By Phyl Newbeck, Contributor

For the first time in years, I won’t be gathering for a Thanksgiving dinner with friends or family, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to be grateful for. An early November trip to New York City to visit my almost 96-year-old mother—my first visit in over a year, thanks to the pandemic—reminded me of how much I love my adopted state. The narrow hallways and staircases of my mother’s apartment building are claustrophobic, the sidewalks are littered with trash, the harried denizens of Astoria (a town in Queens just across the river from Manhattan) don’t make eye contact with one another, and the closest green space, aside from some tiny private gardens outside the few single-family homes that remain, is a 20-minute walk from her building.

Instead, I live in a place where if I want to get fresh air, all I have to do is step out my door. Sure, there are a few beer cans by the side of the road, but for the most part, our streets, paths and sidewalks are clean. Even with our now ubiquitous masks, people are friendly and greet one another, albeit at a distance. I think many people are purposefully exaggerating their smiles to make sure they are apparent even though their mouths are hidden. The fact that many of us have decks or yards made it possible to continue social gatherings well into the fall, separated by six feet around a fire pit or grill.

I’m thankful for all the recreational options my adopted home (25 years here, but I know I’m still a flatlander) provides. I don’t live on the Almost Great Lake, but it’s a short drive to put my kayak or canoe in the water, and paddling is a sport that lends itself to social distancing. For longer outings, there are several wonderful canoe/kayak camping options. A reservoir closer to home provides a great outlet for swimming and this year, with the late season heat, came an unexpected–albeit short–November dip.

The sunrise over Mt. Mansfield never disappoints.Photo by Phyl Newbeck

The sunrise over Mt. Mansfield never disappoints. Photo by Phyl Newbeck.

The relatively uncrowded back roads are wonderful for cycling, and if I want even less in the way of motorized traffic, I can opt for my gravel bike and get further off the beaten path. The silver lining to the premature end of our last ski season was getting an early start on the cycling season, and as a result, I logged significantly more miles than in any previous year. Hiking options abound across our region, ranging from casual walks around a lake or pond to more serious treks up the peaks for stunning views.

Now, with winter approaching, I’m really in my element. I’ve already had one day of skinning up and skiing down Bolton and I’m looking forward to plenty of skiing, snowshoeing, micro-spike hiking, and skating to keep me entertained through the winter months. Things are going to be very different at alpine ski areas and cross-country ski centers, but the snow will (hopefully) still be there and Vermonters will learn to adapt. Many of these sports can easily be done with social distancing so people can continue to enjoy the companionship of others while recreating, when COVID protocol allows. Traveling may be off limits for a while but there’s no better place to be stuck than here.

My best wishes to all our readers with the hope that you, too, will find activities to make you thankful you live in this great state.