Melissa Kirkby is a senior at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vt., majoring in sustainable agriculture.

Monday, 12 Jul 1999

Craftsbury Common, Vt.

Last week, I wrote a letter to a friend describing the new culture, new landscape, new rhythm of life I have discovered in the six weeks since my move to Sterling College in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was drawn to Sterling, the smallest accredited four-year college in the country, not only for its student body of 90, but for the environmental focus offered through an approach of experiential learning. With a black ink pen, I mused to her about how good I feel here, having just transferred after three years at Dartmouth, and how much meaning I’ve found in my studies and in daily living. “I think I will settle in northern Vermont after I graduate in May,” I closed. Indeed, I have not just found an alma mater here; I have found a home.

This morning, I wear a wool sweater and wrap cold fingers around a mug of Earl Grey tea. Sun comes in and out through the clouds, its warmth thrown around by a hilltop breeze. I walk down a rolling dirt road, noticing the day and that my clogs have become more worn with the dust of these strolls. Reaching behind, I untie my hair so that it might dry in the wind and under quick pockets of sun. I notice the shadows imparted by clouds on hillside trees and pastures below, the same hue as my sweater. I breathe deeply, taking in the vastness of this countryside and the freshness of this air. Yes, I am in the right place, I know.

My walk takes me to a vacant lot, its entrance impeded by a rusting chain strung between two wooden posts. A real estate sign hangs from the chain creating a dull screech as it blows back and forth, rusted links resisting the sign’s weight. Twenty-seven acres, nice views, an agent’s name in the next town over. Call today.

I climb over the chain, wondering if this is the way by which I might stumble upon my own land one day — a morning walk and a for sale sign. A year left of school, and then a few years of loans; the reality of purchasing land is distant. But still I daydream, imagining these acres as my own one day. I allow the morning air to fill my lungs as I make my way down an access road grown over with grasses and wildflowers, with which I have been familiarizing myself throughout these last weeks. Many names I still do not know.

Coming to an ancient stone wall, I follow what I interpret to be the former property line south by southeast, through sugar and red maples, a diversity of conifers, then into an open field. I seat myself on the wall and pass my hand along its uneven surface. This wall was stacked years ago, I imagine, before boundary lines were re-drawn and advertised by a real estate company; long before a Sterling student in jeans, clogs, and a sweater the shade of shadows on the hillside would climb over a chain, travel along these stones down a sloping landscape, and find on them a place to sit. How many others, like myself, have discovered these old walls on their early morning walks, and suddenly felt themselves an intruder on someone else’s land?

How many newcomers like myself might transfer, move, migrate, settle here until the richness that calls us to this place, beckons us to stay, is lost? I walk to the middle of the field, looking out over the pastures and barns seated in the next hill over. In those barns, morning chores are just ending. I think of the last old barn in my hometown of Pickerington, Ohio. Last year, it was torn down, a 16-screen movie theater to take its place. Will theaters, fast food restaurants, strip malls ever dot the hillside in view the way these barns do now? As I make my way back up the hill to the road, I look over my shoulder, then to the stone wall. How many settlers like myself? I wonder. And approaching the chain at the road, I contemplate unhooking the for sale sign and hiding it on the other side of the stone wall.