, the mountain tops. And even though I consider us neither devoted height-lovers nor wealthy travelers, we did do the gondola skyride in Stowe.
If there is one word that best describes the look of Burlington, it is probably “nice”; if there is one word that best describes the people of Burlington, it is definitely “weird.” A town of hipsters, roller-skaters, musicians, and vagabonds, Burlington is nonetheless fun to observe.
Having spent the night at some cheap motel on the outskirts of Montpelier, we stuck to our plan and went for the improvised tour of Vermont’s capital first thing in the morning. As with most other state capitals, Montpelier was small, nicely built, and fairly quiet.
We really wanted to see the Rock of Ages granite quarry the day before, but were not able to wait for the guided tour without having to sacrifice one of the other items in our itinerary. After some consideration, we decided to drop Middlebury and instead go to the quarry the following morning.
Rock of Ages quarry has one of the world’s largest supplies of granite, which has only been partly excavated so far. The granite-processing factory is only minutes away from the quarry and is also an interesting place to see.
How the factory manages to track down the thousands of monthly orders in this mess remained a mystery to me. Nonetheless, the Rock of Ages’ customer base is enormous, and a great deal of tombstones, pedestals, and other memorials seen throughout the country have been, and are being, manufactured there.
As per cynical estimation of how many people die on a daily basis and thus stimulate the tombstone production, the size of the quarry might not be so impressive; yet trying to envision the amount of effort required to extract as much stone as appears missing from the huge granite deposit will surely put everything into place.
With the advent of the biochemical research, special substances have been formulated to allow for very precise and safe microexplosions in place of outdated risky techniques. So, to break off a manageable chunk (usually, around 25 tons), the workers drill small grooves around the perimeter of the stone and fill them with the pre-dozed mix. Once complete, the chemical reaction is initiated, which forces the entire plate to snap off a foot in the air and land back in the same spot.
For safety reasons, the miners spent about half of their time not working, which of course makes the whole business less financially sound. However, because of hard labor and risks associated with the job, most workers are very well paid.
Since granite is much firmer than, say, marble (3 and 7 on the scale of strength, accordingly), the granite dust is a lot more dangerous and causes terminal illnesses over time. On site, the granite dust is neutralized with water, which is why there are tangles of pipes reaching to every drilling spot, and greenish-colored basins accumulated at bottomlands.
Before we left the Vermont border behind, we had a few more moments to look around and reflect on the pristine beauty of mountain forests and splendor of undisturbed lakes we had absorbed over the last two days.
Below is the usual map of our navigation through the state.