The Mountain Times

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Hubbardton’s Japanese Garden and Mt. Zion Trails offer a peaceful stroll through a unique Vermont landscape

HUBBARDTON - Vermont is a state of bumpy back roads that lead to wonderful discoveries. Sometimes, a perfect swimming hole, other times a field of rare wildflowers.

One such place is off the beaten path in Hubbardton, where meditative pools, sculptures and a little wooden foot bridges leads you to a Japanese Garden.

Many decades ago, Carson "Kit" Davidson and his wife, Margaret ("Mickie"), thought the Japanese Garden a perfect fit in Vermont's pastoral landscape. The couple purchased the land (420 acres) as a getaway from "the big city" in 1967.

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"We'd been looking for a few acres of land for about five years," said Kit, now 89-years-old. "We wanted a place to get away to from New York in the summer."

Kit and Mickie were living in Greenwich Village at the time, where he worked as an independent documentary film producer and she was a writer of children's books. Kit won numerous awards for his films and was nominated for two Academy Awards and Mickie has published 31 books.

Kit has many stories of their trips throughout northern New England and upstate New York in search of the perfect spot for a getaway. Only chance (and persistence) brought him to the gem located in the back hills of Hubbardton.

"A realtor in Fair Haven told me he'd found something wonderful," Kit said with a grin. "The property he showed me wasn't, but then he thought of this piece of land in Hubbardton as the afterthought of an afterthought."

Kit immediately saw it as perfect and quickly phoned his wife, asking her to come up right away and look at it. That's how the Davidsons, who had been looking for "just a few acres," ended up purchasing 420, paying just $69 per acre.

"You'd never get a deal like that these days!" Kit laughs.

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The Davidsons placed a simple home at the top of a sloped meadow. It features wide windows that frame an amazing view to the south, and mostly wall facing the north, that seeks to cut the chill from the steady, unobstructed wind that blows in the winter.

Views of Birdseye Mountain, Grandpa's Knob, and the Taconic Mountains give way to the lowlands of the Champlain Valley.

The views lend themselves to quiet contemplation, and because of this construction of the Japanese Garden quickly followed the Davidson's acquisition of the property. Over subsequent years, more was added, including a network of over six miles of hiking trails.

"I'd made trips to Japan to make films," said Kit, "and got interested in Japanese Gardens." He saw the perfect spot for such a feature on his property.

The Garden is located down a steep path that meanders from the Davidson home. During the late spring through early autumn months, it is filled with a variety of colorful, wildflowers. It was placed conveniently near two small brooks, which provide it with a steady source of water for its several pools and small falls, and amongst the giant, lichen and fern-covered boulders that were torn by glaciers from the nearby Mt. Zion Minor. Kit dammed the brooks and installed the necessary plumbing to create the series of pools, trickling falls and connecting streams that, with the rocks, form the heart of the garden.

Comfortable, wooden chairs have been placed at strategic spots, along with traditional Japanese sculptures such as replicas of pagodas, tiny wooden bridges that span the streams. There is even a series of ladders leading to one chair that affords a precarious perch on top of one of the larger boulders.

During the warmer months, the Garden's placid pools offer opportunities to meditate and focus on the joys of nature that surround or that lay right in front of you.

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"The frogs moved in after we made the pools!" said Kit, laughing.

The terrain is varied and can be observed easily through the tended network of trails.

There's the exposed bedrock summit of the 1,200 foot Mt. Zion, which affords sweeping views to the north and west across Rutland County's lakes region, beyond the southern end of Lake Champlain and over to New York's Adirondacks. The southwest side of the small mountain drops precipitously in cliffs to a jumble of boulders and crevices. The talus slope then tumbles into some marshy woods, strewn with ferns and mosses.

Kit says that it didn't take him to long to put in the hiking trails, which are all very well-marked, with some suitable for beginners and others more challenging.

Once the Japanese Garden was created, word spread quickly and people began to show up to experience it. Kit and Mickie encouraged this as they viewed the land as a resource for all to enjoy.

"When the Rutland Herald did an article about it in 1999, the number of visitors really increased," Kit says. A more recent piece in Vermont Life Magazine also increased awareness.

"We have regular visitors now and have even had a few weddings by the Japanese Garden," he said. Kit and Mickie moved to their Hubbardton home full-time in 2002. "Families come and have picnics there and children enjoy catching frogs and such."

Kit says that litter is rarely an issue with visitors disrespecting the land or gardens and the only rules he emphasizes in playful signage are "No smoking. No Fires. Not EVER." Camping is also not allowed on the land and another sign reminds: "The Attorney says we should tell you, you hike at your own risk (but then you knew that already, didn't you?)"

The Davidson land is currently in transition, Kit said, but he is currently working with a Vermont non-profit to preserve it. He has also recently stepped back from trail maintenance and other duties, content to advise and enjoy the magnificent view from his back porch.

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 "I can't do any work on the Garden or the trails anymore," Kit said, "but Alysse is doing a great job of maintaining them." Alysse Bennett now lives on the land too and manages the property.

"It's open year-round, and we encourage people to come and visit even in the winter," emphasizes Kit, who says that parts of the land are good for cross-country skiing.

Thanks to the Davidsons' vision and generosity and their collaboration with a Vermont non-profit, this special place in the back hills of Hubbardton will be one that people will be able to enjoy for years to come.