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Outdoors

Cassandra Hotaling Hahn / Rutland Herald photo

Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Dec. 22, 2011.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Wait. No, it’s not. It looks nothing like Christmas outside. What the heck? Christmas is, indeed, only days away, but as of writing this column, it just doesn’t feel right. Sure, the decorations are up. People are gifting and re-gifting and pepper-spraying each other. The calendar doesn’t lie; the 25th is right around the corner. But where is the snow?

Without snow, the many holiday decorations around town look incomplete — like they have been left out well into the spring, the punchline to some unfunny Jeff Foxworthy joke.

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Stone Crusher in Pine Hill Park

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 8/4/11]

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about outdoor music venues in Rutland. Certainly, we have some great indoor ones — The Paramount, Merchants Hall, cafés, barrooms (of varying acoustic quality) — but we’re decidedly lacking in dedicated outdoor ones.

Sure, there’s Main Street Park. In the downtown, Friday Night Live brings a stage to Center Street, but that’s a short-lived treat.

As I look around Rutland, I see a few sites that would not only be well suited for a show, but also a blast to play in. I knew I couldn’t be alone so I asked some other local musicians what their top picks for an outdoor venue would be.

Singer/songwriter Phil Henry put a unique spin on my top venue: the downtown transit center. Recently, I professed my love for this sizeable yet overlooked downtown structure. The views from there are some of the best on the city, and the space is well suited to safely accommodate crowds.

But whereas I have my eye on the top floor, Phil wants to be inside. “I have a song that takes place in the bus station on West Street,” he said. “It’s been in the back of my mind to do a live video recording there, awash in cement reverb.”

While the facility may be owned by the state, it’s my understanding that under the right conditions the space could be used for entertainment purposes. So maybe Phil will get his wish one day.

Nearby Center Street Alley is an old-school option. While next year’s renovations will once again make this area a viable public space, its current state makes for a rustic backdrop that still has appeal for local bands. Indeed, Rick Redington recently played a noontime set there to celebrate the release of his latest album.

Caitlin Canty checked in with a venue that I had never considered, but now would be interested to see realized.

“I would love to play on the football field at Rutland High School,” she said. Think about it, the basic infrastructure necessary for a concert is there, and it’s the closest thing Rutland would get its own Wembley Stadium-style show.

Speaking of iconic venues, across town Michael Smith is working hard to create Rutland’s version of Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater in Pine Hill Park. Over the last year, Smith and other volunteers have been clearing rocks, trees and brush to open up the 1920s rock quarry that lies along the park’s vast trail network.

According to Smith, the quarry is a natural amphitheater. And people are lining up to get in. Recently, the Rutland Youth Theater performed “The Merchant of Venice” there.

“The acoustics are impeccable up there,” said Smith. “I’ve been through there on more than a few occasions and found some lone guitarist picking away on his instrument . It really is a great place.”

And Smith is just getting started: “We are going to backhoe out a nice bank for people to sit along and lay down some topsoil so that we can plant grass. We are also going to be building an outdoor pizza oven to offer some fresh pizzas up there during events.”

Down the line, Smith thinks the site could serve an ideal outdoor summer concert venue.

No to be neglected any longer, the long abandoned, “post-apocalyptic” Stone Crusher — cited by local axeman Casey Grant as his dream venue — which sits close by, also figures into Smith’s plans.

On Oct. 1, the site will be basecamp for Lunar Quarry 12, a 12-hour night mountain bike relay. Grant, along with a number of other musicians, will provide entertainment from atop the unusual structure. (Find out more at http://www.lunar-quarry12.com.)

While Grant gets the prize for most creative venue — “I’d like to play in a shopping cart, and have Jeff (Poremski) push me around” — Duane Carleton takes it for spookiest and most intriguing with New Boston, a long-gone town near the Chittenden reservoir that failed during the colonization of Vermont.

“It snowed all through the summer one year and the inhabitants couldn’t survive,” he said. “All that is left are the cellar holes.”

Spooky, indeed, and a fine fit for a late-night Halloween show, if you ask me.

Sure, some of these venues are more viable than others, but all are unique and would make for an exciting evening of music.

While I have my picks, I’ll leave the final suggestion to the one and only Jeff Poremski, who channeled rapper T-Pain with his vote for Lake Bomoseen — “on a BOAT!”

I’m not a runner. I like to run, but I won’t be completing a marathon anytime soon. To be honest, even a half-marathon seems a bit overly ambitious to me. I have friends who do this – spending weeks or months ahead of a race training, waking up at ungodly hours and running increasingly obscene distances all in preparation for that big day when they will wake up at an ungodly hour and run an obscene distance.

To the outsider, running is the most futile form of recreation ever created. People who don’t run are often confounded by what motivates people to do it. Given that in other sports, running is usually a form of conditioning or punishment that most come to revile, the fact that someone would do it willingly seems slightly masochistic. Even the guy in the original story of Marathon had a purpose and destination for his run. (And don’t forget, he died afterwards.)

Yet people run. I run. Like I said, I don’t foresee myself setting any records anytime soon, but I do enjoy it. Running relaxes me at the end of a stressful day. And despite what nonrunners might say, it is rewarding. There is a feeling of accomplishment when you finish. Often, that feeling manifests itself painfully, but that’s all the more reason to go out again tomorrow to increase your stamina and keep your muscles loose.

As we all know, Rutland has taken its lumps for being one of Vermont’s least healthy counties. The sad irony is that Rutlanders have access to a wealth of recreational resources. Organizationally, we have a vibrant community of runners. The Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition and the Marble Valley Runners organize events and activities throughout the year. The Rutland Recreation Department also features a weekly evening running series at Pine Hill during the summer. Beyond running, the Rec. also offers a variety of programming. Classes are abundant and affordable.

When it comes to running, I prefer to go it alone. Occasionally, I’ll bring along a friend, but for the most part I like to be solo – just me and my iPod. The one benefit I have noticed from running with a partner is that I’m less likely to wuss out when I get tired.

That being said, I’ve long since given up on running with those marathon people who like to chat the whole way because they never get winded. They’re quoting last week’s episode of “The Office” while I’m gasping for air, barely able to interject a single “That’s what she said.”

And at the end, it’s always the same patronizing “That was a good run” comment. Don’t lie; I know you’ll be laughing about this with your distance runner friends later on at one of your meetings. (I’m pretty sure that people who run marathons don’t meet regularly, but if they did, I’m guessing that a portion of that time would be devoted to talking about lame people they’ve run with).

So where does one run in Rutland? I can’t speak for everyone, but over the years, I’ve found a variety of decent routes that I frequent. They come in three categories: city, country and off-road.

1) City: Running in the city is an adventure. While it may not offer the steep inclines of routes outside the city, Rutland offers up an even greater challenge: You may die at any moment. Traffic, potholes, loose dogs, uneven sidewalks – the city’s terrain can be more treacherous than any of Pine Hill’s most vicious trails. But it’s a thrill. Usually, I start out at Rutland High School on Stratton Road.

Pros: This loop takes me onto Main Street and Woodstock Avenue where I’ve found that running with an audience make me push myself harder.

Cons: The pollution from the cars is pretty unhealthy, and the sidewalks are usually covered in sand. This has potential for causing a nasty spill, which can turn the previous pro of running for an audience into an epically embarrassing con.

2) Country: Living in Mendon, running outside the city is my default choice. I’m a big fan of Wheelerville Road; there’s about 8 miles of varying terrain, and it’s cool and shady even in July. For such a somewhat remote location, Wheelerville is well trafficked and safe. On a typical run, I encounter everyone from dog-walkers and cyclists to people fishing the river or exploring the wilderness.

Pros: It’s quieter than the city, cars are scarce and there’s a good mix of hills and straight-aways.

Cons: Deer flies. While the impending bite from one of these guys may keep you moving, they’re still jerks.

3) Off-road: Here, of course, I’m talking about the Pine Hill trails. Fourteen miles on 300 acres. What else is there to say? The trails vary from light to challenging. Trail-running keeps you on your toes. One misplaced step will send you tumbling. But that’s the fun of it.

Pros: The trails are in the city. That’s pretty cool.

Cons: Is it just me or is the Stone Crusher haunted?

I know running is not for everyone (sometimes, it’s barely for me). But the benefits both physically and psychologically are worth it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how far or fast you run, or if you even run at all. It’s finding time in your day to be active – getting outside, getting your heart pumping and keeping yourself fit and healthy.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 2/24/10] My quest to beat the wintertime blues continues. This time, I decided to take advantage of the recent February thaw by heading outside for some fresh air. So I packed up my parents’ dog Kelsey – whom I’ve had the honor of dog-sitting while they’re down in Florida – and headed over to Pine Hill Park to explore Rutland’s vast 300-acre recreational retreat.

The parking lot at Giorgetti is sparse on this Monday; several cars sat close to the rink entrance. From inside, I can hear the playful hoots and hollers of children – on vacation, and enjoying one of the Recreation Department’s many programs scheduled for this week.

Kelsey leaps from the car with excitement. She eagerly examines the trailhead, jerking me left and right as she took in her new surroundings. While last summer turned me into a regular visitor of the park, I’d yet to bring Kelsey with me. (I’ve learned from experience that inquisitive golden retrievers make lousy trail running companions.)

Upon entering, I am immediately struck by how different the park looks in the winter months. The trees and leaves that give definition to the trails are absent, allowing you to peer deeply into the depths of the park, seeing its now rugged topography in a whole new light. What in the greener months appears to be so dense and impenetrable is now spare and vacant and beautiful in its emptiness.

Our footsteps crunch and pop as we walk over the packed snow and ice. Once we get deeper within the park, the din of the city fades, replaced by the cold quiet of winter air. Somewhere above us, the hammering of a woodpecker hard at work occasionally interrupts the calm.

For the most part, the trails are clear and easy to navigate, though, at times patches of ice require us to abandon the path for the snow and dried leaves along its sides. Eventually, we reach the clearing at Crusher Road. I take a few moments to explore Stone Crusher – the hollowed out and eerily intriguing structure that sits in the middle of the park. I always like to stop by here. It’s like Rutland’s very own DHARMA station – I half-expect the smoke monster to appear from one of the cracks in the building’s foundation (“Lost” fans will know what I’m talking about).

We head back to the lower trails, and connect back to the Giorgetti Loop. Without the leaves, I can see the playing fields below. Several kids are being entertained by a dog while others run about engrossed in some game or another. Ahead of us on the trail, we meet a young family with a hefty retriever of their own. The dogs exchange some friendly sniffs, and we move on toward the trailhead.

In the final stretch, we simultaneously encounter some of the snowiest and greenest trails of our entire walk. A well-packed and relatively deep patch of snow segues into a sunny clearing where a swath of green ferns, matted down by the snow, sprawl out on either side of the trail.

As the light scatters through the leafless canopy, it catches the ice crystals and the surprisingly green flora, creating a warm scene that tricks me into believing that spring was right around the corner. (Imagine my excitement when the following day brought us another round of winter whiteness.)

At the trailhead, I let Kelsey off her leash to run a bit before I turn her muddy paws loose on my backseat. With her head sticking out from the back window, my car rolls out of the parking lot.

Recharged and refreshed, the trip the Pine Hill was just what I needed. The brief thaw was a welcomed respite to the cold, and just what I needed to get me through these next few weeks of winter.