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Images of Vermont

Working from home is a blessing for a mom. Some days, however, when the kids are home from school and hitting the sibling rivalry part of the day, it can feel more like a curse. Yesterday was one of those days.

My shift was over, and when my husband got home, I announced I needed to fill up the car, and took off for the filling station. I drove along the Battenkill and, noticing the pink light hitting the mountains and river, decided to take a longer drive on the other, even quieter side of the river. I filled up and drove to the New York border before crossing the bridge to River Road, a dusty drive stretching back to the middle of Arlington. This time of year, the sun lingers in the notch between the mountains, and the golden light covers the fields and water with a pinkish cast.

My time was short so I decided to cross back at the covered bridge. This particular bridge sits just across the green from Norman Rockwell's former studio and is the most-photographed bridge in Vermont. The most common view, from the main road features the red bridge in the foreground, accented by a white church and a bed-and-breakfast in the background.

My favorite view, however, is the angle Rockwell would have seen every morning – a farm and field and the church take the foreground, and the quaint old bridge is almost hidden by a sprawling maple tree. I love it because, unlike the picture postcard view, coming at the bridge from the back lets me see the human side of Vermont. It lets me see the upscale vacation homes intermingled with hardscrabble family homesteads and more modern middle-class homes. I pass joggers and tourists and farmers working from dusk till dawn. Rockwell's view would have included the farms and some of the homesteads, and even though houses are more plentiful (even since I've been driving this route), I always cross the bridge back to my reality with the feeling that Rockwell actually got Arlington right.

Interest in his work is reviving recently, but there are always critics who pan his paintings as sanitized, schmaltzy views of an America that never existed. However, when I look at the images he painted here (featuring models plucked from the local population, some of whom still live here), I see the work of a great artist and interpreter – I see what we live everyday.

I see born Vermonters and transplants alike showing up for annual potlucks with their contributions and setting their differences aside, if only for a few hours. Even in 2012, I still see abandoned bikes at the edge of the Green River and their scrawny owners swimming in it in whatever they happened to be wearing when they got hot. I see farmers and laborers at the country store arguing politics and philosophy with professors and holding their own doing it. I see faces (native and newcomer) worn from living in perpetual recession – a situation I see in many rural areas in this country. And, just as Rockwell would have seen when he lived here in the 40s, I see people who survive the job losses and the elements and who may falter but who still manage to keep their humanity about them. It is a picture that, like Rockwell's paintings, can seem idealized when viewed from a distance, but is infinitely more complex. You just have to look closer.