Summer ride with a friend

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Atticus Phinney-Anderson was born and raised in Westford, Vermont. Recently, he completed an internship with the Rural Assembly as part of his arts academy work at Essex High School. His assignment was to take a closer look and examine the influence of his rural environment on his life and community. 

Atticus chose to create a photo-essay to explore questions of rural identity, representation, happiness, The essay is a portrait of people and places closest to him. “My initial thoughts on the project were that I didn’t have much to share, but after I got quiet and was forced to look at my surroundings from an outside perspective, I realized how much there was to capture.”

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Often, I wanted nothing more than to escape the confines of my dirt road. And I doubt my lust for the greater world will cease anytime soon. But I’ve also started to acquire a true appreciation for where I live. I’ve begun to seriously look at colleges and think about what I want my future to hold. That’s also forced me to reflect on what I already have. Aside from the physical landscape, what really struck me the past few months was my community. I’d argue there’s nothing quite like a rural community. Everything is just so intertwined.

When I was 10, maybe 11, our dog Raisin had six puppies. We gave almost all of the puppies away to people in Westford. One of them, Bella, went to our friends Connie and Steve. Steve is also one of our volunteer firefighters. On one of the days I was shooting the fire department, and a few other assorted community members were setting up the town ice rink. Steve happened to be there. These little connections really create a sense of community and they just aren’t the same or as common in urban places.

Fire Chief Steve Willard of Westford volunteer Fire Department

I’ve been trying to be much more conscious and appreciative of my surroundings, experience it with my senses. I find that slipping into this mindset while running or driving is something that’s proving to be very beneficial. I realize how much I regularly miss. 

Recently, what’s really struck me was the light. I often start my commute to school in semi-darkness, and as I drive the pale light begins to creep through the trees, gently inching across the hills. It adds an element of calm to my often tumultuous morning, which I easily take for granted. 

I feel obligated to mention the bar for turmoil is quite low, considering that a morning where I see more than seven cars is a busy one. This brings me to the second thing that is easily overlooked, the quiet. The real lack of any great or constant noise is truly a gift. You never notice it until you tune in or until it’s gone. That’s its beauty.

Sunset from the field in Westford

The little things really do stand out where I’m from because there’s simply a lot less going on. 

We had one store in Westford for the earlier part of my childhood. It was was old, dusty, and really didn’t sell much. Despite this, my mom and I would stop and get creamsicles there from time to time, as it was located about a mile from our house. Kevin, the owner, shut it down a few years ago. 

Although his reasons were rather obvious, there was some sadness from myself and I think the community, about losing our sole business establishment. 

We now have a new store going up, which has the town rather excited. But I know that it’s really meant for the next generation. By the time it’s completed I’ll be on my way to college. 

While on the topic of small stores and ice cream, I should mention Minor’s, our other much more established ice cream destination. It’s located about the same distance from our house as Kevin’s, it’s just in the neighboring town. 

Each summer we’d take countless trips to get cones of either crazy vanilla or mint chocolate chip. Minor’s has also been the source of our Christmas trees for various years, whenever we were too lazy to go cut one ourselves. I’m not complaining – cutting a tree in 10 degree weather is its own special hell. Some of my fonder childhood memories came from these trips. 

Minor’s Country Store in Fairfax

When I really think about most of the kids I’ve grown up with, they don’t really fit the rural stereotype box at all. From our iPhones to our outfits me and my friends can strike as pretty urban. That’s despite the inescapable fact that we all are rural at our cores. 

It can sometimes feel like the rural youth isn’t portrayed in mainstream media. But it’s less that we’re not displayed – it’s that the portrayal is so inaccurate to what I experience it just feels as if it’s non-existent.

I think a lot of the issues in my community are basically the same as everywhere else. Of course, they’re unique in their own way to this particular place, but still not that different. It’s all the same “hot button” issues we see dividing the rest of the country. The unique factors are the majority of white people and since it’s such a small community, a lot less anonymity around people’s views. 

Where I live can also give a feeling of separation from the various problems much of the country faces. Among a lot of the kids I’m around, I see many with the mindset of “it doesn’t affect me so it’s not my problem” or “it simply can’t be true because I don’t find that problem to be true in my life.” A lot of people don’t even realize they think like that. But it can still be a challenging thing to face off with when you can’t even have a rational conversation with someone. Again though I realize that is only so unique to my community.

Family mailbox in Westford