by Stephen Morris
When Darwin Hunter decides to update Over Yonder Hill (Alton Blanchard's history of the tiny Vermont hamlet of Upper Granville), the result is Beyond Yonder, a chronicle of the cultural divide between the entrenched natives and the invaders from the Land of Flat. From "Babysitters" to "Zucchinis" the contrasting world views are examined and skewered.
Beyond Yonder is part one of "Stories and Tunes," Stephen Morris's "four-part" trilogy of life in the rural North.
by Stephen Morris
Upper Granville B.F.
Over Yonder Hill
The valley runs north and south for almost four miles. Hills rise on all sides, Granville Ridge to the east, Bear Hill to the west, Bailey's Peak to the north, obscure and unnamed mounds to the south. Tomar Brook is the primary watershed, originating as a series of rivulets in the surrounding hills and emptying into the Fifth Branch of the White River. This stream, in turn, cuts through Granville "Gulf" (the Vermonter's term for the narrow ravine between two sharply angled hills) and flows eventually into the Connecticut River.
The topography is distinctly Green Mountain, formed by creeping glaciers at the onset of the last interstadial. Nothing spectacular, but beauty at every turn. It is a world of small scale where all horizons are within throwing distance. Visitors feel exposed because they cannot see enemies approaching; conversely, natives feel protected because enemies cannot see them. The ever-present trees enhance the feeling of seclusion. Vermont is squarely in the midst of one of the world's few remaining hardwood forests. Despite the penchant of the natives to insert pieces of this forest into cast iron stoves with great regularity from September through May, the forest is expanding.
The winters are long, but livable. Upper Granville catches the north wind "dead nuts on," in the words of locals like Emil Dummerston Weed, but is otherwise protected from winter's iciest blasts. The town's elevation means that it frequently gets snow when Granville gets rain. As much as thirty inches more will fall in the high valley than in neighboring towns.
January is the coldest month, although the third week produces a spiteful thaw that ruins the roads and skiing. February is the bleakest, as nature spews forth the most vile of its venom. March is ridiculous, kisses of springtime interspersed with frigid slaps. The roads thaw each day only to freeze at night. Everyone spends at least some time in a ditch.
April is the cruelest month; the flippancy of March goes to extremes just when the human psyche is least able to resist. Cabin fever and the flu run hand in hand. Kids play baseball in the snow, and trout season opens on frozen ponds. Suicides reach their annual peak. The most fanatical dig through the snow to put in peas. May explodes. The unmistakable first spring day, then the last patch of snow, then KABOOM ... an electric green world combines limey soil with photosynthesis to create a color so vivid it is outshone only by dandelions that pop out like flashbulbs, until the Holsteins get them.
June is ecstatic. July sublime. Then in August the first cool days remind of what is approaching. Although it has been barely six weeks since the last frost, the summer had seemed immortal, winter eternally conquered. Everyone in the state gets depressed. Then the reprieve. September is irrepressible, with warm bright days that harken to July. October sees the summer die in a finale not seen since the Fourth of July fireworks.
November brings the first freeze (if October has not), the first snow, and the precipice of December, beyond which stretches the abyss. The days become anorexic. Despair. There will be no end to this winter.
The valley of Upper Granville and the surrounding hillsides were cleared in the mid-1800s, leaving room for about a dozen small farms. Most of the community's existing homes date from this period of prosperity. Life barely changed through the turn of the century, the First World War, and the Depression. World War II took its toll, however. A total of eight community residents went off to war and not one returned. No one was killed, but the exposure to the outside world was too dazzling. Thereafter, Upper Granville had difficulty keeping its youth. One by one the family farms withered and consolidated, until only the Blanchards remained to earn a living from the land. The Blanchards retained the bottom land and sold the houses to whatever Flatlander wanted them. The hillsides returned to forest, giving the valley the sense of snugness that now overwhelms the first-time visitor.
The first settlers of Upper Granville might have been Abanaki Indians, but no one knows. The tribal name was spelled "Abanaki" in Alton Blanchard's epic history of Upper Granville, Over Yonder Hill, written in 1955 and privately published. Elsewhere it is spelled "Abnaki," "Ebanqui," or "Abbanak," with as many variations in pronunciation. The tribe's mark on civilization is faint at present and might disappear entirely but for the diligent scholarship of men like Alton. The same might be said for the entire history of Upper Granville.
The territory was granted to an English noble, Lord Granville, whose holdings were so vast that he never bothered to visit, not even to see the foliage. For a short period both New York and New Hampshire lay claim to the land, but the arrogant heroics of Ethan Allen soon established the independence of the Green Mountains. Vermont's first son is described by Alton Blanchard as "a first class lout, so vain that he strutted about in a uniform of his own design, a drunkard, a braggart, a bully." Allen's only virtue in Blanchard's eyes was that he was slightly less despicable than the Yorkers to the west of Lake Champlain. The evident disdain for the Yorkers of colonial times is mirrored today in the mutterings of natives that accompany each busload of fall foliage leaf peepers. Today they are called Flatlanders.
The first settlers to Upper Granville came in the late 1700s, part of the northward and westward sprawl continuing to this day in America. By 1839 there was enough of a community to warrant a church that still dominates the town. Other commercial enterprises were a sawmill, general store, stagecoach stop, and tavern. Eighteen thirty-nine was also the first year that a Blanchard came to town. Hiram Blanchard moved to Upper Granville by way of Baddeck, Nova Scotia, and Plymouth, England. Little more than a century later, his descendants man the lone remaining valley farm.
Other significant events since the publication of Over Yonder Hill have shaped the character of Upper Granville. In 1964 the community fought a bitter struggle to eliminate a Granville exit on the newly constructed interstate passing five miles to the east. Then in 1968 at the Granville Town Meeting the funds to pave the connecting road between Upper Granville and Route 100 were denied. This was the citizens' expression that Upper Granville was in its death throes, unworthy of more than minimal maintenance.
The school closed the next year, and parishioners in the church voted to hold winter services in the heated comfort of the First Baptist in Granville. The sawmill and tavern were already dim memories of more prosperous times, but now Oakley McBean closed down his tiny store and relocated to the paved road leading into Granville proper. Residents had to go to town for even basic commodities. Upper Granville seemed destined for the same fate as the Abanakis. Obscurity and oblivion. A backwater. The little agricultural hamlet that had a brief flourishing was on the verge of disappearing from the map.
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What is a "Four-Part Trilogy?"
Next up from The Public Press: the first three books, revised and improved, in Stephen Morris's Vermont epic, the four part trilogy.
Life has a way of interfering with art. Beyond Yonder, The King of Vermont, and Darwin and the Tunnel of Love were always intended by the author to be a single work, telling the epic story of the daily lives and times of the inhabitants of the tiny hamlet of Upper Granville, Vermont.
But life intervenes. It happens! Day jobs take priority. Parents grow old. Little publishers sell to big publishers. Editors move on to different jobs. Opportunities knock. Kids leave home. It happens! It happens! And it happens!
As a result, the epic novel came out in fits and spurts. First, Beyond Yonder. That's when the publisher got sold. Then, King of Vermont, that's when the editor quit. Meanwhile, a real life equivalent to Upper Granville began appearing on the pages of the Vermont Sunday Magazine. Now, the region had a name, Beyonder, to describe that part of Vermont that is next to nothing, but not far away from anywhere. Tales and More Tails is a collection of Beyonder's "Stories and Tunes."
The Public Press is pleased to present Beyonder in its original glory – ficticious and non-ficticious. This is the Director's cut, digitally remastered, and in full Dolby sound. This is Beyonder at the peak of foliage, at the depth of Mud Season despair, in the procreational frenzy of the vernal kaboom, and in the enveloping eternity of an August night watching the meteors shower in a part of the world where you can actually still see them.
In Beyonder, 4 books make 1 trilogy
interview with publisher and author Stephen Morris
by Stephen Morris
King of Vermont
by Stephen Morris
Tales & More Tales
by Stephen Morris
Tunnel of Love
by Stephen Morris
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