Defeat the heat by savoring Vermont opportunities

One morning last week, before 6 a.m., our thermometer read 75 degrees. The humidity hovered just below 70 percent. The official heat wave would not kick in for another six hours.

After my morning tea, I headed to Mt. Philo. It is unusual, a little past 7 a.m., to find the parking lot nearly half full. As I started up the road, I knew or recognized nearly every person I met. There was a near-festive air.

“I’m headed home to hole up before the onslaught,” said one.

“Enjoy the cool morning,” quipped another, wiping sweat from her eyes.

It occurred to me that we were behaving as if a blizzard were bearing down. In winter, it’s off to the store to tuck in milk, bread, bananas and perhaps some treats for the days ahead. Extra batteries for good measure. There was an air of excitement, and dread, as we awaited temperatures soaring into the mid-90s with crushing humidity.

Photo by Don Shall View of Fort. Ticonderoga from Mount Independence. During the Revolutionary War, both hills were denuded of trees to ensure a clear line of sight.
Photo by Don Shall View of Fort. Ticonderoga from Mount Independence. During the Revolutionary War, both hills were denuded of trees to ensure a clear line of sight.

I own a copy of “The Vermont Weather Book,” which now feels like a historic artifact. Published in 1985 by the Vermont Historical Society, this slim volume by David Ludlum considers Vermont’s weather from earliest records. The book cites historic events by month, location and type: snowstorms, tornadoes, tropical storms, hurricanes and floods, as well as cold and heat waves.

Ludlum chronicles events many will recognize: the Year Without a Summer, 1816; New England Hurricane of 1938; the Great March Blizzard of 1888; Vermont Flood of 1927 (after which many of the state’s now-crumbling bridges date); and the 1932 Total Eclipse of the Sun. Other less familiar entries: the luminous snowstorm of 1817; snowballs in the air in 1854; and a lengthy list of tornadoes. During three decades between 1854 and 1884, snow was measured on the ground in May in more than 20 of those years.

The shortest section of the book, four pages, is devoted to heat waves. While the mercury reached 105 degrees in Vernon on July 4, 1911, most of the heat waves and records were temperatures in the 80s and 90s. In the 20th century through 1975, 22 days notched temperatures of 100 degrees or more across the state.

When we’re not enduring a heat wave, make sure to savor our summer days. The region brims with opportunities. A couple of outings should be on your radar:

Rail trails
Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, at 93 miles, is the longest rail trail in New England, connecting 18 towns from St. Johnsbury to Swanton. A year-round, gravel trail with a maximum grade of 3 percent, it connects to other networks including the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail and many local and long-distance routes like the Long and Catamount trails.

Vermont state parks
More than 50 state parks spread across Vermont. The park website is a rich source of information and maps. It enumerates amenities like lakes, pools, boating, playgrounds, nature exhibits, trails and camping from primitive to cabins and cottages. Vermont State Parks have a lot to offer.

Vermont historic sites
Some historic sites are worth the journey, others perhaps worthy of a detour. I’ve never visited a Vermont Historic Site and not been the richer for it. Bennington Battle Monument inspires a state holiday each August. Mount Independence offers 6 miles of trails, some accessible, in a spectacular setting and a small museum at one of the country’s most significant Revolutionary War sites.

East Point or Rattlesnake Hill was renamed Mount Independence after the Declaration of Independence was read to assembled soldiers. A sophisticated three-tier defense system and 12,000 troops persuaded General Guy Carleton to abandon a British assault in the fall of 1776. Meanwhile, a large community of soldiers and their families, nearly as large as the population of Boston, lived there.

While the ground will never be excavated, visitors can walk past remains of a 600-bed hospital, officers’ barracks and enlisted men’s quarters, blockhouses, a storehouse, watch huts, a likely powder magazine and numerous military components: star fort, horseshoe battery, crane site, masting point and bridge site. In addition, there is evidence of the Native American past.

The museum offers contemporary features like videos as well as a collection of artifacts found at the site. Items on display include a 3,000-pound cannon made in Scotland in the 1690s, log timbers from the “Great Bridge” between Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga and an engraved powder horn owned by a soldier at the mount in the 1770s. In addition, there are remnants of domestic life: fish hooks, eating utensils, buttons, medicine vials, hoes, axes, shoe soles, keys, cufflinks and belt buckles.

We’re on notice: heat and humidity will likely return. Don’t let it ruin your summer. There’s plenty to explore in the outdoors.