- Seventy-five percent of Vermont is forested, making it the fourth most forested state in the US. (If you can imagine that Vermont is one tenth the size of the entire UK - Scotland included - you might get the sense that that is a lot of trees!)
- Vermont has the smallest carbon footprint of any state within the US.
- Vermont is the only state in the US which does not use coal to generate electricity.
- Winter in Vermont tends to last around six months (mid-October through to April).
In Vermont, nearly every house has a large wood-pile neatly stacked in its yard because nearly every house is, at least partially, dependent upon burning wood for heat. Stacking wood is so ubiquitous at this time of the year that every conversation - in the farmer's market, in the general store - will include one person grinning broadly and commenting on how wood keeps you warm three times over: once when you chop down the tree, once when you stack the wood, and once when you burn it.
It took Dr. M. and me a little while to move our conversation around to wood. We were too busy defining the list of things I am not allowed to do since breaking my neck.
I began with my favorites:
'Can I start horse-riding again?'
When I sighed, he called up my x-rays on his computer screen and offered me a quick lesson in statistics.
'In a normal person, there might be a 15% chance of this part of the neck breaking in the instance of a fall.' He circled the section of the x-rays where shiny parallel lines depict some of the metal work I'll carry around with me for the rest of my life. 'Now with this kind of fusion, you'd need to factor in a 10% greater chance that the first three cervical vertebrae would fracture.'
He didn't need to say more. I'm not an expert on ratios, but I know that fracturing one of the first three cervical vertebrae is the kind of injury which landed Christopher Reeves, and many others, in a wheelchair. They were the lucky ones: breaking the top few vertebrae in your neck normally stops you being able to breathe as well.
'So not yet,' I echoed and Dr. M. smiled, apparently pleased at the readiness of my understanding.
'What about my bike?"
I love my bike. It's been my fast-moving, narrow-wheeled companion through four major relocations; carrying me up Cumbrian mountainsides, past Northumbrian coastlines, through Cambridge traffic, and, for a few short weeks, along Vermont roads.
'What kind of bike do you have?'
I leant forward in my chair, wrapped my hands around imaginary handlebars and, for a moment, felt the wind rushing through my hair.
'Don't sell it yet,' Dr. M. said, 'But you might want to think about replacing it in the spring.'
'Replace it with what?' Being told to replace my bike felt a little like hearing someone say I should replace my dog with a different breed.
Dr. M. sat up tall, old-lady-like, and lifted his hands to chest level.
'A sit-up-and-beg?' I scowled and, apparently less pleased by the direction of our conversation, he arranged his face into a more authoritative expression and quickly lowered his hands to his lap. 'Don't try and ride your bike this year. We'll know more in the spring.'
God loves a trier, although Dr. M. might not agree. My questions about yoga met with a shake of the head, the doctor made it very clear I shouldn't sign up for Iola's taekwon-do classes, there will be no cross country running for me this year, and rock-climbing is off the agenda. Furthermore, I should encourage the girls to help me with vacuuming, I shouldn't lift heavy pots off the stove, and it would be a good idea to have someone else carry the wet laundry up out of the basement.
The silence between us was not completely comfortable.
'Can I stack wood?' I asked, having exhausted every other physical activity I could imagine.
I'm not often at a loss for words, but he was meant to have said no, wasn't he? Six cords of wood had been delivered to us that week (a cord, properly stacked, occupies a volume of 128 cubic feet. We hadn't measured the volume of our 6 cords of wood, because we had not yet made any attempt to stack it).
'I'm not going to advise any patient to fail to prepare their family for the winter,' explained Dr. M.
'And I won't cause myself any damage?'
'You won't damage the work I've done on you.' Dr. M.'s blue eyes sparkled for a moment. 'And your body will tell you to stop stacking wood far sooner than I can.'
Of all the things of which I am afraid (and you might now want to add stairs and light switches to that list), hard work is not one. The next day I tackled those 6 cords of wood with all the anger and resentment I felt at being forbidden from riding a horse or a bike, at being unable to throw a round-house kick, or sit among a group of elderly women muttering namaste. I lifted and threw every ounce of fury at those pieces of wood, and I learnt that I love wood-stacking! It's like playing jenga with weights and, while it is not as satisfying as riding my bike, it burnt off some of the adrenaline which has been stagnating in me for nearly two months. In truth, I might even have smiled and sang while I worked.
Dr. M. was right, of course - it's his job to be right. I have barely been able to get out of bed for the past few days and the constant pain I live with has taken on a whole new set of dimensions. But you should see my woodpile: even a Vermonter would deserve to feel proud!