Building Your Spiritual Home
Vermont and Nature
One of the best decisions we have ever made was to live
a little closer to nature. When our younger daughter, Julie,
was four, we bought a tent and tried camping. We were not
too confident nor competent, so we began in our yard. The
first night with the four of us in the tent was pretty successful,
and exciting too. A large dog brushed up against the side
of the tent as we were waking, and we pretended it was a bear,
adding adrenaline to our experience. A while later, we camped
in a neighbor’s yard. And finally at a State Park about
ten miles down the road. We were now experienced. We began
out of state camping.
When the kids were eight and six, we bought land near a
friend’s house in Vermont, and began camping there,
with our own stream nearby to serve as a refrigerator, bathtub
and sink. We loved it, but noted that almost every weekend,
Saturday morning at about 4 AM two things happened. One of
the kids woke crying with a fever, and it also began to rain.
This had happened in the State Parks too. We often just packed
up and headed home after one night of some sleep. The tent
was always soaked. We were pretty miserable. A few years into
our Vermont experience, we built a wooden shelter, and said
“let it rain”.
One sad night, while we were in Massachusetts, our shelter
burned to the ground. It took us several years to decide to
rebuild. By then, our children had grown up, and our family
had grown with the addition of Brian, Laura’s sturdy
and willing husband, so we built a 21x12 foot structure, working
weekends all summer. The next summer, loving the process,
we expanded to 21x24 feet. No electricity, no plumbing, no
heat. Just a wooden shell. But were we proud and happy!
Living was very primitive, with a circle of stones for a
stove, a hospital potty chair over a new hole each weekend,
our dear stream for washing, no radio or TV. Very little protection
from the weather. We lived at the mercy of nature. But we
also lived in the midst of nature. We got good at finding
snakes and newts, indian pipes, fish. We learned about the
stars and constellations, we saw fireflies, we learned about
clouds. We did lots of hiking and learned the joy of trail
mix. Instead of TV, Linda read us stories like “Watership
Down”. In short we felt like we were in heaven.
One of the big advantages was that this living lessened
our preoccupation with our country’s destruction of
the environment. Our kids felt safe in Vermont, and saw this
land as offering a retreat from threats of nuclear attack
and pollution, fears so prevalent then. More important, and
relevant, we slowed down, and we all gained a sense of Nature’s
and its awesome power. It helped us to see ourselves in a
Nature was a most reliable and generous mother, even if
it did rain and thunder at us. The abundance of life around
us, the lushness of the fields, made clear to me the nurturant
capacity of the God force. On a sunny day, I could not help
but feel how kind and fertile were the forces of sun and soil
in which everything grew is such abundance. When I think of
how God loves and nurtures us, the visual image is always
the lush meadows of Vermont.
I began to see God’s work in a fuller way: when a
tree died and became earth again, it didn’t seem tragic.
We were aware of the cycles of dying and rebirth that we witnessed
every year. Death became more a part of life, not an attack
on it. My sense of man’s cruelty was in a new perspective.
We saw trees struck by lightning, injured animals, animals
hunting animals, all the destructive force that, in civilization,
seemed so “bad”. In Vermont, we left the value
judgments behind, and I came to see God as embracing all of
life, not just the pretty part.
Finally, Vermont taught us all how little it takes to be
perfectly happy. Getting up with the sun, foraging for firewood,
cooking eggs and coffee, resting in hammocks from all that
effort, hiking, reading, bathing in the stream, cooking supper,
looking at the stars, hoping for a shooting star, these are
the substance of our life there. And it is more than enough.
After a week in Vermont we are thrilled to get back to our
shower, and we would not do well in the cold of winter up
there, but the simplicity of life in the woods is startlingly
1) What experiences have you had living closer to nature?
2) What did you like about them?
3) What did you dislike?
4) Do you have ways of getting away from the busyness of your
GET A LIFE
THE JOY OF A DEPRESSED
OPENING MANY DOORS
THE PATH OF MEDITATION
GIVING UP CONTROL
MARRIAGE AS A CHANGE
STRUCTURES THAT SUPPORT
VERMONT AND NATURE
TO HELL WITH DIGNITY
COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD
WHAT SHAPES LIFE
MAKING FRIENDS WITH GOD