Monday, October 28, 2013

Journey to Dog Mountain

According to Vermont folklore,  if you really want to escape civilization, the place to go is not the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, but the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. People say that this, the most rural and remote part of Vermont, is practically an independent state - it's a place where you're not considered a true Vermonter unless your family have lived here for the past four generations. Everyone else is "from away". This is where the saying "Welcome to Vermont - now go home!' comes from.

This isn't our experience of Vermonters, of course, but see this post on Vermonters natural reserve

I've been longing to visit the Northeast Kingdom. So since we were taking Jill and Emma, our friends from England, to Stowe this weekend, I saw an opportunity to venture a little further north. We would visit Dog Mountain.

Stowe is pretty even now the colour has all gone from the leaves, even with snow lying on the ski fields, but when you head north east, the feeling of Vermont changes. We drove for an hour through sleepy deserted villages - we saw almost no-one - where beautiful churches lined the streets.

The houses and buildings in the small towns were often grand and forbidding:

But in the countryside, the small houses and huge barns that nestled in among the mountains and bare forests were often in a state of semi-collapse. This was no polished countryside: my overwhelming feeling was that a hard life was chiseled out here. This was an environment that seemed to have stepped back several decades. In winter, it seemed, you might never go further than the general store, never see anyone but your immediate neighbours. It was beautiful - oh yes! But harder,and much older than the pretty Champlain Valley.

Just past St Johnsbury, we arrived at Dog Mountain. Dog Mountain is a privately owned mountain, bought by Stephen and Gwendolyn Huneck almost 20 years ago. Stephen Huneck was an artist - a wood cutter - who, after a serious illness and near death experience was inspired by a vision to create this unique dog haven. Its hiking trails and ponds are always open to the public, and each year they hold special Dog Parties and a Dog Fest.

We expected something a little odd. But instead we found something that was remarkably poignant, full of both sorrow and love. The tiny Dog chapel is a work of love, exquisitely designed in every detail.

On every centimeter of every wall there were layers of photographs and notes from visitors to the chapel, recording memories and words of love for their dogs (and some cats) who had died.

We left notes for Benny, our springer spaniel, and Paddy, my one and only cat, and for Maxwell and Jude.

The Gallery next door was full of Stephen's woodcutting and whimsical work.

There were plenty of real dogs around to cuddle

Even the bathroom had a dog theme:

The dog on the basin was the tap - you pulled the dog's tail and the water came out!

Stephen Huneck lost his battle for life in 2010, and his wife and friends are struggling to keep Dog Mountain open, with help from volunteers, donations, and sales of Stephen's work. Bruce said, as we drove away, "who else can say they left behind a life's work quite like this". I'm not sure if these photos can in any way convey the feeling of this place. But this is a day I will not forget.

For more about Dog Mountain and Stephen Huneck's work, see here


  1. "The dog on the basin was the tap - you pulled the dog's tail and the water came out"
    — I'm almost afraid to ask where the water came out ;^P

  2. :-) Yes, that did sound a little ambiguous! I hasten to add "out of its mouth" !!