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There Will Come Soft Rains

07/01/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
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(Host) Commentator Philip Baruth attended the Vermont History Expo this past Saturday. It rained non-stop, from beginning to end. But according to Philip, the rain didn't matter one bit.

(Baruth) So the other day I drove down to the Vermont History Expo, at the World Fairgrounds in Tunbridge. If you've never been before, and I hadn't, the Expo brings together the historical societies from practically all of the towns in the state, Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactment societies, writers, musicians, dancers, concession stands. Basically everything you'd have at your normal fair, plus basically everything you'd have at a fair at Gettysburg in 1865.

Two things were immediately a little strange about this ride down to Tunbridge. First, I rode down with Joe Citro. More on why that's strange in a minute. Second, the rain. The rain started that Saturday in the pre-dawn hours, and it kept coming, sometimes strong, sometimes stronger, all through the day and into the night. The previous day was gorgeous and sunny. The day following was gorgeous and sunny. But the Saturday that I ride down to the History Expo with Joe Citro there's this constant, sobering rain, no let up at all, to the point where Joe looks out his window and says, "Kind of weird weather." And that really freaks me out, because when even he thinks it's freaky, you know it's freaky.

So I expected that we'd get to the Fairgrounds and find half of everything closed. I didn't know that these re-enactment types thrive on the rain. Joe and I step out of the car and behind us about fifty feet away these Civil War guys blow off a cannon. Not a toy like my dad used to light off on the Fourth of July. I mean the kind of cannon you use to sink a warship. And a little ways past the cannon guys, some Revolutionary war guys have made this really incredible underground fireplace. The fire tender stands in a trench and feeds wood into the underground chamber, and the flame licks up through this grapefruit-sized hole in the grass. With the cook pot placed over the hole, no rain touches the fire. Pouring down rain, pouring, and these re-enactment guys are standing around laughing, cooking rabbit.

And nearly all of the historical societies are out in force, all of them, from a hundred or more towns, showing people little bizarre pieces of the past like a two-hundred-year-old anchor recovered from Lake Champlain. And photographs, a million photographs from everywhere and of everyone in Vermont.

And it hits me: there is no crowd on earth that would be less deterred by rain than this crowd. If an object is here, it's here because it's already survived time and fire and flood and neglect. And if a person is here, it's because - like the underground fireplace I saw - they've got a flame of historical fascination burning back inside where the weather just can't get to it. You have to love them for that.

And by lunchtime, I've forgotten all about the rain too. I'm sitting on a wet picnic table, and one by one people are coming up to Joe to tell him about the various weird and unexplained phenomena in their towns. And I'm looking out over the cannons and the cookfires, stuffing my face with this massive fried dough, powdered sugar snowing all over my windbreaker, just loving life.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont. His new book with Joe Citro is "Vermont Air: Best of the Vermont Public Radio Commentaries."

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