The Caledonia Convergence

To the Editor:

If you’re in the frame of mind for witnessing a cosmic convergence and missed the chance to skip over to Stonehenge for the solstice, let me suggest going to Vermont’s Caledonia County on Bennington Battle Day and witness the solar convergence at the scenic view on US Route 2 in Danville. Like any good convergence, this one brings together several seemingly unconnected places at a point in time.

Danville, where we start, was the birthplace of Thaddeus Stevens, the club-footed Radical Republican abolitionist congressman who helped push through the 13th Amendment and supported reparations for former slaves. It’s also the home of the American Society of Dowsers, which is also cool but in a different way. Dowsers, in case you need to look it up, are the people who search for underground water with a forked stick. The Society has chapters all over, and a website with an online shop. Danville is in Caledonia County, presumably named for Louis Jordan’s great jump-blues song. From the center of Danville, drive north on Route 2. Just north of the town you can stop at the scenic view and look east towards the White Mountains.

The point in the temporal dimension is Bennington Battle Day, or August 16. This is an actual holiday in Vermont, for people who need prompting to not work in mid-August. The battle was actually fought in Walloomsac, New York, so think of the holiday as an interstate historical misappropriation, perhaps karmic payback for New York grabbing symbolic credit for New Jersey’s Statue of Liberty. Or perhaps it’s an act of generosity: Vermont celebrates its neighbor’s success. My grandmother said her (my) ancestors fought on both sides of the battle. The victory helped turn the tide of the war by convincing the French to support the revolution and help liberate the United States from British colonialism. So there’s an odd cosmic resonance to that date.

The second spatial point is the summit of Cannon Mountain, a 4,000 plus foot peak in the White Mountains at the north end of the Franconia Notch. The Mountain is most famous for an outcrop that looked like the profile of an old man. New Hampshire put the profile on pretty much everything, to symbolize the state’s endurance and strength. Then the face fell off, as hanging rock outcrops are prone to do, making the symbolism somewhat more ambiguous. Cannon also has a ski area and a gondola that takes skiers and tourists up to the summit year round. The summit is one of those places where smelly long-distance hikers can mingle with elegantly dressed tourists.

The third spatial point in the convergence is, of course, the sun. Some 92,900,000 miles from earth, although the distance varies throughout the year. If you want to understand the size of our small solar system I recommend driving from Houlton to Presque Isle and watching for the scale models of the planets stretched along 40 miles of highway. Pluto’s still a planet in Aroostook County, and is about an inch across in the Houlton rest area. You pass gas giants the size of large beach balls every now and then, and finally reach the inner planets as you enter Presque Isle. Earth is five and a half inches in diameter, at Percy’s Auto Sales as you come into town. The sun is fifty feet in diameter, so big it’s just a section of an arc painted in a three story building at University of Maine.

When the sun sets over Danville in mid-August, it should be noon somewhere in the Northern Pacific. In Vermont, however, the rays of sunlight, created 8 minutes earlier and 92 million miles away, come in low over the Great Lakes, the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains before they cast a gorgeous golden light on the rocks, lichen, and low alpine flora on the higher peaks of the White Mountains.

Two years ago, I hiked Mt. Carrigain on Bennington Battle Day with Rosie, the long-lashed dragon terrier who joined our household three years ago She chases the dragons that fly around our living room, and has a Marilyn Monroe /John L. Lewis thing going with her eye lashes and brows. She’s small but a rugged hiker. She could have kept going after finishing the ten mile hike, but I was pretty beat. I drove home through Danville, and as I passed the scenic view just before sunset I looked east and saw a bright light coming from the ridge of the White Mountains in the distance. I thought it was the Presidential Range. At first I thought it must have been a fire, which makes no absolutely no sense since there are not much to burn up there. Then I decided it was the setting sun was reflecting off the windows on the west side of the dining room at Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lakes of the Clouds shelter, perhaps 70 miles east on the Presidential Range just south of Mount Washington.

I returned the next year, dragging my family with me, including Rosie. After a fine meal at Sambel’s food truck on Joe Pond, we went to the Danville rest stop. I set up my camera on a tripod and waited for the sun to set. Just as I was about to give up, after the sun seemed to have disappeared behind me, a red point of light appeared on the ridge and I took a grainy and unfocused picture. I sent it to a helpful person at the Appalachian Mountain Club who recognized it as Cannon Mountain. Which made sense: the sunset was reflecting off the windows on the structure at the top of the gondola.

I have no idea how many evenings this event recurs each year at that spot, or how long the reflection is visible in Danville on any particular evening. All I do know is that it happened at sunset on Bennington Battle Day in 2017 and 2018, and I’m positing that it will happen again on the same day in future years. At least that’s my working hypothesis, so I’m planning on heading to Danville on August 16, 2019 at sunset, assuming it’s clear and I don’t have a better offer.

Since this is my convergence, I get to name it. The “Caledonia Convergence” has a nice ring to it. Others may be better at designing rituals to commemorate cosmic events. Some Vermonters in this neck of the woods would likely include a bonfire and nude dancing. I don’t want to cramp anyone’s spiritual creativity, but I won’t be joining in. I do think the celebration should include poutine on the picnic tables at Sambel’s food truck next to Joe’s Pond. That way Rosie can eat with us.

Tim Belcher

Barre, Vermont

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