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Dan Mackie: The World According to the VPR Radio Commentaries

Over the holidays we traveled to Hawaii, which was awfully nice, but I’ve been spoiled by the commentaries on Vermont Public Radio. After listening to their reports about Vermont, almost everything on this planet kind of pales in comparison.

The radio commentaries are nuanced. Some profess to love Vermont best in summer. Others love Vermont most in winter. Many would choose fall, when Mother Nature seems to paint Vermont with its softest brushes, producing hues that are a little brighter, a little warmer, than those found anywhere else.

Not so many would choose Vermont in muddy spring, but if the sap is running, all bets are off. There is something about the tradition of the sugarhouse, steam rising into the gentle Vermont air, and boiling sap to create syrup that’s just a little bit sweeter, because it’s from Vermont.

People move here from the city and within six weeks or so — even sooner if they are they are out-of-work writers — they are bursting with newborn pride that makes them run to the studios of Vermont Public Radio.

A hike up Camel’s Hump. A morning view of Mount Mansfield. A look at the nicely situated McDonald’s just outside of Randolph. That’s all it takes to inspire a commentary that begins, “It’s different in Vermont” or “It’s different in the Kingdom.’’ Or, “It’s different in Burlington.’’ And of course, it is.

I live in New Hampshire, in West Lebanon. It’s an easy walk to Vermont, but it’s not Vermont. I don’t know if there’s a special quality in these New Hampshire hills that whispers that I’m home. I’m not surrounded by a feeling that people here are rugged individuals formed by the ancient mountains and the grit of the Green Mountain boys and a sense of independence mixed with concern about neighbors who I see at town meeting dressed in plaids in the best tradition of democracy and homemade pies.

But the signal from Vermont Public Radio comes in strong over the river into New Hampshire, and I get a sense of what I am missing.

Not that Hawaii was lacking. In Hilo, on the Big Island, where my son is a law clerk fresh out of law school, the high temperature careened from 80 one day to 81 the next, and then plummeted back to 80. We drove to white sand beaches and black sand beaches and salt and pepper beaches. It seemed pretty swell, but then it was as if the voice of a VPR commentator whispered, “it’s not Vermont.’’

We drove 9,000 feet up Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, looked at the stars, and listened to guides describe the enormity of deep space. I briefly stepped away from my family and tried to take it in, and feel my place in the universe, one tiny match in a universe ablaze.

Last year we visited Oahu where we saw beaches so beautiful that I had hardly imagined I would ever reach such a place. (I grew up with a Hampton Beach worldview.) And we saw the valley where Lost and Jurassic Park were filmed, so green and exotic that I felt like the kid in the funny YouTube video who asks, “Is this real life?”

I am back home, where some mornings I have to do a crazy dance on my icy driveway to retrieve the newspaper. But the daylight grows longer, the sunsets are bright as pop art, and trends are in our favor.

It’s not Vermont, but it’s almost Vermont, and it’s good to be home.

The writer can be reached at dmackie@vnews.com.