Social Justice Organiser, Technology Consultant, Musician, Food Writer
Brattleboro, Windham County
The first time I visited Vermont, I immediately fell in love. I was 10 years old, and my family came to Vermont to visit friends from our church congregation in Southern New Jersey who owned a vacation home near Rutland. We happened to visit during the annual Pleiades meteor shower, and after a day of horseback riding, we and our friends laid back on a hillside watching the celestial wonders. My family is, at least, in the United States, originally from New York City, where I was born. For most of my life, I have lived in the triangle formed by NYC; Cape May, New Jersey; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My life was defined by flat land, beaches, and cities, but while I love urban life, I have always preferred forests and mountains to the beach and the unrelieved flatness of Southern New Jersey.
Around the same period of my life, I became a skiier, but it would not be until my early 30s that I would return to Vermont and fall in love all over again. During my teens and 20s, all my skiing was confined to NY, NJ, and PA ski areas, simply because the cost of travel was difficult for two young people working retail jobs, but by the time I hit 30, with both my wife and I in much better paying jobs, we were able to range further. Throughout my 30s, my wife and I enjoyed several ski vacations in Vermont, during which we enjoyed many fine meals, something of great importance to the both of us as gourmands. Our trips increased my awareness of Vermont's progressive and libertarian politics, which align very well with my own points of view as a Green, a Geolibertarian, and as a member of the LGBT communities. Eventually, Vermont percolated to the top three on the list of place in the United States that I thought I might like to eventually settle.
So, in short, it was the food, politics, and interesting terrain for recreation which made Vermont especially attractive for me, but what actually brought me here is a long story. The dissolution of my marriage in 2009 led me to make drastic changes in my life, and in 2012 I moved to the West Coast hoping to start a new life. After trying for two years in Seattle, it was clear that was not meant to be, and an old and dear friend from my high school years offered me a place to land here in Windham County. I lived for a year in a tiny cabin on a mountainside with no plumbing, an outhouse composting toilet, a woodstove for heat, a propane burner for cooking, and a small remote solar panel that I could use to charge a single car battery to run a few LED lights at night, run my radio for news, watch movies on my laptop, and keep my cell phone charged. Unfortunately, this entailed carrying a 50 lb. battery a hundred metres or so to where the panel lived in a clearing, since the cabin was in the trees, but I certainly learned to be careful with how much power I was using.
I got the quick immersion bath of the icy cold water of sustainable Vermont living, drawn from the artesian spring on the side of Route 30 in Dummerston, but I had long been a fan of Vermont's famous Yestermorrow Design/Build School, after reading founder John Connell's book, "Homing Instinct", when it was first published in 1993, so this was not exactly an unwelcome experience. I understand that Winter of 2014-2015 was one of the bitterest in living memory for Windham County, according to the long-time residents with whom I have spoken, so I feel like if I can survive using an outhouse at minus 14°F, and digging out my solar panel from under two feet of snow every other week, I can survive a lot.
During 2015, I became part of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, and I also moved into an apartment in downtown Brattleboro. Having running water, and perhaps more importantly, a drain to carry the wastewater away is a luxury I will never again take for granted. I would, however, still prefer to use a composting toilet, as the environmental benefits are worth the small amount of trouble. I have made friends pretty quickly here, been invited to play a gig with a friend's band, and begun to think seriously about the future of Brattleboro and Windham County as a thriving community and what I can do personally to make that happen.
As a woman of Filipina descent and a foodie, I was unpleasantly chagrined to discover the dearth of Asian food markets in this part of the country. Coming from a New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle background, easy access to international cuisine products is something I have always taken for granted, and I am thinking of ways in which I might improve the local selection. Vermont is full of local, organic, artisanal specialties, but it lacks many key ingredients for Asians like myself.
Brattleboro, specifically, and Windham County more generally, are internationally minded communities, with substantial populations of people who enjoy various Asian cuisines, but I think for people who are not of Asian descent, there may be some differences in the perceptions of what Asian people actually cook and eat at home, as opposed to what has become popularised in the West, or what might really be more commonly left to restaurants, rather than home cooking. As a food writer, my focus has always been on basic, healthy, easy-to-prepare, inexpensive, culturally authentic, home cooking. The world of food is already overwhelmed with celebrity chefs and the sort of fine cuisine that really very few people make at home because of the effort and time and equipment necessary.
I have actually been surprised at the number of other Asian people I have met here in Windham County. People keep telling me Vermont is the whitest state in the country, but after moving downtown, I very quickly fell in with a group of Filipina ladies my age and younger, and we are by no means the only Asian people in town, which I personally find funny because when my family moved from New York City to rural South Jersey in the early 1970s, we were the only Asian people in town. Even living in the cabin up on the mountain, there was a Japanese LGBT woman living right next door with her wife.
My advice to Asian people considering moving to Vermont, Windham County, or Brattleboro would be to dress even more warmly than you think, buy mud boots for Spring and lots of moisturizer for Winter, plant gardens as soon as possible, be prepared to drive a long way to the nearest Asian market and still only find half of what you wanted to buy, and to not be afraid to engage those of us who are already here. We could all use more company, and I have found most Vermonters to be exceedingly generous, genuinely curious, and respectful of diversity.