Little villages like Danville were less affected by these rococo raids and still preserve their architectural peace and calm, with their white frame houses, store, school and church fronting on the village common...Charles Edward Crane

I've been thinking about the question of "quaintness" in landscape. Charming, old-fashioned, picturesque: these description all fit Vermont, and also have a bit of a dismissive tone. To say a place, a painting (or even a girl) is "pretty" is damning with faint praise--where's the depth of character, the profundity, in "pretty"?

The question I've mostly been trying to answer is: Why does the Vermont landscape matter?

Driving into Danville at sunset on a winter night, I park my car by the church, and get out and walk around the green. It's very cold and quiet, and the traffic light hanging between two poles at the end of the street glows red, then green, and yellow, and red again. Nothing is happening here. I look at the shadow on the white church, the dirty snow, and the traffic light. What I see is more layered with time, more worn and hardened than "pretty". What I feel looking at Danville in twilight is more complicated than "happy", and that feeling is the reason this particular flatlander migrated north.

Twenty years ago I drove through Vermont for the first time. Coming up Route 7 past small towns, I saw creeks running through big back yards behind old houses, and knew I wanted to move here. It took another six years to figure out how to transplant myself and family to a place where we didn't have jobs and didn't know anybody, but I'd glimpsed my childhood out that car window, and had to come.

I grew up in a Victorian suburb of Washington DC, and in my years there saw the creek in my neighborhood culverted, the woods cleared, every available inch of grass assigned an owner. The close-by countryside where I'd sat in a pasture with my artist father and watched him paint a watercolor of an old barn was mile after mile of condo developments and shopping centers by the time I graduated from art school. That landscape had become the outer manifestation of suburban function: work, buy, eat, sleep, get up, drive, then do it all over again.

When I left Washington, some people there told me I'd take my unhappiness with me--that turned out not to be true. I'm not exactly sure about the reason, but I think it has something to do with why landscape matters, and what I feel looking at that traffic light in Danville.

Danville facts and figures


  1. I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey (mostly) and had the same experience (well, no artist father...) Princeton used to be a sleepy University town surrounded by big dairy farms. In the 70's developers took over the zoning boards, taxed the land at development rates, and overnight the farms were gone. The place is now a corporate corridor. I'm too grown up to think that things should (or could) never change, but I certainly wish a better balance had been preserved between development and open land. Now that there is a demand for a local food supply I imagine that others wish so too. Being in Vermont does restore something - though I sometimes wonder if I am not just fleeing from reality here...

  2. I think some people just have to get the hell out--I know I did. My community in DC led one of the few successful fights against an urban freeway and development (once we had battled for and got a subway (which took ten years) the "planners" said we didn't have enough population to justify a metro stop, and wanted to tear down Victorians and put up high rises.) My artist (not much time for that) father was lead organizer, and part of what I was hoping to leave behind moving up here were the endless meetings and picket lines of my childhood. I guess that wish is "fleeing reality". I think the big lesson learned to learn from what our hometowns went through is "never trust the experts".

  3. Hey, how do you edit a comment for typos after you post it?

  4. I don't think you can edit the post- at least not after reading one of Clair's posts, and she knows a lot about the internet I think. That traffic light in Danville is going to change in the future you know... Its going to be a full stop. The plan is available at the link:


    There is a lot more than just the PDF at the site. Danville is going to be a totally different place when this thing happens. Its exciting to know that I'll actually get a chance to get on to route 2 at 7:30 am on a monday morning, giving that they'll use that full red stop light.

  5. Wow, I had no idea there was so much going on at the green! Thank you for passing that information on, Curtis. Interesting that artists were involved with that project.

  6. You asked a question - why is landscape so important. It is the face of our sustenance. Any single, small piece of it is a stand-in for the earth. And, as is said, "read it and weep."