Words by Liz Schroeter Courtney, Photography by Caleb Kenna
Recently passing through Rochester, Vermont I stopped for lunch at Sandy’s Books and Bakery. While waiting for my rosemary chicken soup to come up, I wandered the labyrinth of small rooms lined floor to ceiling with books. I turned a corner into a tiny nook of a room where a table sat atop a faded oriental rug, piled with books on New England birds, Tibetan spirituality and an encyclopedia of western medicine. With no one else in the room, every remaining sound was absorbed by the thick walls of books. I basked in the calming silence and breathed in deeply the comforting smell of slightly dusty literature.
It can be hard to find these moments of utter peace, and even when you do, they are usually fleeting. Quickly my toddler rounded the corner and I had to go chasing after her to prevent books from tumbling from the shelves.
Since moving to Vermont two years ago, I’ve thought often about the idea of sanctuary. A haven. A sacred place. A refuge from a frightening world. Like many people, I am fraught with worry and fear. I look back over the arc of my life thus far and try to place when the anxiety started. Much of it is just the mounting responsibilities of growing up — becoming accountable to a life partner; having more expectations, from myself and from others, in my career; creating and being responsible for protecting and raising a young child; feeling the days escaping as the long life that stretches before me grows ever less long. I don’t think of these as burdens, even though they are. They are just the stuff of life.
“I’m amazed every day by the calm and beauty I find around every turn in these Green Mountains.”
Then there are the anxieties that feel foisted on me. Financial debt. Disgust at our failed institutions. Rage at our selfish leaders. I came to Vermont not to escape my worries, but to carve out a sanctuary from which to heal when it all gets to be too much. A place to steel my resolve to fight another day.
Here I’ve discovered silence like I’ve never known in the hush of a snowy afternoon watching curls of white vapor trailing off from vents and chimneys of neighboring rooftops. A stillness that condones sleeping in and taking it easy.
Here I finally have a space of my own to gather my thoughts and do productive work. A cozy upstairs room with a gable ceiling, wide, knotty floorboards and a window that lets in the slanted winter sun.
Here I have a small table in the corner of our garage with a window that looks out onto the meadow. In that sunny sanctuary, time slows down as I process the natural passing of the seasons hanging fragrant bundles of catnip to dry in the summer, sorting seeds in the winter in patient anticipation of the springtime thaw.
“We all have our sacred spaces that help us cope with this chaotic world.”
Here I have found perspective, wandering into a magical, protected space at the very top of the forest behind our house where I sit on a rock and feel entirely on top of the world all around and momentarily in charge.
I’m amazed every day by the calm and beauty I find around every turn in these Green Mountains. Of course, I know people find sanctuary everywhere. In the din of the city, in the halls of great institutions even. We all have our sacred spaces that help us cope with this chaotic world. Only with a solid foundation under us can we be the effective people we want so desperately to be.
I guess what I’m saying is, you can’t run away from your problems. But if you’re lucky, you can move to Vermont.