Building Community

Rachel Carson. Aldo Leopold. Peter Matthiessen. John McPhee. Those are all authors who have won the John Burroughs Medal, an award for nature writing.

A few Vermont writers have made the elite list as well, namely former University of Vermont professor Bernd Heinrich and author Ted Levins.

In April, Middlebury editor Carolyn Kuebler learned that an essay she had originally written for the Massachusetts Review was the winner of the 2021 John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing. In this issue, she kindly shares it with us.

That essay, published here as “The Wild Place,” is more than 7,000 words long and 8 pages. 

And you should read every mind-blowing word of it. 

In it, Kuebler takes us on her strolls through Middlebury’s Wright Park. More than that, she gets at the heart of why we need wild places near us, and what that contact with nature and escape from “civilization” does for our minds and soul. As she writes: “One day I discovered if I put on music, and ran instead of walked, stepping lightly over rocks and roots, huffing up inclines, my whole being—my fraught relation to myself and to the present state of things — would change.”

As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but give a silent cheer for the work that Gov. Scott and the team at the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative have done to promote projects that enhance outdoor recreation around Vermont. In this issue, we publish a special section — The Next Outdoor Playgrounds — covering just some of the places and organizations that received some of the nearly $5 million in VOREC grants that were awarded this year.

There are some big projects in there: bridges, skateparks, new trails. And some small ones. Taken individually, things like kiosks at trail heads, better signage, or a short connector trail may seem like small potatoes. But looking at them through the prism of Carolyn Kuebler’s essay, you can see the lasting impact and importance they have in connecting people who live in Vermont’s towns and cities (and those who come to visit) to the outdoors.  And they play a key role in creating a an outdoor community.

“Community is what got us into running,” is how elite runner Ben True introduces his new elite running team Northwoods Athletics. True and his wife, Olympic triathlete Sarah True, chose to make the Upper Valley region their home. Not Boulder, Colo., nor Flagstaff, Ariz. where many elite athletes live and train. 

For many years, True ran on his own. He was still able to turn in world-class performances. He holds the American road record for a 5K and he was seventh in the 2021 New York City Marathon. Rather than move West to join a training team, he decided to invite other runners to join him here in northern New England. And not just elite runners. 

As our story, “A Faster Marathon: How Ben True Upped His Game,” details, he’s also started a weekly “Tour de Woodstock” run that’s open to any and all. And he’s serious: go run with him. 

If you need any other motivation to run, consider our list of “10 Fall Marathons to Train for Now.” 

Better yet, heed Carolyn Kuebler’s words:

I am in awe of my own feet wtih their hundreds of bones, landing right, every time…. Joy, the leavener, the motivator, the sharpened spade that loosens the soil, letting air and water in. Undeserved, but there it is.”

—Lisa Lynn, Editor


Opening photo: A Montpelier Fun Run, photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

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