We just returned from three days of driving around north-central Vermont for our next book, Food Lovers' Guide to Vermont and New Hampshire. Wherever we went, people wanted to know where else we had been and how bad the destruction from Irene was.
Our journey--plotted before the storm--had us going up I-89 and getting off in farm country at Randolph, south of Montpelier. Farmer Sam Lincoln summed up much of what we would see. He had lost only a hayfield to flooding, ''but just four miles south of here it's bad,'' he told us. We continued north and found Montpelier and Barre--which had been badly flooded in May--were a little damp and muddy. People were pumping out their basements, counting their own lucky stars, and worrying more about friends and relatives in the southern half of the state. In fact, the farther north we pressed, the less damage we saw. Stowe was fine. There weren't even downed trees in Smugglers' Notch, and while a few potato and corn fields had been inundated in Jeffersonville and Cambridge, damages were usually minor. Morrisville seemed unscathed. (That was less true as we pushed east into the Northeast Kingdom. Just west of Hardwick, a bend in a river had become much more pronounced, destroying a piece of road, a store, and a gas station.)
Based at Sugarbush on the slopes of the Mad River Valley, we saw both the best and worst of it. Aside from losing power for part of a day and suffering some supply shortages, Sugarbush looks like there never was a storm. Down in the valley in the village of Waitsfield, Bridge Street was destroyed by a churning fury of mud. The covered bridge survived, but it will be a long time before businesses can re-open. The street itself will have to be completely rebuilt.
Similarly, a little farther north in Waterbury, the lower village was inundated with muddy waters. All along South Main Street (Route 100) lawns are covered with furniture, clothing, and other belongings set out to dry—or to be hauled away. The Alchemist Pub is closed for the foreseeable future, but its canning factory is reopening on Friday. Ironically, just a few miles away on the Waterbury-Stowe road, all the biggest tourist attractions (Ben & Jerry's Factory, the Cabot Store, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, etc.) are doing business as usual.
In fact, ''business as usual'' is what everyone longs to return to as quickly as possible. Don't write off that Vermont foliage vacation. The leaves are just beginning to turn, and the last thing the Green Mountain State needs is for the tourists to stay away.