Living on the Land Means Living With the Seasons

Seasonal Living

Southern Vermont is a place that shows its history. Maybe it’s because there are still so many old barns and houses standing, and fields that haven’t been paved over, and brick mills that haven’t been converted to condos. Whatever the reason it’s easy to imagine what life here was like 100 years ago.

Visitors comment on this, especially in the winter. “Fighting the cold and snow like that for months and months! How did they ever endure it?” But that’s the wrong question. You see, old-time Vermonters didn’t fight the cold and snow, they worked with it.

Our favorite example of this is snow plowing; they didn’t do it. Plowing snow off the roads, or removing it from parking lots with bucket loaders, takes an incredible amount of petroleum energy. Back when most work was done with horses, Vermonters used big steel rollers to pack down the snowy roads and went about their business in sleighs.

They knew that winter was the right time to cut firewood. That’s because it’s easier to see the top of the tree when the leaves are off and easier to skid logs out over the snow. But the best reason is that the wood isn’t full of sap. Firewood cut in the winter can be burned the next fall; firewood cut in the summer needs to dry a year or more.

In winter, Vermonters cut blocks of ice that would keep their ice houses cool all summer. They made Apple Jack—a very potent apple brandy—simply by freezing hard cider overnight and removing the ice the next morning. They did their cooking on a wood stove in the middle of the house to get twice the use out of the heat.

Think of the energy we waste today trying to live all winter as if it were summer. We can do that because energy is cheap, but it might not always be so. We may need to relearn how to live with the seasons.

Gardner, Cabot. Eliot, and Lyman Orton
Proprietors of The Vermont Country Store