A Virginian in Vermont: Ten Years In


Now and again I still get it. Someone saying “You’re not from around here, are you?”.  It’s the southern accent. Mine is not strong but here in taciturn, Oh-so-New-England Vermont, it stands out, I suppose.

I moved up here a decade ago. I was fifty-four. I had lived my whole life in Virginia. To a lot of people, that would not be a big deal. People move all the time. But Virginia is not like other states. If you go to school in Virginia all your life you become indoctrinated into the cult of being Virginian.

I can still remember my Virginian History classes. It was more like Virginian propaganda. The “Mother of Presidents”. We had five of them, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Speaking of Jefferson, he is a close second to tour favorite diety.

You get a whole different view of the Revolutionary war if you are raised in Virginia. You’d think the whole thing was fought in the Commonwealth. And the Civil War? (or the War of Northern Aggression, as my father called it.) You can go places and from the culture, you’d think it ended five years ago.

Virginia had, the teaching went, the best geography, the best weather, the best education, the best people. You didn’t live in Virginia, you were blessed by God to live in Virginia. To be a Virginian was to be a prince among men. No one in their right mind would ever choose to leave Virginia.

Obviously, I am insane. I moved to Vermont.

I have to admit. I came here for love, not because I wanted to live in Vermont. Vermont was a blip on my radar. I was vaguely aware we had a state called Vermont, but I knew almost nothing about it. I had a recollection that they had a crazy haired senator named Bernie Sanders. (who I now adore, but that’s another essay.). That was about it.

I came here for love. As it turned out, there were other benefits. My little corner of Vermont is a peaceful place. You don’t have to search for peace, it’s all around you. It’s an accepting place, chock full of creatives, farmers, refugees from the seventies, transplants from “the city” (that would be New York City in New-England-Speak), and crazies. I fit right in.

Of course, fitting right in doesn’t make you a Vermonter. That takes a lifetime. Ten years in, I feel like one, but others will tell you I’m still a Virginian. A Virginian in Vermont.

There’s stuff in Vermont history that resonates with this transplanted Virginian. For instance, Succession and independence is ingrained in us by our history. We left England in the Revolutionary War. We succeded from the Union in the Civil War. That “we are going to do what we think is best no matter what” thought process is pretty strong in Virginians. We may be genteel about it, but we’re going to do what we’re going to do.

Vermont it turns out, is an ornery kind of state too. After fighting with the other colonies in the Revolutionary War, we didn’t just jump in and join the United States. Nope, we stayed independent for a few years.

Vermont is one of two states in the Union (Texas is the other) that have the right to leave the Union if we want to. It’s never been tested but it’s there. And we have a political party here that is dedicated to turning Vermont back to an independent country. It’s not just a bunch of crackpots – they have research and a following and regularly poll between ten and fifteen percent. They have mayors and state legislators.

All of which suits me too. I have an independent streak a mile wide.

I love it here. The relationship that brought me here is long over, but by then I had come to feel at home in this quirky little state that does things so differently than anyone else. Its peace has settled into my bones.

I found lasting love here. It’s an amazing thing to find this kind of love at my age. I suppose it could have happened anywhere, but it didn’t. It happened here, with a story as crazy as some of the people we Vermonters embrace.

If I were to leave Vermont (Hey, stranger things have happened.), I am not sure how I would describe myself. A Virginian? A Vermonter? Both have claim to my heart and soul.  Just because Virginia had me for 54 years and Vermont for a mere ten, doesn’t mean Vermont’s claim is any less.

I discovered my oil/watercolor painting side here. I healed emotionally and spiritually here from a place of brokenness. My kids, who I thought I had lost in the ugliness of divorce, came back to me here. My spiritual side regrew here after being amputated by events and my ex. I discovered and claimed grace. I reinvented work and life. My core is still the core of my Virginia self, but it is refined, restored, rebuilt into something more raw, more real, simpler and more true. I found a love here that is what I always thought love should be. An intimate ally.

So I may forever get the “You’re not from around here.” thing for the rest of my days here, the truth is that yes, yes I am. More than you know.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. Love the photograph, Tom. I moved back to NY last year to get away from craziness and I have found peace in Cambridge. Of course if Vermont succeeds, I may move again.

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