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Brattleboro’s Culture Makes You Think

Brattleboro’s culture is legendary. Even its chamber of commerce proclaims “the hippies have had a lasting influence on the town’s character and values.”

Brattleboro KOA goats on leashes
Brattleboro KOA goats on leashes

My friend Jill and I were there for a couple of days, so we were really able to get a sense of Brattleboro, and I can certify the chamber’s description.

Walking down an alley, we just happened upon the musicians in the video at the top of this post. While the video is shaky (because I was walking), the trio was fantastic! I hadn’t seen someone play the washtub bass since I was a kid in front of my grandparents’ TV set watching Hee Haw. Who knew?

We stayed outside the city limits at the KOA campground, where the owners keep a few goats. I have a real love for goats—they crack me up—and I was surprised to see them happily walking on leashes like dogs. Okay, like foraging dogs.

Speaking of farm animals on leashes, we heard about a local resident who frequently walks his pig through town, but since we missed them, here’s a video of what I assume is this duo.

Rush hour the Brattleboro way

Most of Brattleboros traffic eventually comes or goes through the Anna Hunt Marsh bridge
Anna Hunt Marsh bridge: lovely but inadequate

Although it’s a town of less than 7,000 residents, traffic moves slowly through Brattleboro’s main artery, which leads to New Hampshire via the Anna Hunt Marsh bridge. Jill and I walked that bridge in the dappled sunshine of early September…lovely.

The bridge causes delays because it’s narrow—one lane in either direction—and because the railroad tracks cross right in front of it. It’s been deemed functionally obsolete by federal highway standards.

Riding into town one day at noon, we noticed a woman wearing a long, petal-hemmed skirt in vibrant colors. She caught my attention not only for that remarkable skirt, but also because she was waving her arms and using specific hand gestures in what seemed to be an attempt to smooth and settle the energy of the drivers and traffic flow. It looked vaguely to me like Reiki or maybe some other kind of energy work, and she was immersed in her practice. Sure ’nuff, we soon heard sirens responding to a call. By the time we had parked at the food co-op, a fire truck had threaded its way through traffic.

In another rush-hour, a woman on the sidewalk called out a car driver for texting and was applauded for her efforts by other pedestrians. That’s right, people in Brattleboro publicly shame scofflaws of Vermont’s no-texting-while-driving law. Gotta love it.

On the afternoon of our departure, there was a rush hour sidewalk demonstration in favor of funding a skate park—people of all ages waved signs and chanted. Hey! Skateboarders have rights too!

You learn a lot about a place during its rush hours, and hippie culture extends to them in Brattleboro too.

BMAC exposes downside of “car culture”

Brattleboro Museum and Art Center
The BMAC has outstanding programming!

The Brattleboro Museum and Art Center is located on the top two floors of Union Station, situated on the rail line in front of the Anna Hunt Marsh bridge. At ground level is an Amtrak station.

What luck for me that the BMAC (as it’s called) was running an exhibit called “Road Trip: America Through the Windshield.”

The road has permanently changed the American landscape. It has allowed Americans to travel throughout the United States and learn more about the country’s diverse topography. Experiencing the landscape through the windshield has, at the same time, led to a certain alienation from it… ~BMAC

A lecture at the BMAC by psychotherapist Dave Cohen laid out “how the neuropsychology behind how the car radically mediates our sensory experience of the ecological and social environments we encounter.”

I took notes like there was no tomorrow, including:

  • Cars are designed to restrict our access to the “real world”
  • The limbic brain governs emotions and relies on sensory inputs, which are limited in a car. No wonder we love convertibles (and I love motorcycle travel)
  • There are studies of kids who can’t draw their neighborhoods. Why? Because they don’t explore them
  • We are antisocial when we get behind the wheel. Just watch this Disney short with Mr. Walker when he becomes Mr. Wheeler

The museum’s Flickr page offers a few pictures from the exhibit, which ran through October 2014; the BMAC isn’t a collecting museum.

A motorcyclist in a black dress

Here I am in my "little black dress" and motorcycle boots
Here I am in my “little black dress” and motorcycle boots

I got a nice mention in The Brattleboro Reformer when I visited the BMAC. I had to laugh when the reporter described me as a motorcyclist wearing a black dress. Doesn’t that sound like cocktail party attire? Ha!

Here’s the scoop: this year I learned that riding my motorcycle with a dress tucked into my riding pants makes touring in hot weather a (literal) breeze. Jump off the bike, take off your armored riding pants, let the dress drop and whew.

It’s a wonder dresses for men haven’t taken off…you don’t know what you’re missing, guys.

 Brattleboro has its own “Nessie?”

I’m a fan of roadside kitsch, so of course I got this picture of what I thought was the Loch Ness Monster on a Brattleboro lake north of downtown.

Here's "Champ" in Brattleboro, VT
Roadside homage to “Champ” the monster of Lake Champlain

When I posted it on Facebook my friends in New England were quick to point out that my photo was really “Champ,” the monster of Lake Champlain.

From quirky shops and earnest purveyors of local and organic food and drink, to street musicians and the arts, there is plenty too see and do in Brattleboro. No extra charge for hippie culture!

About Tamela Rich

Avatar for Tamela Rich
Author Tamela has extensively traveled the U.S. and Canada, delivering her message to Pack Light | Travel Slow | Connect Deep. Her keynotes and workshops include life lessons she has learned through chance encounters on the road.

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