Katz preaches the gospel of sauerkraut


sandor katz

Author Sandor Katz speaks with a couple who attended his talk on fermentation. Mr. Katz, who grew up in New York City and has since moved to rural Tennessee, writes that his interest in fermentation comes from an early love of kosher dill pickles as well as a concern for health gained as a person living with HIV. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 4-10-2013

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — A self-proclaimed “fermentation evangelist” preached the gospel of sauerkraut March 3 to a receptive congregation at Sterling College.

Sandor Katz has gained wide recognition for writing and teaching about different types of fermented foods.  But his talk at Sterling followed his most recent book The Art of Fermentation on a more philosophical exploration of a method of food transformation that is practiced in one way or another by every culture.

The word culture itself is central to Mr. Katz’s new book and also to his talk.  He noted the use of the word to indicate the specific microorganisms that are introduced to milk to make yogurt and particular varieties of cheese, as well as its common meaning, denoting a collection of activities, beliefs and artistic practices that are the hallmarks of a human society.

In Mr. Katz’s view, a culinary culture is, in part, made up of the microorganisms that help create foods and drinks that characterize a society.  We consume many of these without giving much thought to their origins.

Beer, wine, bread, cheese, coffee, pickles, cured meats are all foods that rely on fermentation, a process that, in turn relies on a healthy society of microorganisms.

Mr. Katz said he has tried to find societies that do not use the process of fermentation to preserve foods or create dishes of extraordinary flavor.  So far, he said, he has failed to discover one.

The key to fermentation, he said, is the world of microorganisms that have evolved along with humanity.  In his book, Mr. Katz says that previous generations depicted these microorganisms as humanity’s tiny servants, working tirelessly to transform milk into cheese or grain into beer.

Another way of viewing the situation, he said, is to see these creatures as having tricked humans into working hard to provide a nice comfortable environment in which they can grow and reproduce, by producing flavors that we enjoy.

After the French scientist, Louis Pasteur, discovered the relationship between bacteria and disease, humanity’s relationship with these creatures has undergone a radical change, Mr. Katz said.

“All of us raised in the United States in the twentieth century have been indoctrinated to consider bacteria as bad,” Mr. Katz told more than 100 students, teachers and community members.

He said the current craze for soaps that kill up to 99 percent of all bacteria is a mistake, especially when our own bodies are mostly made up of bacteria.

Mr. Katz said research shows that bacteria outnumber human cells by ten to one in our bodies.  “We are host to them,” he remarked, “but maybe they are host to us.”

These bacteria are not parasites, Mr. Katz said.  They do things for us that we could not do without them, and contribute to processes as vital to our survival as digestion and reproduction.

Coexistence with these microorganisms is imperative, Mr. Katz said.

As a person who has conducted thousands of workshops to teach people how to make sauerkraut and similar foods, Mr. Katz said he has found many people who worry about the danger of getting the wrong kind of bacteria in their fermented foods.

Fermented foods made with raw vegetables are very safe, he said, although “more parameters for safety need to be followed when working with meat or milk.

“The number of reported fatalities from eating fermented vegetables, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture is,” Mr. Katz paused for emphasis here, “exactly zero.”

He continued, saying, “Once cabbage is chopped, salted and fermented in its own juice, natural bacteria take over, acidifying the environment and destroying invading bacteria.”

That process is one in which a group of bacteria create a stable environment for themselves, Mr. Katz said.  Such a culture, propagated by the process of back-slopping — adding a portion of one batch of the ferment to milk or grains to create the next batch — can last for generations, he said.

Yogurt and sourdough cultures can last for years if tended carefully, he said.

Industrially produced ferments, such as commercial yogurt, generally rely on specific microorganisms purchased from catalogs, Mr. Katz said.  These produce uniform results, but do not do well in the wild.

He told of how he tried for years to make yogurt by adding some commercial yogurt to warm milk.  The first batch, he said, was satisfying with the flavor and texture he craved.

Each succeeding generation was less successful, he said.  The specialized cultures purchased by the commercial yogurt makers were not able to ward off wild microorganisms and so deteriorated over time, he said.

In contrast yogurt made from wild strains in the Balkans can be cultured by back-slopping indefinitely, he said, because the culture is made up of a variety of organisms that work together to ward off invading bacteria.

In his talk, as in his book, Mr. Katz equates the cooperative interaction of the wild microorganism with people learning and teaching about fermented foods, and even experimenting with new foods, to create a culture apart from the large-scale commercial food industry.

In his book he explores the different ways people have learned to preserve foods as diverse as fish, grains and casava roots with the assistance of microorganisms.

He gives the loosest types of recipes to make most of these foods, but most importantly Mr. Katz gives encouragement and even permission to those who are on the brink of entering the world of ferments.

Mr. Katz’s talk was the first in a series sponsored by Sterling College and the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick that they say is designed to bring “contemporary perspectives and visionary speakers on local and global food systems to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.”

During his stay Mr. Katz got to see the work on local food systems that has developed here over the past few years.  In turn he provided an overview of a global system that predates, and will likely outlast, humanity.

The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz.  Published by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, 2012, 498 pages, hardcover, $39.95.



Jon Somes creates hair and skin product line


Jon Somes.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jon Somes. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 3-20-2013

NEWPORT — In a culmination of years of creative process, Jon Somes of Newport is now selling hair and skin care products in his salon, under a label with his own name on it.

“It had been on my mind for years and years,” he said in an interview at the salon Friday.  In 2006 he started thinking about it seriously and looking for the right chemist.  He found someone in Oregon and has been working on the recipes ever since.

These recipes aren’t something you can cook up in a regular kitchen.

He tried to find someone in Vermont, but he could not find the right person or lab.  So for now, the products are shipped in bulk to Vermont and bottled and labeled here.  If sales quantities justify a change in the future, he will set up a lab to make it here too and possibly create local jobs.

But for now he’s just really glad to have finally settled on the right recipes and be able to offer his products for sale — at the shop or from his website.

“At first I was just going to do shampoos and conditioners,” he said.  But he decided that facial products are also really important for someone’s overall look.

He read a lot about various ingredients and tried lots of combinations before settling on the right mixtures.  One important ingredient for skin is hyaluronic acid, which was originally made of roosters’ combs.  These days the same ingredient is made in a lab with a fermenting process.

The ingredients are 83 to 93 percent organic, but Mr. Somes said he finds that completely organic shampoos and conditioners have a tendency to leave hair somewhat too dry, not shiny, and staticy — especially in winter in Vermont with wood stoves drying out the indoor air in a lot of homes.

Getting the right fragrance for the shampoos and conditioners was another whole process.

“I had a feeling about how I wanted it to smell,” he said.  He found a perfumery in Pennsylvania that was able to help him come up with scents that he had described to them, with ingredients he wanted.  Some of the ingredients are amber, citron, and mandarin.

He said it should have one scent when it first comes out of the bottle and hits the air in the shower, and another one later after one’s hair is dry.

“There’s undertones to it,” he said.

He’s had the products in the shop for a while already, long enough to get some reaction from clients.  The very first person he used the shampoo and conditioner on immediately mentioned it.

She said, “I don’t know what this is, but I love this.”

He said he’s pretty sure many of his clients are enjoying the products.  If they had only bought one bottle he might think they were trying to be polite, but they have been coming back for more.

The products are expensive due to the expense of some of the ingredients.  One of the ingredients, argon oil, is critically important and only comes from Morocco.

Mr. Somes said once the perfumery had put together the fragrance he wanted, the people there gave him some feedback that really pleased him.  They told him the fragrance could be a perfume, not just a shampoo.  Their comments were:

“A sophisticated, modern, fine fragrance type, opening with a citrusy sparkle of citron and mandarin, leading to a floral heart of night blooming jasmine, ylang ylang, vetiver and rose, and finishing with an ambery, mossy, patchouli, sandalwood and then an exotic, spicy dry-down.”

Mr. Somes has just finished his website:  www.jonsomes.com/index.php.  It’s getting some attention already on the Internet.  He doesn’t know where this will take him, but he’s extremely happy with the products themselves.

“I had an idea that manifested into an incredible finished product,” he said, and having it done is completely satisfying.  “My intention was to make the very best thing possible.”

The Jon Somes Salon has been on Main Street in Newport for three years and draws clients from out of state and Canada.  Mr. Somes had a salon in Derby Line in the late ’90s until 2001, then spent some time out west.

He started in his career as a hairstylist after working in real estate and marketing and deciding he wanted a change to something more personal.  He studied hairstyling in Paris, and he has been a stylist for 25 years.  He serves on the Vermont Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists.

He grew up in New York and Michigan.  When he was working in Taos, New Mexico, his reputation as a hairstylist grew to the point where film industry clients sought him out.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Chase Gosselin makes theatrical waves with Moby Dick


Michael Chase Gosselin, back in the days when he was just Chase Gosselin, performs in a production of The History Of America, Abridged.  Mr. Gosselin directed himself and two friends in the show just after he graduated high school last June.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Michael Chase Gosselin, back in the days when he was just Chase Gosselin, performs in a production of The History Of America, Abridged. Mr. Gosselin directed himself and two friends in the show just after he graduated high school last June. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 2-27-2013

It has taken Michael Chase Gosselin little time to make his mark on the New York theater world.  Last week, Internet sites that cover Broadway were ablaze with the news a cult musical might finally hit the Great White Way.

They did not necessarily realize that the man behind this plan graduated only last year from North Country Union High School.  Mr. Gosselin was admitted to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, but postponed his freshman year to check out the theater scene in New York.

That has proved to be a smart move.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, an excited Mr. Gosselin tried to explain how he found himself working with one of the world’s most successful producers on a project that may see him make his Broadway directorial debut.

Mr. Gosselin said it all began with his interest in Moby Dick — A Whale of a Tale, a show that notoriously flopped when it ran in London’s West End in 1992.  The show presents the Melville novel as enacted by high school girls who are trying to raise money to keep the doors of their boarding school open.

In a reverse drag role, the headmistress of the school, played by a man, also portrays the monomaniac Captain Ahab.

As Mr. Gosselin described it, the young ladies use whatever they can find to put their benefit on, even draining a swimming pool to serve as their stage.  It first opened in a small theater in Oxford, England, and quickly gained popularity.

Cameron Mackintosh saw the show and decided to take it to a large theater in London, where it famously bombed.

“I call it the Spiderman of 1992,” said Mr. Gosselin, speaking of the presses delight in the show’s failure.

Though a commercial disaster in its first major run, Moby Dick gained the kind of notoriety shared by The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mr. Gosselin said.  Many small companies have presented productions of the show in varying versions over the past 20 years.

Mr. Gosselin said he had considered it as an offering for Third Act Productions, the theatrical company he ran during his high school years.  It never seemed like the right choice for Newport audiences, he said.

While in New York, he said, he started looking at the script again and decided to try to rework it so it would play better.  There had been attempts to rewrite the show over the years, he said, but they had taken out much of the salacious humor of the original.

“I wanted to open it back up,” Mr. Gosselin said.

He describes the show as combining elements from a wide variety of musical theater traditions, ranging from British musical hall and Gilbert and Sullivan to Riverdance.  He said the show is a fluff piece, but is also the most accurate translation of Moby Dick to the stage.

What Mr. Gosselin didn’t realize was that the show was owned by Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of such hits as  Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Miss Saigon and Cats.  What’s more, Mr. Makintosh told Mr. Gosselin that Moby Dick was his favorite show.

Mr. Gosselin said he got in touch with Mr. Mackintosh’s office in London to get permission to work on the show, but soon found himself emailing the producer directly.

“Cameron was very involved in rewriting,” Mr. Gosselin said.  “We were sending lines back and forth.”

When Mr. Mackintosh was in New York recently to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Phantom of the Opera, he took three hours to meet with Mr. Gosselin and go through the script with him.

“When he read the headmistress’ lines he sounded just like Mrs. Doubtfire,” recalled the delighted Mr. Gosselin.

The composer of the show, Hereward Kaye came over from England for several weeks to work on revisions, including reviving songs originally written for the show but left out of its first production, Mr. Gosselin said.

One of the outcomes of all the work was a staged reading of the show as revised by Mr. Gosselin.  The reading, which took place on February 25, featured seasoned Broadway professionals directed by Mr. Gosselin.

Heading the cast as the headmistress was Tony Sheldon, an Australian actor nominated for a Tony award for his work in the Broadway production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

“A brilliant, brilliant guy,” said Mr. Gosselin.

He said he was very pleased to have a person with not only musical theater skills but with a deep acting background.

“The show needs to be grounded by a really great Ahab,” Mr. Gosselin said.

Other members of the cast included Nicolas Dromard (Mary Poppins), Jacey Powers (Falling), Erin Crosby (Shout! The Mod Musical), Christina Bianco (Newsical), Kirsten Wyatt (A Christmas Story) and Noah E. Galvin (Our Town).

Mr. Gosselin said that Mr. Mackintosh was unable to attend the reading because he had to attend the Oscar ceremonies in Los Angeles.  Representatives from his New York office were there, Mr. Gosselin said.

The reading didn’t include stage action, Mr. Gosselin said.  The actors read and sang from behind music stands.

Whatever happens from here on out, Mr. Gosselin said, it is a thrill to be able to list himself on his resumé as a co-producer with Mr. Mackintosh, if only for the reading.

Where things will go is unclear.  Mr. Gosselin is aiming for a Broadway production.  He said Mr. Mackintosh may not want to be the producer if it opens first in New York, because he is based in London and has always opened his shows there first.

Mr. Gosselin said he would like to start working with the spatial elements of the show, but said Mr. Mackintosh does not like the idea of tinkering with a musical in a rehearsal studio, a process pioneered by A Chorus Line.  Mr. Mackintosh prefers to go straight into the production process in a theater, Mr. Gosselin said.

Some shows begin their runs off-Broadway, but that move is questionable, he said.  Because since the success of shows like Rent critics keep a sharp eye on work opening downtown, and both Moby Dick and Mr. Mackintosh would be targets for intense and distracting press scrutiny, Mr. Gosselin said.

“I’d like to try the show out in New Bedford,” Mr. Gosselin said, referring to one of Massachusetts’s famous whaling ports.

No firm plans are in place, but Mr. Gosselin said he is devoting himself fully to the show.

“I’ve never taken so many meetings in my life,” he said.  The verb “taken” signals that he is truly finding a place in the theater’s major leagues.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Lydia Spitzer Demonstration Forest dedicated


northwoods spitzer2

Lydia Spitzer cuts the garland created for grand opening of the demonstration forest named in her honor. The garland was made by NorthWoods Stewardship Center program assistant Meg Carter because it seemed more appropriate than cutting a ribbon. Left to right are NorthWoods Stewardship Center board president Nancy Engels, operations manager Jayson Benoit, Ms. Carter, Ms. Spitzer, and Sam Perron, NorthWoods’ sustainable forestry specialist. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 2-6-2013

CHARLESTON — “I can’t imagine anything I would be more proud to be associated with,” said Lydia Spitzer at the dedication of the Lydia Spitzer Demonstration Forest at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center on Friday.

Ms. Spitzer donated 1,300 acres to the center in 2008.  She had donated conservation easements to the Vermont Land Trust in 2007.  It is the largest donation the land trust has ever received, Tracy Zschau, regional director of the trust, said Friday.

“All I did was buy a piece of land a long time ago,” said Ms. Spitzer.

She said when she bought the land in 1993, she had thought she might be a visionary entrepreneur and start an enterprise with a school, trails, and other features that would support nature, forestry, and conservation.

She said by her fiftieth birthday when she had not done it, she thought it might be better to connect with her neighbors instead.  Coincidentally Bill Manning had created the Vermont Leadership Center in 1989 with some of the same goals in mind.  In the beginning the center owned no land at all, but in 2005 it got about 100 acres.  The name and structure changed and the center became the NorthWoods Stewardship Center.

Ms. Spitzer has been more than a neighbor all along — more like a friend and fan.  She described her relationship with the center as: “the absolute joy of being in love with this organization.”

She said the staff and board of NorthWoods are the ones who should get the credit, along with her grandfather, Ward Canaday, who made money during World War II with a company called the Willis Overland company that produced Jeeps used in the war.

Mr. Canaday made enough money to start a large trust, and the Canaday Trust has supported lots of arts and educational causes over the years.  In the fall, the NorthWoods Stewardship Center was awarded a grant from Canaday of $185,000 to create the Forest Stewardship Institute.  The grant will cover staff and the institute’s purpose will be to teach sustainable forestry practices to landowners and others.

There are already some hiking trails on the land, and plans are to make some more and link the existing trails, said Trails Coordinator Luke O’Brien.  The land stretches over Tripp Hill to the shore of Echo Lake, where there is one trail already.

When Ms. Spitzer first bought the land, most of it had been cut off with little old growth remaining.  One of her goals was to improve its value for forestry as well as educational purposes.

Mr. O’Brien said there were, at one time, 30 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, but they were too expensive to maintain as groomed trails.  The new trails will be more likely ungroomed, basically self-service access to the land.

Logging roads will become available as trails as well, he said, for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and hiking and horseback riding in the summer.

Mr. Benoit said the plans are to build a bunk house and more parking lots and access spots over time.  There are three new kiosks with information and a map, and three more are planned.

The institute will be working with the land trust and local Audubon societies, Mr. Benoit said.

Ms. Spitzer lives in North Pomfret.  She has a kitchen designing business called Design Discovery.  She said the land is beautiful, but as an absentee landowner it’s been difficult to keep an eye on it.

“There’s a lovely swamp.  And somebody was putting out half a cow carcass,” she said, to bait coyotes to shoot.  It’s an activity she didn’t like but it was hard to do anything about it from North Pomfret.

Donating the land is a win-win, she said.

“There is nothing I could have done with it that would be better,” she said.  “It’s nice for me.”

NorthWoods Operations Manager Jayson Benoit spoke on behalf of the center, and presented Ms. Spitzer with an ash walking stick.  The NorthWoods Stewardship Center has four permanent full-time employees and other seasonal help.  In the summer there are 80 people working at the center, including the Conservation Corp student workers.

He said the center is approaching its twenty-fifth anniversary and has recently developed a recreation plan and new mission statement.

After each brief speech on Friday there was a round of applause, which included enthusiastic barking by the dogs on hand.  Two of them were Ms. Spitzer’s golden doodles, which are half golden retriever and half standard poodle.  They are named Milo and Hopper.

For more information, see the center’s website: www.northwoodscenter.org

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Bloodhound and owner help find lost pets


Redford the bloodhound.  Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Redford the bloodhound. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 12-26-12

ALBANY — Lisa Robinson spends a good deal of her time crashing through the woods or running through the brambles behind a big rangy dog named Redford who might quite possibly be pursuing a cat.

Though she’s not a young woman, and runs on two surgically replaced hips, Ms. Robinson’s accounts of these expeditions suggest that she enjoys every minute of them.

Redford is a bloodhound, and Ms. Robinson makes him — and herself — available to people who have lost household pets.

She and Redford have looked for a Westy that wandered off from his new home in Pownal, in the far southwest corner of Vermont, and a Chinook sled dog in Richford, on the Canadian border.

They’ve looked for a Siamese cat in Barre and a mother-and-son pair of Labrador retrievers in West Glover.

bloodhound pogo copy

James and Lisa Ash of Barre sent Lisa Robinson this photo of their recovered cat, Pogo, who followed them home the day after Redford the bloodhound led them on a search. Pogo disappeared on a Monday evening, and Redford wasn’t called in until the following Saturday. The cat came back on Sunday.

Ms. Robinson doesn’t think there are any other bloodhounds available in Vermont to search for lost pets.  She’d like people to know about Redford so they’ll call her when their pet’s trail is still fresh.  All too often, she says, by the time people locate her by word of mouth their pet has been missing for several days.

That doesn’t stop Redford.  Ms. Robinson says her young bloodhound exhibits the tracking skills his breed is famous for, and can track a missing animal long after it has disappeared from home.

The problem, she says, is that she and the dog can only cover so much ground in a day.  She hangs on tight to his leash on a hunt, for fear that his exuberance for his job will lure him so far ahead of her that he will become one of the missing pets himself.

Redford doesn’t always track down a missing pet.

On several searches, Ms. Robinson says, he’s led her and the missing pet’s owner over long distances to surprising locations, where the animal was eventually found.

But sometimes the trail just comes to a bewildering end, leaving Redford wandering around in uncertain circles.  When that happens, Ms. Robinson suspects the worst — someone picked the pet up and made off with it.  That, sadly, is how the search for the West Glover dogs ended, several miles from their home.

In Barre, the missing Siamese cat showed up the day after Ms. Robinson and Redford had climbed into her aging Subaru and headed home to Albany.  The happy owners believe Redford led them close to it — what self-respecting Siamese would rush out of hiding to greet a drooling bloodhound? — and the cat followed their familiar scent home.

Redford, at three and a half, is a relatively new recruit.  Ms. Robinson got him from a bloodhound rescue group after he was abandoned in Alabama.

He’s a replacement for Thurber, the bloodhound who taught Ms. Robinson the art of tracking.  Thurber is memorialized, in a way, on the sweatshirt his owner was wearing during an interview last week.  It’s decorated with a sketch of a big dog, most likely another bloodhound, by the great American humorist James Thurber.

Ms. Robinson’s first bloodhound was named after the humorist — she has a friendly but offbeat cat named Dillon, and a matching pair named Cassidy and Sundance — and Thurber, like Redford, was a rescued animal.  Their owner thinks the dogs’ difficult early lives only enhanced their ability to find lost animals.  They know what it’s like to be out on the streets, she says.

Thurber was killed by a condition called bloat, and Ms. Robinson is anxious that other dog owners — particularly owners of large dogs — be more aware of its dangers.

“It’s something that really worries me,” she says.  “It affects the large breeds, the big-chested dogs that tend to gulp their food.”

When the condition strikes, Ms. Robinson says, the dog’s stomach swells to look like a barrel and, if tapped, to sound like one too.  The condition is also called torsion, she says, because the dog’s stomach can start to twist, and actually flip over.

If it strikes, Ms. Robinson says, “there is no time.  You’ve got to get to a vet.”

Untreated, she says grimly, a stricken pet faces “a horrible, painful death.”

Since Thurber’s death, Ms. Robinson watches her three bloodhounds closely for bloat, and tries to keep them as still as possible for an hour or so after eating.

At home when he’s not working, Redford is a big, floppy, affable young dog.  This visitor had just left a dog at home, so Redford took a careful inventory of boots, pant legs, shirt cuffs, gleaning heaven knows how much information in the process.

He shares a big fenced enclosure with Simon, a seven-year-old bloodhound who quickly demonstrates a timidity that, his owner says, makes him unfit for tracking.

A good tracker, she says, “needs to be bold and friendly.

“Bloodhounds are stubborn,” she adds.  “They want to find that scent.  They don’t care what’s at the end of it.”

When working, she says, Redford ignores people he would otherwise spend time visiting, and anything he finds along the trail.  She’s been amazed to see him stride heedlessly past bear scat, moose scat, deer scat, even a deer.  But he proudly brought her the frozen scat left behind by that missing Westy.

A third bloodhound, Waseeka, has settled pretty permanently on a rug under a table in Ms. Robinson’s log house.  More than 12 years old, Waseeka has lost much of her vision and her hearing.

There are two horses in a paddock, a Morgan and a Tennessee walker, along with three outside cats and five inside cats, all rescued animals.

Ms. Robinson and her dogs haven’t gone looking for lost people.  That job involves a lot of legal regulations, she says, and a lot of paperwork.

She held a job for years at Kodak in Rochester, New York, before she and Thurber moved to the Northeast Kingdom almost 12 years ago.  Working with that large corporation left her “tired of doing what somebody told me to do.”

But when she’s looking for a lost pet, Ms. Robinson strives to do what Redford tells her to do.

When a dog and handler team makes a mistake, she says, it’s almost always the handler’s fault.

“It’s all about Redford,” she says.  “I’m just his translator and his transportation.  He’s the one who knows what’s going on.”

To help dogs like Redford do their job, Ms. Robinson suggests that pet owners wipe each of their animals with a bit of clean cloth, and put the cloth aside in a sealed and labeled plastic bag.

If the pet ever should come up missing, she says, that will give Redford something to work with.

Ms. Robinson can be reached at 755-6331 or by e-mail at allcritters@wildblue.net.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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An essay on longevity: New magazine features old trees


old treescopyright the Chronicle 12-26-2012

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Julia Shipley of Craftsbury for a new magazine based in Hardwick called Taproot.  The magazine comes out four times a year and each issue is based on a theme.  Its motto is “living fully, digging deeper.”  The magazine seeks to publish high quality writing, photos and art from local and national writers on topics related to what would have been called, a generation or two ago, the back-to-the-land movement — an effort to get back to basics in matters of food, home life, work, and more.  “We didn’t see media that addressed this nascent movement in any meaningful way,” said publisher Jason Miller.  The magazine has no advertising, except it ran an insert for natural toys in one edition.  Its goal is to pay for itself by subscriptions, which are $30 a year.  In the most recent issue, the theme was wood.  Cover art was by Maine artist Jennifer Judd-McGee.  Single copies are available at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick.  For more information, see the magazine’s website:  www.taprootmag.com.  For more information about Julia Shipley, take a look at www.thenewsfrompoems.com where she writes about poetry, and www.writingonthefarm.com

by Julia Shipley

On the upper west side of Manhattan, on the first floor of the Museum of Natural History, sequestered in a dim corner is a slice of a mammoth sequoia, God’s torso, I think as I gawk at this hunk which germinated from an infinitesimal seed in the year 550 AD, the year St. David converted Wales to Christianity.  The year it was cut down, 1891, was the year the zipper was invented.  None of us staring at this shard of a sequoia had even been born yet.

When it was exhibited at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893, according to the museum’s docent, people were incredulous that a tree could ever grow so big, and disgruntled that it had been severed for their viewing pleasure.

The cross section — displayed on end showing the growth rings, all 1,342 of them, one for each year of the tree’s life — is broad as a Cadillac Coup de Ville and tall as a UPS truck.  Were it to somehow flop over and appear as it had in the forest the day it was finally cut from the stump, its dimensions would match that of our town’s stout gazebo, a lone edifice on the Common where small orchestras play in the summer.  In my mind’s eye I grow the gazebo into a sequoia tree that looms hundreds of feet over the town ground.…

Stuart LaPoint, the owner of a landscaping business and assistant tree warden for the town of Craftsbury, gets around — meaning he drives the back roads a lot, keeping an eye out for something big.  In 2010 he put together a group of photographs showing 12 of Craftsbury’s most majestic specimens.  After some pestering (I’d rib him when I saw him at the general store, “Hey, I’d love to go check out those trees.”) he agreed to let me come along.

It helps I happen to have two of the biggest trees in town, or rather, they have me, whichever way you look at it:  they are the oldest things I live with — these huge red oaks, with limbs as tall and thick as regular trees.  In the fall when they’re tawny, the one on the left has goldish leaves, and the one on the right’s are more russet.  As I spend the weekends of October and November raking up their endless bequest, I ponder how old they are.…

So one day in March, when Stuart calls up and asks, “How’s tomorrow?” I tell him it’s perfect.  We are going to visit the biggest living trees he knows about within five miles of the town gazebo.  He’s called all the landowners; we’re cleared to visit.

As he pulls in the driveway the next morning, my big oaks throw zebra stripe shadows all over his pickup truck.  As we gaze 70 feet up into the trees’ canopy, I tell Stuart how recently a tree- size limb wrenched loose and how I hired a guy named Karl Nitch to help take it down and how Karl used tree spikes to climb 60 feet up and fell the monstrous limb.  The whole time I worried what I might have to say to Karl’s surviving wife, but in the end, he returned to the ground of his own accord and I had enough bucked up chunks to heat the house for half the winter, and to give to my neighbor Dave Brown, who churned out eight oak bowls on his lathe.  As my Dad and I split firewood together, we marveled at the pretty pink flesh of the oak — oh, so this is why they call it “Red.”  And when folks come over for dinner, I’m sure to tell them how these bowls grew in the yard.

The second stop on our tree tour is just up the road, by the Whitney Brook, and there it is:  strong, straight and tall, growing impossibly from the bank of the brook.  Standing beside it you can see the Atwoods’ silo and the power pole running current up to the barn.

Stuart announces, “It’s a hoyt spruce.”

A hoyt spruce?




Oh, you mean ‘white’?

“Yup, and 32 feet high if I had to guess.  You’ll look hard to find one bigger.  Should live another 30 years.  I just happened to see it from the road one day as I was going by.”

And then, quick as a wink, we are back in the car headed further up the Creek Road toward Albany, to get a look at Bruce Butterfield’s hop hornbeam (also known as ironwood) off near a clearing, and then his American Linden (also known as basswood).

Standing beneath the Hornbeam I am blasé — its stature seems unremarkable, neither broad nor tall, but as I learn later reading Donald Peattie’s A Natural History Of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, my nonplus is dipped in ignorance, as Peattie writes, “Only occasionally does this tree grow 30 feet high,” and here Stuart has located this “occasion” right in our neighborhood.  Meanwhile, he defends the linden growing nearby, stating, “I don’t think that it’ll be a wow-er, but it’s pretty big — look on the trunk, it’s got some girth, close to 42 inches I’d guess.”

On with the tour, we buzz back toward town, merely driving by the jumbo paper birch on the roadside near Ron Geoffroy’s East Hill Auto and the quaking aspen in the bank by the Midis 20 feet from the intersection of South Albany and Ketchum Hill Road.

So often I simply see “trees” and not individual species, as in a stadium I simply see “people,” a human blur.  When I moved to Craftbury eight years ago, the town was full of blurry people, but in the intervening years, or in arboreal terms:  eight growth rings, I’ve learned names and personalities, so it is fitting that each tree Stuart introduces is linked by its name to a neighbor, as I start to see the forest through the trees….

In the early days of pioneering in the northeast, the “land-lookers” brought back tales of a tree of gigantic height, which grew in the wildest and remotest recesses of the great North Woods”— Donald Peattie A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America.

The last time Jim Moffatt saw the yellow birch was about a year ago.  These last few years he’s gotten behind on some of his winter woods-work — and counting backward, he’s had five hip operations; then there was a winter with so much snow he couldn’t get into the woods, so he took his skidder apart to make some adjustments and put it back together; and the winter before that he spent going down to Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington to take his wife, Joan, to her appointments.

As we climb into his Ford pickup, Mr. Moffatt tells me he was born in the house.  The land came into the Moffatt family when Jim’s father bought the estate from Daniel Dustan, a descendant of the founding families of Craftsbury.  And Mr. Dustan had purchased the parcel containing the Yellow Birch upon his return to Vermont after a stint in the South at outset of the Civil War.  In a diary kept by Mr. Dustan, he describes building a sugarhouse.  Back then, the yellow birch must have been surrounded by giant sugar maples.  To form into a soaring tree, straight and tall, the yellow birch had to bide its time in the shade of older trees, and then shoot up, “released,” as the others died off.

We are driving north through Moffatt’s Tree Farm.  Acres of Christmas trees grow on both sides of the road.  What began as a sideline enterprise to dairy farming when Jim’s father started cutting wild balsams in old pastures has turned into a full-time cultivated tree farm operation under Jim’s management.  Now Jim’s son Steve is responsible for 100,000 trees on parcels of land spread out over five towns.

We travel down a side road and pull over as Jim hops out to open the gate across his right of way, then climbs back in.  Entering the leaf-shingled shelter of the woods, we lurch along a cobble-cluttered skidder road.  Jim recollects, “The first time I looked at the yellow birch was in the 1960s after I bought the parcel from my father….  I thought there was some lumber in it, but it was too much, more than my equipment could handle to bring it down.”

Though Jim’s father never mentioned it at the time, he too knew about the yellow birch.  Eventually Jim learned his father had seen it years before and also thought it large, too large to take down with the equipment they had.

Back in 1972, a man named Jeff Freeman, then a professor at Castleton State College, began making a list of Vermont’s largest trees.  In 2001, Loona Brogan of Plainfield, Vermont, founded the Vermont Tree Society, a group and website celebrating Vermont’s largest trees.  And now the most up-to-date list, with more than 110 species and varieties, is maintained by Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.  Jim Moffatt’s tree is not on this list.  There is an even bigger yellow birch in Victory.  But Jim’s may be the oldest.

“It must be three hundred years old.  I’m 75 and it is relatively unchanged in my lifetime.”

We get out of the truck and walk a ways up the road, and then he stops and says, “There.” Though it sits back amid the woods of other sturdy trees, I am absolutely certain which tree he means.

It’s like coming across an I-beam in a box of tooth picks:  it rises with authority; and it has a demeanor, emanating a sort of warmth and feeling, the way a person does.  It seems far more sentient than anything else around it and indeed, it has convinced three centuries of appraising men that it’s not meant to be felled by saw.

When Jim leans against the yellow birch’s broad trunk for a photo, he does in a companionable way, and lets the trunk take some of his weight, an intimate gesture, more personal than simply standing beside it; and he favors the right side of the trunk, as opposed to the center, as if to leave room for where Joan would have stood, or still is standing, in some way.

Peattie concludes his chapter: “Frequently when a yellow birch comes to the end of its life span, it stands a long time, though decay is going on swiftly under its bark.”

Jim puts this truth another way, “You can see the inside’s rotten — one day the winds are going to bring it down.”

As we back away I ask, “Does it have a name?” — as the cypress was called the Senator or the chunk in the Museum of Natural History was from a tree named Mark Twain.

“No, it’s just the yellow birch.”  After a pause he adds, “But if it did, I guess it would be ‘Joan,’ after my wife, as it represents so much about our our lives together.”

Then, once more, as has happened for hundreds of years, we turn away to leave, and the yellow birch remains.

I like to imagine one day, Steve’s boys, Jim’s grandsons, will grow up and bring their children here.

On page 36 of the 2011 town report, the Craftsbury Municipal Forest Committee notes that Stuart LaPoint received a grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont to plant 12 trees.  He planted one in the village and then tucked in 11 others on the Common, surrounding the lone gazebo and the hidden-in-plain-sight ancient maple.  Stuart planted red maple, river birch, flowering crab, blue beech, hop hornbeam, Princeton elm, Japanese tree lilac and serviceberry.  How about that?  The man cruising the roads looking for the biggest and oldest being in the woods, is also cruising through town making sure the youngest have a chance to grow into something substantial, maybe even large, maybe even old, and hopefully recognized years, decades, maybe even centuries from now.

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“Spaceman” Santa helps promote Toys for Tots


Craftsbury General Store owner Emily Maclure, left, and Michelle Guenard, creator of Michelle’s Spicy Kimchee, pose on Santa’s lap.  Santa was being played by Red Sox baseball player Bill Lee.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

Craftsbury General Store owner Emily Maclure, left, and Michelle Guenard, creator of Michelle’s Spicy Kimchi, pose on Santa’s lap. Santa was being played by Red Sox baseball player Bill Lee. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 1-2-2013

CRAFTSBURY — The Toys for Tots box was looking a little sad.  Craftsbury General Store owner Emily Maclure was searching for a way to encourage customers to bring in a toy to donate to the project, which provides new toys for children who might not have a lot under the tree.

She got to talking about the situation with Bill Lee, the retired Red Sox baseball player who lives nearby.  Next thing you know, Mr. Lee was signed up to play Santa in order to get some more attention to the Toys for Tots program.

It was an opportunity for Mr. Lee to promote his new brand of wine, called Spaceman.  Add live music, provided by Mavis MacNeil and Andrew Koehler, and an event was born.

Mavis MacNeil and Andrew Koehler provided music for the event.

Mavis MacNeil and Andrew Koehler provided music for the event.

Spaceman was Mr. Lee’s nickname when he was on the Red Sox, and he had a label created that looks like an old-fashioned baseball card.  Mr. Lee grew up in the Napa Valley in California but has roots in Vermont as well.  He feels strongly that wines made in California are better because the state gets more sun.  He said maybe Vermont wines made with white grapes will be all right.

Spaceman wine is also a fund-raiser.  The label promises that a portion of the profits from the wine will go to the Red Sox Foundation, which supports a Red Sox Scholars program and an inner city baseball program.

Mr. Lee calls his wine a “petit cera cera.”

He describes it, on the label, as such:

“Shanghaied for fifty years on the east coast by the game of baseball, Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee — sixth generation Californian and prodigal son has returned to his roots by making a monsterous red wine, like that which has run through his ancestors veins and vines since the 1800s.

“This wine will knock your Sox off.”

On the day of the promotion, December 22, Mr. Lee gave people tastes of his wine.  He came equipped with autographed baseball bats as well.

Michelle Guenard, right, pretends to attack Bill Lee with a bottle of the new Spaceman wine he has created, called Spaceman, while Ms. Maclure pretends to attack him with an autographed baseball bat.

Michelle Guenard, right, pretends to attack Bill Lee with a bottle of the new Spaceman wine he has created, called Spaceman, while Ms. Maclure pretends to attack him with an autographed baseball bat.

Michelle Guenard, creator of Michelle’s Spicy Kimchi, came by with a Red Sox jersey, and before long, she and Ms. Maclure were posing for photos on Santa’s lap and pretending to attack him with wine bottles and an autographed bat.

Ms. Maclure added another incentive for people to donate:  Anyone who brought in a toy would be entered to win one pizza a month for a year.

It worked.

As the musicians were packing up on the afternoon of December 22, Ms. Maclure said the event had helped fill up the Toys for Tots box.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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In Memoriam: Maureen O’Donnell July 6, 1952 – December 11, 2012


maureen memoriam

Maureen O’Donnell at home in Albany, with her 1959 Melody Maker guitar. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Iconic and ironic, O’Donnell releases Rogue Element

This article first appeared in the Chronicle in 2009.  It is republished here in her memory.

by Bethany M. Dunbar

ALBANY — In these days of excitement about renewable energy, it just might be the perfect moment for Maureen O’Donnell to release her new compact disc.

Years ago, Ms. O’Donnell was a local celebrity as part of a band called the BTUs.  The BTUs rocked out at the Valley House in Orleans and other local venues, back in the days when dancing was the preferred weekend aerobic exercise in the Kingdom.

“We were ironic as hell and iconic,” says Ms. O’Donnell, when the timing is pointed out to her.

Ms. O’Donnell has been making music by singing and with a guitar and harmonica and other instruments since she was a small child.  She remembers thinking that someday she would get rich and have a place in the country.  It’s all true except for the rich part (so far).

This is the introduction from Ms. O’Donnell’s notes to be included with her new compact disc, Rogue Element.

“Listening to another ‘final mix’ thru JBL’s in a 20’ X 24’ room with a large window view of beautiful meadows, free of all traces of human endeavor.  A moose gazing in at me, so close I could count the flies on her magnificent mouth.  Fifty or so wild turkeys strutting in a line through the yard; crows cackling, calling; hawk soaring, swooping, elegant, effortless in the totality of its being, nothing more, nothing less.”

The cover photo is Ms. O’Donnell practicing — not with her guitar.  She is shown in a black T-shirt and cap, ear and eye protection in place, holding — with what appears to be complete comfort — a rather large rifle.  The photo was taken by David Bradshaw, a shooting friend.

Ms. O’Donnell’s album could be described as rock or folk, alternative, or something like that.  She has written all the songs except for “Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen, which was recorded live with the Reused Blues Band at Burlington City Hall.

Ms. O’Donnell’s voice is, on some tracks, Bonnie Raitt-esque.  It’s full of soul and life, and life experience.  It’s less frightening and more forgiving than the cover art.

She produced the CD herself.  Its sound is homegrown and authentic.  On the intro, she puts it this way:

“This slim collection represents my first solo process relying almost entirely upon my own skills (or lack thereof), as writer, musician, engineer, producer, singer, objective witness and executioner…

“Honest and raw as November, sonic imperfection becomes part of the charm of this offering, no opting for technical preciousness.”

At age four, Ms. O’Donnell first saw a Telecaster guitar and remembers it in perfect detail.

“It was kind of a blondish vanilla with a white maple neck, and I was just gone.  I didn’t want anything else ever,” she said.

One issue right away when she was growing up was that girls did back up.  Ms. O’Donnell had talent, but people kept telling her “chicks didn’t play lead.”

They wanted to put her in tall, white go-go boots and a short skirt with a tambourine.  She said she thought she would prefer her Carhartts.

“When I saw the Beatles, I wanted to be one.  I didn’t want to marry one,” she said.

The Beatles were a huge influence on her because it seemed possible for music to be a career.

“All of a sudden you knew you didn’t have to go to home ec.  You knew you didn’t have to be Betty Crocker or a Barbie Doll.”

Ms. O’Donnell grew up in Brookfield, Connecticut, which she said was — in those days — a lot like Vermont is now.

“It was a great place to be a kid,” she said.

“The Moody Blues were my parents,” she said.  It might be a slight exaggeration, but her actual parents were dysfunctional and abusive.  Her mother was married six times, her father was married four times, and they married each other twice.  Ms. O’Donnell went to ten high schools due to her parents’ moving around.  Her father was a Teamster.  She got into drugs at age 15.

But music kept her interest.

“When I was ten I joined the drum corps,” she said.  She learned drumming from a man named Earl Sturtz, who was drum champion 36 years in a row.  He had an “impeccable sense of meter,” and she soaked it up.

She dropped out of school but was reading voraciously.  She would go to college campuses and argue Nietzsche and Kierkegaard with the students and professors.  She tended bar in a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and met a band there called Spiral Country because all the songs were written in a spiral notebook.  She joined them, they got on the radio and got fan mail from all over — including truck drivers in Colorado.

She came to Vermont with a former lover who was going to Goddard.  Ms. O’Donnell graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and theater from Goddard.

“She and I had done a lot of feminist theater,” Ms. O’Donnell said, including at Yale Drama School.  She found more music in Vermont.

“Denny Clifford taught me the fundamentals of how to do the dobro,” she said.  And then there were the BTUs.

She recently went back to Ohio and got to play with old friends and some up-and-coming musicians, including one woman she had mentored out there years ago.  The shows were a blast — 1,000-seat venues, some with a packed house.

“I always knew I was meant to be on the big stage,” he said.  “I made good use of it.  I didn’t just stand there.”

Music has kept her going in hard times and good times.

“It’s just really nice to feel that you have something in your life that gives you a sense of self-respect and dignity, that you have something to offer the world,” she said.

“The tunes on this album kind of picked me,” she said.  “I was really shocked at the serendipity.”

She said she used to “push the river” a lot because of her own aggression and compulsion, but these days she’s trying, with some success, to let the music just come through.

“Now I’ve learned to empty yourself out and get out of your own way,” she said.

Ms. O’Donnell has a web site at http://InHouseMediaWorks.com, and by April 15 Rogue Element will be available for sale through CDBaby.com.  Anyone interested can also reach her by snail mail (1535 Creek Road, Irasburg, Vermont 05845) or e-mail (dragon52@localnet.com).

“The response to the CD has been amazing, considering so far it’s only been word of mouth,” she said.

“I wanted to just thank everyone for remembering.”

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

An obituary of Maureen O’Donnell appears here: /bartonchronicle.com/category/obituaries/

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In memoriam: Henry Labrecque


Jeannette and Henry Labrecque at home in September of 2011. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Editor’s note:  Henry Labrecque died on December 7, 2012.  In his memory, we republish here an interview Chris Braithwaite did with Mr. Labreque that was first published in the Chronicle in the fall of 2011.

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle, September 28, 2011.


BARTON — Nothing could seem more normal on a sunny afternoon in late September than to see Henry and Jeannette Labrecque harvesting a hay crop from a field beside the Cook Road.

The couple might have been seen in such a field more than half a century ago, working with equipment that was a little smaller, a little slower.  But then, as now, you would expect to see Mrs. Labrecque behind the wheel of the tractor.

“One thing I always liked was driving tractor,” she said in a recent interview.

Henry Labrecque might have been seen there 70 years ago, a strapping young teenager, perhaps driving the team of horses, perhaps building the load of loose hay on a wagon.

He has lived on the farm for all but the first four of his 83 years, and worked on it almost that long.

He has a crystal clear memory of his eighth birthday present, a privilege bestowed by his father:

“I could start milking cows by hand.  I’ll never forget that.  I thought I was a man.”

One of his earliest memories of life on the farm, which sits on a deceptively sharp curve on the road to Willoughby Lake, is less positive.

The farmhouse had a bad foundation, he recalls, and its movement had opened cracks in the roof.  A few months after the family moved there in October 1932, young Henry woke in his upstairs bedroom to find “a couple of inches of snow on the sheets.”

That morning, he recalled with a smile, “it didn’t take too long to get dressed.”

Mr. Labrecque’s French-Canadian family had arrived at their ramshackle farmhouse in northern Vermont by an indirect route, one that reflected the times they coped with.

Henry Labrecque. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

His mother, Marie Anne, had moved from Montreal to Lawrence, Massachusetts, to join hundreds of young women in the textile mills.  His father, Jeremie, had moved nearby from his family’s Quebec farm to work at Fafnir Bearing.  They met at the wedding of his neighbor and one of her friends, and married in 1927.

Then the Depression hit.

“In 1931 he got laid off and moved up here, to the Kittridge farm,” Mr. Labrecque said.

That place, now fallen into a ruin, had just been remodeled by the father of Tony Pomerleau, the Burlington developer who is playing a key role in Newport’s redevelopment.

“But he lost it,” Mr. Labrecque said of his father and the Kittridge farm.  “Then he moved here, to the old Pete Damon place.”

Of Mr. Damon’s reason for leaving, Mr. Labrecque said, “Things went wrong with him, too.”

Things were going wrong for a lot of farmers in the early ’30s.  Mrs. Labrecque recalls the bankers of the day with no hint of affection in her voice.

“If they missed a payment by one day, they were evicted,” she said of farmers like Pete Damon.

Yet the bankers gave Jeremie Labrecque a bit of a break.

“The deal was he could stay here, and if he could make a go of it, they’d sell it to him,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “In 1934 they did.”

The farm, then 120 acres, sold for “right around $3,500.”

His father started out with about a dozen cows, milking them by hand.

There was no electricity, Mr. Labrecque recalls.  “We got it the day before Christmas, 1942, which was a Saturday.”

He has sharp memories of the electricians who busied themselves in the house that day, particularly of one universally known as Old Tink Prescott.  “He’d stick his finger in his mouth, then stick it in the socket and say ‘Yep, there’s electricity there.’”

The herd grew steadily over the next decade, as Henry Labrecque grew up.  “When we were married in 1954 there were 25, maybe nearer 30,” Mr. Labrecque said.

“I grew up in Newport Center, a whole 23 miles from here,” Mrs. Labrecque said.

“I knew the road to Newport Center,” her husband said.

He said that with a smile that seemed to recall a farmer in his mid-twenties wooing the girl who would be his wife for (so far) 57 years and with whom he would raise seven children.

It was important to both parents, as their family grew, that they retain the French language.

All seven of their children can speak French, and at least one grown son, Richard, still slips into that language when he talks to his parents.

Jeannette Labrecque keeps a close eye on the baler from the driver’s seat as son Richard Labrecque keeps a close eye on his mother. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Mrs. Labrecque is a plain-spoken woman, and her voice still conveys some of the fury she felt when a teacher sent a daughter home with the advice that she should be speaking English in their home.

“There was no English spoken in this house,” she said.  “How else would they keep their French?”

“When I started school I knew one word in English,” Henry Labrecque said.  “That was ‘No.’”

At his first day of school he couldn’t so much as ask to go to the bathroom.  Finally recognizing his discomfort, the teacher found a bilingual classmate, a girl who figured out the problem and led young Henry to the outhouse.

Then she translated the teacher’s instructions on the universal code, using his fingers to indicate number one and number two.

But he can still hear the laugher that filled the one-room Devereaux schoolhouse when he raised his middle finger to his teacher, and she calmly bent it down and raised his index finger in its place.

“My mother never could talk English,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “Dad could, after a while.  I picked up the English language, but I kept the French.”

Speaking the French language in northern Vermont had its price, Mr. Labrecque said.

“French-speaking people were looked down on.  If there was a good job, the English speaker got it.  French people, they were farmers.  They worked the land.”

On her drive to school, he recalled, “the teacher would pick up some of the Fisk kids that were neighbors, but I had to walk.”

Yet his bilingual ability proved to be critical to the work he did to support the farm.  He’d drive north into Quebec to buy hay, Christmas trees, and brush for his wreath-making business.

Son Richard has taken that business over, and finds his French essential to negotiations with farmers on the other side of the border.

His business, and his ability to chat with his sources, has made Richard an expert on the state of the Quebec dairy industry.  His key finding:  Quebec’s supply management system, based on quotas, supports a thriving business while Vermont dairying continues to decline.

“When I got out of high school there were 17 farms between Barton and Willoughby Lake,” Henry Labrecque said.  “Now there aren’t any.”  He and Jeannette sold their cows in 1994.

Mr. Labrecque didn’t want to sell them, his wife recalled.  “I said, ‘If you don’t want to sell the cows, you can do the work yourself.’  That changed his mind.”

While he has passed the hay and wreath business on to Richard, Henry continues to haul loads of gravel out of a pit on the farm, even as he recovers from major heart surgery in June.

Talk of the gravel pit brought back other memories of the Depression and the WPA, the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin Roosevelt to put unemployed men back to work.

“In the winter of 1934-’35 they graveled the road to the Barton Village line — in the winter — with horses.  The WPA had men in the pit shoveling gravel all winter.”

His father worked too, hauling gravel.  “I think that first year it was $2.25 a day, the next year $2.50.  That was for Dad, the horses and the wagon.  That’s what kept the place from going under.”

He remembers touching hands with Roosevelt in 1934, when the President was campaigning in Newport for another term.

Another childhood memory involves the skin of a calf and a cattle dealer who, to this day, Mr. Labrecque is reluctant to name.

“It was during haying in July.  I was seven.  It would have been 1935.  Dad told me, ‘If you skin that calf you can have the money.’”

He remembers running out to meet the cattle dealer as his rounds took him past the farm; remembers the dealer standing on the running board of his truck, his gold teeth, and his ability to speak French.

“All I could talk was French.”

Young Henry offered up the hide, and the dealer agreed to buy it.

“He picked through the change in his hand and gave me a Canadian dime.”

What Henry didn’t know was that the dime was worthless in Vermont.

“I went down to Medie Massey’s store for a nickel ice cream.”  The store was at the corner of Main Street and Duck Pond Road in Barton.

“He asked me if I had any money.  Boy, did I!  I had a dime!  Well, he didn’t give me no ice cream.”

Henry got the same reception at Ralph Moore’s store downtown, and from Mr. Boisvert on Upper Main Street.

“I went into Wallace Foss’ store.  He asked if I had any money.  I showed him my dime.  He said ‘I’ll give you an ice cream and you keep your dime.’  I ended up giving it to the church.”

That dealer “was a tight-fisted son of a gun,” Mr. Labrecque said.  Years later, at a dance in Glover, the dealer had a chance to ask the farmer why he never sold him any cattle.

“So I told him,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “He denied it, but it was the truth.”

Asked which era of farming he most enjoyed, Mr. Labrecque was quick to respond.

“When the whole family was here.  All the kids were here.  We had problems, but they were enjoyable years.”

“It was a good life, but it was seven days a week,” he said.

“Sometimes,” Mrs. Labrecque added, “it felt like eight.”

To read an obituary of Henry Labrecque, please see the obituary pages for December 12, 2012.

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Shelton invents Task One: iPhone case multitool


Addison Shelton shows off his invention, Task One. Photo courtesy of Addison Shelton

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 11-28-2012

ATLANTA, Georgia — Addison Shelton, who grew up in Glover, has invented a case for iPhones that has several slim tools stashed inside it.  He’s looking for people who want to buy one ahead of time in order to get the funding to manufacture the product.

Called Task One, the case includes a small serrated knife, pliers, a wire cutter and stripper, screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, a bottle opener and more.  The knife can be removed for when a person gets on an airplane.

“Task One is a sleek and sexy multi-tool case for your iPhone,” says the product’s Facebook page, called TaskLab.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Mr. Shelton said he had the idea because he loves tools and multi-tools like Swiss Army knives.

“I’m a mechanical engineer.  I’m a tool guy.  I like tools,” he said.  Despite that, he finds he doesn’t carry those multi-tools around in his pockets because they’re too bulky.

“They turn out to be not that useful to me,” he said.

Task One has 16 tools inside it and is no thicker than a regular iPhone case.

The one thing a lot of people do carry, though, is a cell phone.  Mr. Shelton started thinking, what if the two could be combined?  He searched the Internet and didn’t find that anyone had already invented such a thing.  So about a year ago, he set about making a prototype.

His blog, which can be seen at thetasklab.com, tells some of the story of working out bugs in the original prototype.

Task One has 16 tools and is no thicker than an ordinary phone case.  Part of the design process has included making sure no one would break the phone when using it to cut a steak or firewood.  The tools are designed to break before the phone would be hurt, and Mr. Shelton promises to replace tools that break, for a very small charge.

He has not patented the tool yet, but he has written a provisional patent.  The process of obtaining a patent is three or four years long, he said, and it starts with making the product public.  The inventor has a year from that time to submit the provisional patent application.

Mr. Shelton has until December 26 to raise $45,000 through the crowd-sourcing website

www.indiegogo.com/taskone.  He launched the idea a week ago, November 21, and so far he has raised $15,000.

If he gets fully funded, he will owe 550 people a Task One iPhone case, and he figures that $45,000 would be enough to be able to buy the manufacturing tools he would need.  The cases can be pre-purchased for $75 to $90 each.

“I’m pretty excited about getting this to manufacturing,” he said.  “I think a lot of people would find it pretty useful.”

If this works out, he might also create a version of the case for Android type cell phones next.  If the website funding program does not raise $45,000 by December 26, he could either drop the idea or look for a different way to fund the product’s manufacture, such as a conventional bank loan.

Mr. Shelton is the son of Betsy Allen and Bucky Shelton.  He graduated from Stanford in 2005 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

His regular job is with an Atlanta, Georgia, company that he and some of his friends from college started.  The company is researching improvements in lithium batteries.

“Mostly we are trying to increase the capacity,” he said.

In his spare time, he decided to invent the Task One.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle

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