Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Small Town Folk

The Los Angeles Times profiles one of our own.

BUELS GORE, Vt. — When N. Todd Pritsky got up the other day, the thermometer was stuck at 11 degrees below zero. Pritsky thought: What a great day for an outing!

Then he added in the windchill factor, making the air more like minus 41. Hmm, he considered, maybe I should bring a hat.

So Pritsky, wife Stefanie Otterson and their dog Cairo piled into their black Subaru Forester and drove north toward this unincorporated community on a frozen mountainside.

First, they chugged into Jericho, where the town hall is housed in a barn, next to the nation’s only snowflake museum. Both were shut tight. Click. Pritsky shot a family photo. They meandered into Richmond, where “Closed Til Spring” signs hung in darkened storefronts. Click. Pritsky photographed the three of them outside the town’s round church.

They hurried back to the car, two towns closer to their goal of visiting every community in Vermont. Pritsky and Otterson are new to the 251 Club, an organization founded 50 years ago to encourage Vermonters to get to know their beautiful — and conveniently small — state. Vermont is the only state that claims a club devoted exclusively to exploring every city, town, village, gore and grant (the last two, forms of self-governance that in other states would be considered nongovernance).

Their stops in Jericho and Richmond brought their tally to 11, with 240 to go. For extra credit — and bragging rights among club members — Pritsky and Otterson headed to one of the state’s three gores.

They passed fields filled with farm animals, standing still as statues. Too cold to move, speculated Otterson. They saw houses with chimneys puffing as they drew close to Buels Gore — pop. 12, according to the 2000 census. They encountered stalactite icicles gripping the green schist boulders that form the Green Mountains.

Pritsky parked on the lip of the mountain, with not one of the gore’s six residences (and none of its residents) in sight. Otterson and Cairo were shivering as Pritsky adjusted his tripod in knee-deep snow. “Hurry up and take the picture,” Otterson called out, as Pritsky clomped into the family photo. The instant the camera clicked, all three sped back to the car.

“The discovery of things like that is what it is all about,” said Otterson, 36. “Like, what is a gore? Why do we have gores? Do other states have gores?”

The answer is no. Gores are unincorporated communities with limited self-government. Vermont also has the country’s sole grant, a settlement with no governing body at all.

The 251 Club is as quirky as the state it celebrates: an association based entirely on curiosity, trust and an excuse to get out of the house. The club is noncompetitive; it has no rules or bylaws. Members just have to have a desire to visit all the inhabited places in Vermont, sometime in a lifetime.

By traveling to the 251 official communities, club members like Otterson and Pritsky take in more than mere geography. They see beyond the quaint church spires and into a way of life they fear is fast changing as development speeds up, threatening the rural tranquillity that long has been Vermont’s hallmark.

Read the rest here (there’s even a picture). Then go give NTodd, Stef, and Cairo a hand for promoting the good things about living in a beautiful – albeit sometimes cold – place. And how many of you knew what a “gore” was? (I did, but then I spent a summer in Vermont milking cows when I was seventeen.)

[Updated to use the link to the L.A. Times from NTodd’s site. Who better?]