Brown’s life made on the water, in the woods

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The cover photo for On Northern Waters is of Lana Hill and David Birdsall on the Winisk River in Ontario in 1985.  David Brown took most of the photos in the book, but a few were taken of him by his companions.

The cover photo for On Northern Waters is of Lana Hill and David Birdsall on the Winisk River in Ontario in 1985. David Brown took most of the photos in the book, but a few were taken of him by his companions.

copyright the Chronicle June 11, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

For those who love the wilderness, northern Quebec and Labrador are close enough to be enticing. On Northern Waters, by Dave Brown of Craftsbury, will take you there vicariously if the complications of backwoods canoe travel seem daunting. Watch out — it might spark the desire to experience these far northern places into an overwhelming craving. Mr. Brown hopes so.

The large format (11 by 13 inches) hardcover book is a collection of photos of 40 years of such trips, with an essay for each chapter. Mr. Brown created the book himself in the same way he creates wooden bowls, his home, and his furniture. He figured out how it was done, and then he did it, with quality as a goal instead of quantity. Continue reading

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ETA releases self-titled album of originals

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The cover for the Evansville Transit Authority’s new CD of original music is nothing if not homegrown and simple.

The cover for the Evansville Transit Authority’s new CD of original music is nothing if not homegrown and simple.

copyright the Chronicle May 28, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

The estimated time of arrival for the new ETA compact disc of original music is:  now.

The Evansville Transit Authority (ETA) band has been a local phenomenon for a dozen years and got its first paid gig when the boys were in high school. For the most part, they have played other people’s songs, from famous rock and country bands.

Their new self-titled CD is their own original music, and it’s good — good guitar playing, good singing, lyrics, and percussion.

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A history of Vermont through architecture

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architecture book webcopyright the Chronicle April 23, 2014

Buildings of Vermont, by Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson. Published by University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville and London, 2014.  504 pages. Hardbound.  $85.

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

Buildings of Vermont meets such an obvious need that it’s somewhat astonishing it didn’t already exist. It’s a book that belongs next to Esther M. Swift’s Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History on the shelf of anyone seriously interested in the state.

At first glance the book appears to be a catalog of noteworthy architecture in Vermont. It is that, but in detailing the variety of building styles it sheds new light on the history of the state.

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Book review: Bird seeks truth about God

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starling god webcopyright the Chronicle April 16, 2014

The Starling God, by Tanya Sousa.  Paperback.  265 pages.  Published by forestrypress.com.  $12.50

Reviewed by Tena Starr

Tanya Sousa’s The Starling God is part allegory, part adventure story, part coming of age tale, and very much a social commentary.  She tackles the interconnectedness of species, the dangers of both conformity and superiority, and the pitfalls of blind and unquestioning adulation — for starters.

This is also a book written by a person who knows a great deal about birds and who is deeply passionate about her message.

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Poetry book on fall light, picking stone, cutting corn

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kinsey book review webcopyright the Chronicle March 26, 2014

Winter Ready, by Leland Kinsey.  Published by Green Writers Press. 85 pages.  Paperback.  $14.95

Reviewed by Tena Starr

It was yet another cold and snowy March day in this cold and snowy winter of 2014, and Leland Kinsey’s latest book of poetry, Winter Ready, seemed an apt read.  But there is little in this volume that chronicles the grueling.  Nor is Winter Ready poetry as some may know it.

This lovely collection is as much prose as poetry.  It’s a collection of moments, observations, and sometimes a reminiscence of a Northeast Kingdom that’s, sadly in my view, fading into memory.

In fact, the onerous chore of picking stone had completely escaped my own memory until I ran across Mr. Kinsey’s poem called “Stone Picking.”

Does anyone pick stone anymore?  We used to on our farm.  I recall, as a girl, thinking that rocks must somehow grow and multiply, like potatoes.  Picking stone was a task for Sisyphus, who spent eternity rolling a boulder uphill.

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How Barton’s founder became a war hero

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kidnapping the enemy webcopyright the Chronicle March 5, 2014

Kidnapping the Enemy, The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott, by Christian M. McBurney.  325 pages.  Hardcover.  Published by Westholme Publishing, LLC.  $29.95.

Reviewed by Tena Starr

It was 1777 and the American war for independence wasn’t going particularly well.  George Washington’s competence had been called into question, and his second-in-command, General Charles Lee, had just been captured by the British in a daring dragoon raid that found Lee caught off guard.

The difficult General Lee had apparently abandoned caution in favor of comfort and may have left himself vulnerable in order to spend the night with a woman.  But no matter the cause of his capture, some considered him, a former British officer, the hope of the American Revolution.  He had military experience that Washington didn’t, and his record, at least militarily, had been a shining one, although Washington himself considered the man’s temper, and general nastiness, a detriment.

The fledgling nation desperately sought Lee’s release.  It could not be procured, however, unless the Americans had a prisoner of equal stature to exchange.

At the time, William Barton — who would go on to found Barton, Vermont — was a lieutenant colonel, relatively unknown at 29, but energetic.  He was born in Warren, Rhode Island, a seafaring village, where he became a hatter.

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Did slavery in Vermont really end in 1777?

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This clipping is from a 1786 copy of the Vermont Gazette, and appears in the book The Problems of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.

This clipping is from a 1786 copy of the Vermont Gazette, and appears in the book The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.  By Harvey Amani Whitfield.  Published by the Vermont Historical Society 2014.  140 pages with notes, documents and index.  $19.95

Reviewed by Paul Lefebvre

The assertion that Vermonters kept slaves into the early years of the nineteenth century not only skews the state’s constitutional ban on slavery but also calls into the question the historical belief we have of ourselves as a people who believe in live and let live.

Surely there can be no place for such a belief where men can live off other men’s labor and sell their children.  But that’s what historian Harvey Whitfield has found and documented in his new book, The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.

For those who don’t have the date on the tip of their tongue, 1777 was the year Vermonters formed a Constitution that abolished slavery.  Well, not quite.  What the framers actually abolished was adult slavery.  The children of the new black freemen could still be for sale.

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Vermont Vaudeville debuts in Barton to sold out crowd

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Brent McCoy (left) and Maya McCoy, the stars of The Secret Circus, don their action suits for a feat of skill and daring.  The couple will demonstrate their marksmanship and comedic talents Saturday evening at Barton’s Memorial Building.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Brent McCoy (left) and Maya McCoy, the stars of The Secret Circus, don their action suits for a feat of skill and daring. The couple will demonstrate their marksmanship and comedic talents Saturday evening at Barton’s Memorial Building. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014
by Joseph Gresser

BARTON — Vermonters have always had a yen for local entertainment.  Most towns, including Barton, boast theaters that once hosted traveling shows that toured the country.

Barton’s Memorial Building will welcome a revival of that tradition Saturday night, when Vermont Vaudeville comes to town.

The group, made up of a four-person core and guest performers, has embarked on a nine-town tour of Vermont over the next six weeks as part of its campaign to revive locally produced and consumed entertainment.

Justin Lander, Rose Friedman and Brent and Maya McCoy started their troupe five years ago with an inaugural performance at the Orleans Municipal Building.  Since then they have presented several sold-out shows at the Hardwick Town House every year.

In a conversation on an icy January evening at the East Hardwick home of Ms. Friedman and Mr. Lander, the performers reflected on their journey so far and their plans for the future.

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Opinion: Rock on, Lake Region

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The Lake Region Union High School Rangerettes.  Photo by Peter Cocoros

The Lake Region Union High School Rangerettes. Photo by Peter Cocoros

by Tena Starr

This year’s Lake Region Union High School Winter Concert was something I would have paid money to attend.  From first to last, it was spectacular.

There’s such pressure on academics, but arts matter as well, and it’s something to keep in mind as school budgets tighten and tests gain importance.

Hurrah to whoever decided that Lake Region’s budget should include money for the elegant clothes all those fine musicians and singers wore.  It was mightily impressive to see the young people decked out in gowns, white shirts, and black vests and bow ties.  The school should be commended for its commitment to its music program and providing an incentive for the kids to take it all seriously, which they did.

And Sara Doncaster should be commended for coming up with such an innovative program, which ranged from classics to Etta Brown, and included the funniest version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that I’ve ever heard.  I saw it on the program and sighed, being a Scrooge, I guess, and considering “The Twelve Days of Christmas” one of the most tedious holiday songs ever written.

Not this version.  It was surprising and amusing, but it was also a complex song to sing — one that could have easily, and abominably, failed were it not for such a skilled group of singers.

Katie Lucas and the Rangerettes ought to go shopping for paid gigs.  The audience found itself whooping and whistling and, eventually, doing a standing ovation for that terrifically talented little group of young women.

And when was the last time you went to a school concert and heard a trio of young men croon a Frank Sinatra tune?

They all looked like they were having such fun, as were the people listening to them.

Then there’s the bands.  The Five Dollar Band, which backed up Katie and the Rangerettes, the Jazz Band, and the Orchestral Band.  They were challenged, and they rose to it.  What a fine, fine job those musicians did.

This is great stuff — for the kids, for those of us parents, for the future of music.  Thank you Lake Region, Sara Doncaster, and in particular, all you promising singers and musicians for providing such a rousing and excellent performance.  Rock on.

For more free articles like this one, visit our editorials and opinions page.

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Vermont history through the eyes of a lawyer

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paul gillies book webUncommon Law, Ancient Roads, and other Ruminations on Vermont Legal History, by Paul Gillies.  Published by the Vermont Historical Society. 2013.  414 pages with index. $24.95.

Reviewed by Paul Lefebvre

People who major in history in college often find themselves going to law school once they graduate.  More often, anyway, than those who major in physics or biology.  Ironically, Paul Gillies, who has a master’s degree in English from the University of Vermont, reversed that familiar transition by becoming a historian after he first became a lawyer.

Fortunately, for anyone interested in Vermont history, it’s been a seamless transition.  As a lawyer with a flair for writing, Gillies has given us a book that is quirky, original and highly entertaining as a study of Vermont’s past.

What’s original about Uncommon Law, Ancient Roads and Other Ruminations on Vermont Legal History, is how revealing our laws reflects our history.  Not just the laws as they were passed 200 years ago, but as recent as the Ancient Road Law that was passed by the Legislature in 2006.

The key question underlying ancient roads, say Gillies, writing as an attorney, is:  “What happens when the town announces it intends to develop the public road that runs through your property that nobody has traveled for several centuries?”

The question requires a legal resolution, but Gillies the historian frames its importance in a much larger context.  The lasting value in finding ancient roads — those having “no nexus to the current highway map” — is to show how a town evolved, or “how the hill farms were abandoned, the villages developed, and the land subdivided.”

Politically, a republic is a country governed by laws.  And to read Gillies is to see how laws mirror a country or state’s historical development.

Following the American Revolution, the country as well as Vermont did away with the British custom of judges wearing scarlet and ermine robes in court.  The tradition of judges wearing robes, however, remained.

By wearing a robe, explains Gillies, “the person is covered up and the office made manifest by the costume.”  And while individual judges may retire, “the robe comes back every day.”

Not to be outdone by members of the judicial branch, Vermont legislators even went one step further in 1789 by allowing members to “sit with their heads covered, except when they address the Speaker.”

Gillies, himself, appears to have little patience with some of the practices still at work today when a Latin phrase is used instead of an English one.  For while it may elevate a proceeding, he says, it also has a downside for the layman who has come to court.

“Latin can be so powerful, until you have to translate it, and then it falls flat, like explaining a joke to someone who doesn’t get it.”

Property laws or those regulating trade and commerce often come in reaction to something that is causing a conflict.  Gillies lays out an number of case histories on point, including those stemming from an eighteenth-century enterprise that every spring churned the waters of the Connecticut River until the early nineteen-hundreds:  the log drives.

“Like the law, log driving took balance, judgment, and quickness,” he writes in verve that is typical of his style.

In 1785 the Legislature passed a law that gave an owner nine months to remove his logs from a drive that had become snared by the river.  Similar laws ruled that the logs could be no longer than 20 feet and had to be marked for identification by the owner.

Throughout the decades there were laws passed that regulated log diameters and set deadlines for driving logs from one point to another.

“The present law is a museum of regulations of the log driving industry,” write Gillies.  And they still remain on the books.

Selectmen determine the location of the boom in rivers and streams to hold back the logs, “and no boom may be anchored until the fees are paid,” Gillies writes.

“Should log drives come back, the law awaits them.”

Packed into this big book — which can easily be read as an anthology — is a chapter on what Gillies understandably calls “Luminaries,” former Supreme Court Justices.  As profiles they run the gambit from Nathaniel Chipman — who in 1786 at 33 years old was elected to serve on the Supreme Court — to Justice F. Ray Keyser, who joined the Court in 1964.

Justice Chipman was Vermont’s foremost legal scholar, but what he contributed to the state’s legal foundation is, in Gillies’ view, the lynchpin to what we have become today as a society.

In his Sketches of the Principles of Government, written in 1793, Justice Chipman took a very benign and, at the time, radical view of human nature.  People do not need a government to protect themselves from each other, because they have a natural “relish for society.”

In other words, writes Gillies, “human beings in Chipman’s view were drawn intuitively to society, order, and organization as a fulfillment of their quest for happiness and social improvement.”

Among his peers, Gillies says, Chipman was a lawyer who liked to play in deep waters but had difficulty when it came to sustaining a lawyer-client relationship.

The profiles make up a hefty third of the book, which may explain why Gillies offered a writer’s disclaimer before forging ahead.

“Each essay is a violation against the law of practicing psychology without a license, but the perfume of the temptation is irresistible against the possible odor of the risk,” he writes.

Gillies concluded his book with a lengthy examination of Act 250, whose significance for Vermont he underscores by writing:

“In 1969, there was Woodstock, Vietnam, the moon landing, the Manson murders, and Act 250.”

He credits Governor Deane Davis for seeing the need and the 1970 Legislature for following through to pursue “a public interest in traditionally private matters when it comes to land and how it is used.”

Gillies says that Act 250 has reached maturity, and traces its evolution over four decades.  The results over the first ten years were mixed, or constitute what the author calls a difficult childhood.  By 1980, he says the Act “had found its bearings,” after the Legislature eliminated the “ten-acre loophole,” which took away lot size as an exemption from Act 250 review.

The third decade, “its most difficult,” saw wrangles with the Legislature over membership on the Environmental Board.  An Environmental Court was created.  Accusations proliferated that the Act 250 process was too unwieldy.  Gillies called it a time for retrenchment.

Throughout its fourth decade, which began in 2000, Act 250’s power to regulate was diminished by the Legislature and the High Court, according to Gillies.

Speaking of the Act as a process, the author writes:  “It has been revised almost as often as educational theory.  What other law has had to be saved so often?”

As a lawyer, Gillies has made his mark by representing towns.  Before ancient roads became such a hot political issue, he may have been municipal government’s first road warrior.  To that end, he is also the first historian to study the state’s past by looking at its routes of travel.

“The developing road network is a revelation of several centuries of community evolution,” he writes.

“This is the beginning of the golden age of Vermont highway law.”

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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