Danville

by Susan Abbott
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