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Greene: Kipling's Winters

(Host )Many people know that Rudyard Kipling lived in Dummerston, VT for four years. What Stephanie Greene, a writer who lives on the family farm in Windham County, recently discovered is that he loved winter.

(Greene) Rudyard Kipling, born and raised in the tropics of India, was crazy about Vermont winters. After England's wet, raw climate, Kipling found our relatively dry cold delightful. And next to England's weather, ours actually seemed sunny.

On alighting from the train in Brattleboro at midnight on Feb 17, 1892, this is how he described his first encounter with temperatures well below freezing:

It was inconceivable until one stepped out into it at midnight and the first shock of that clear still air took away the breath as does a plunge into seawater.

Kipling relished being holed up in Dummerston. He wrote, When winter shut down and sleigh bells rang all over the white world that tucked us in, we counted ourselves lucky.

Naulakha, the ship-like house he designed, was finished in 1892. It had a south-facing prow, whose eastern windows took in the splendor of Mount Monadnock. But by our standards, the house wasn't particularly well insulated. In addition, Kipling's design placed the children's nursery and playroom directly above his study. The playful tumult was so distracting that he had seaweed installed as a soundproofing between the floors. Needless to say, it didn't cut down on the noise.

The work on the house was overseen by Kipling's brother in law, Beatty Balestier. At first the in-laws got along well, despite Beatty's gargantuan appetite for drink and inability to manage money well. It was Beatty who introduced Kipling to snowshoeing. Kipling wrote, The gigantic lawn tennis bats strung with hide are not easy to maneuver...Whenyou... can slide one shoe above the other deftly, the sensation of paddling over a ten foot deep drift and taking short cuts by buried fences is worth the ankle-ache.

Instinctively Kipling knew that you must play in snow to get through winter happily. When his friend Arthur Conan Doyle visited, he brought Nordic skis, and the friends practiced on the hill in front of Naulakha. Some say that was Vermont's introduction to skiing.

Lest one conclude it was all play, Kipling's four years in Vermont were very productive. He produced The Jungle Books, The Day's Work, Captains Courageous, and a volume of poetry, The Seven Seas.

He wrote in the mornings, his privacy guarded fiercely by his American born wife, Carrie Balestier Kipling. Outside his office was hers, which visitors called the dragon's chamber.

Another sport Conan Doyle brought was snow golf. The players dyed the balls red so they could be seen against the snow, embedded cans in the drifts for holes and had several vigorous (and I'd imagine hilarious) games. At the end of the session, the front yard was crisscrossed with red lines where the balls had rolled. Kipling noted that the snow added new dimensions to the game: There were no limits toa drive; the ball might skid two miles.

Personally, I think this is just the wild card golf could use.

I look forward to the sport becoming more popular.

After all, winters in Vermont are long.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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