Shell Sau­rer’s chance en­counter on a train led her to Vermont.

A chance en­counter on a train led me to dis­cover the small town where I be­long.

Country - - CONTENTS - BY SHELL SAU­RER Bel­lows Falls, Vermont

My jour­ney be­gan with a con­ver­sa­tion about art on a train ride across Amer­ica. I had re­cently lost both par­ents and de­cided I didn’t want to re­turn to my pre­vi­ous ca­reer in the mu­sic in­dus­try. I needed a change. So I hopped on a train for a long, restora­tive trip of win­dow-gaz­ing, peo­ple-watch­ing and think­ing about my fu­ture. Born and raised in Los An­ge­les, I craved a dif­fer­ent path, one that had nes­tled in­side me since child­hood: to live in a ru­ral set­ting or small town. When this yearn­ing came up in con­ver­sa­tion, the gen­tle­man I had been chat­ting with offhand­edly sug­gested Bel­lows Falls, Vermont. He said it had ev­ery­thing I was seek­ing: a close-knit com­mu­nity, moun­tains (af­ter all, it’s the Green Moun­tain State), more cows than peo­ple, wa­ter (the Connecticut River runs along the east­ern bor­der of the vil­lage), no traf­fic, a train sta­tion, farm-fresh food and plenty of sup­port for the arts. That all sounded amaz­ing, but Vermont? Once the trip ended, I con­sid­ered towns near larger west­ern cities I was fa­mil­iar with: Austin, Den­ver, Seat­tle, Spokane. Then one evening I de­cided that I’d lived long enough with­out four sea­sons and ven­tured onto a real es­tate web­site, en­ter­ing “Bel­lows Falls, Vermont” in the search box. What popped up blew my mind: beau­ti­ful Vic­to­rian homes, all for the price of what a mail­box would cost in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. I then spent hours read­ing ev­ery ar­ti­cle I could find about Bel­lows Falls and por­ing over the images. It looked too good to be true! I emailed the man from the train and asked, “If some­one were to visit your vil­lage, what’s the worst time of year to come?” If I was re­ally go­ing to think se­ri­ously about re­lo­cat­ing there, I wanted to know what I was in for. He said, “Right now. It’s been a cold and snowy win­ter and ev­ery­one’s about over it at this point.” So I booked a flight and ar­rived the last week of Fe­bru­ary 2015. I did my best to quell the voice of doubt as I pulled off In­ter­state 91 in the dark of night and drove to the inn in the nearby vil­lage of Sax­tons River. I slipped down the icy side­walk in my city boots, dragged my

“I drive on dirt roads just as of­ten as paved ones. I pet-sit goats and buy my eggs off a friend’s front porch.”

suit­case up the wooden front steps and, upon en­ter­ing, was greeted with, “You must be Shell, from Cal­i­for­nia! Wel­come!” Over the course of the next year, I went back to stay in Bel­lows Falls dur­ing ev­ery sea­son, try­ing to find a good rea­son not to move my­self, my two cats and my large dog from Cal­i­for­nia to a vil­lage 3,000 miles away in Vermont. But I could not find one. What I dis­cov­ered was that I found a sense of be­long­ing I’d been search­ing for my en­tire life. I found ac­cep­tance within the com­mu­nity, de­spite be­ing told that many New Eng­lan­ders take a while to warm up to strangers—which they all said as they wel­comed me into their homes and their lives. I now own a snow­blower and lots of flan­nel. I drive on dirt roads just as of­ten as paved ones. Th­ese days I pet-sit goats and buy my eggs off a friend’s front porch. In sum­mer, I trade my gar­den’s over­abun­dance of zuc­chini for some­one else’s over­abun­dance of green beans. And I am im­mersed in the art scene that is as much a part of Vermont as fresh maple syrup…which I now buy from a neigh­bor’s su­gar shack. To say I found my slice of heaven on earth is an un­der­state­ment. Rarely a day has gone by in the two years since I moved to Bel­lows Falls that I haven’t thought to my­self, “This is what life is sup­posed to feel like,” while giv­ing thanks to that stranger on the train, who be­came a trea­sured friend and neigh­bor.

This sign made Shell feel wel­come in Bel­lows Falls. The Connecticut River runs along the east­ern edge of the vil­lage.

Clock­wise from top left: Shell picks out flow­ers for her gar­den; home sweet home; Har­low’s Farm Stand, where she shops for most of her gro­ceries

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