Spamalot is full of medieval tomfoolery

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King Arthur and the Lady of Lake welcome the Knights of the Very Round Table to Camelot in the Vermont Family Theater production of Spamalot.  From left to right, in the back row, are Joan Racine, Donna Arnold, Lucas Roy, Jade Piette, Greg Tocci, and Rachel Carter.  Seated in the middle row are the knights:  Jake Blankenship, Brendan Hadash, Todd Jones, and Zeb McCoy.  In front are Alan Franklin, Deborah MacKay, and Cassie Tarbox.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

King Arthur and the Lady of Lake welcome the Knights of the Very Round Table to Camelot in the Vermont Family Theater production of Spamalot. From left to right, in the back row, are Joan Racine, Donna Arnold, Lucas Roy, Jade Piette, Greg Tocci, and Rachel Carter. Seated in the middle row are the knights: Jake Blankenship, Brendan Hadash, Todd Jones, and Zeb McCoy. In front are Alan Franklin, Deborah MacKay, and Cassie Tarbox. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle April 9, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

ORLEANS — In days of yore a band of bold men adventured across the green and pleasant land of England.  Their adventures have been repeated down through the generations and continue to inspire listeners to this day.

I’m speaking, of course, of Monty Python, the progenitors of the musical comedy now playing at the Orleans Municipal Building — Spamalot.

The show, written by Eric Idle, one of the Pythons, opened on Broadway in 2005, where it had a very successful four-year run.  It has now made its way to Orleans in the form of a very entertaining production by the Vermont Family Theater.

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Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie comes to Newport

vermont movie barn

A barn raising was a community event in Vermont and sometimes still is.

Editor’s note:  The Vermont Movie parts five and six will be shown at the Gateway Center in Newport on Wednesday, December 4.  A showing of part five scheduled for November 27 will not be happening due to the bad weather expected.  On December 4 part five will be shown at 5:30 and part six will be shown at 7:30.

History has long been presented as a story told in chronological order — with each century, decade, and year given its due.  Thankfully, the six-part documentary, Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie, which is currently making the rounds in the Northeast Kingdom, doesn’t do that. It doesn’t serve up our past by cutting it into segments like pieces of firewood but rather looks at the past as themes that run like streams of time from the state’s origin to the present day.

Early in part one, A Very New Idea, Jesse Larocque, a twenty-first century Abenaki who combines weaving baskets with fixing computers, says that his people regarded nature as “a common pot” that feeds all people.  And in this documentary a collaborative of filmmakers shows how a land that has come to be called Vermont has shaped generation after generation to make a common identity.

Want a quick, and wonderfully revealing history of how Vermont became Vermont?  Here’s the poet Grace Paley, 1922-2007, wrapping it up in a nutshell.  Once upon a time Vermont, she says, was caught between two dukes — the Duke of New Hampshire and Duke of New York, who were fighting to possess that spit of land that separated them.  But the French and Indians intervened and that land became an independent republic rather than a dukedom.

It’s a funny story that contains just enough of a whiff of truth to make us believe that Vermonters are cut from a different cloth than our closest neighbors.  A cloth that is more like a quilt and one that keeps spreading as the decades go by.

The documentary tells its story through an impressive array of voices that includes farmers, big and small, loggers, school teachers, selectmen, and luminaries such as Scott and Helen Nearing, Chief Homer St.Francis, former editor of Vermont Life Tom Slaton, former governor Madeleine Kunin, Peter and Elka Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theater, historian Paul Searls, political scientist Frank Byran, and countless others who could easily be your next door neighbor.

vermont movie farming

Much of Vermont’s history is the history of farming.

Luckily for me, each part can stand on its own.  I did not have time to review each episode, but the ones I watched were much like reading an anthology of essays.  Nor do you have to view them in order.  The themes overlap like patches, and — most appreciated — the documentary doesn’t preach to people or assume it knows something more than the natives who have lived in the state for four or five generations.  Perhaps thats why we don’t blink when Frank Bryan tells us that old time Vermonters were lazy because they knew how hard real work was, and did whatever they could to avoid it.

Much of Vermont’s history is the history of farming.  And what people learn from working the land is the very stuff that goes into their view of human nature.  “Everybody has to leave their mark on the farm and that’s okay,” says an aging dairy farmer whose son is running the farm and taking it in another direction.

“I don’t go to many farmers markets because I just don’t have the time,” says a weathered organic farmer, who looks like he has been handling a pitchfork ever since he could walk.

“You have to have someone to make you look better,” says another, as he explains the reason behind prejudice toward immigrant farm workers, be they Irish, French Canadians, or Mexicans.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders says that Ethan Allen was “a wild and crazy guy.”  While state Senator Dick McCormick tells us “Jefferson saw Vermont as the way to go.”

Presently, Vermont is attracting people who want to farm small and create markets where locally grown and raised food is the main attraction.  Often they are following in the footsteps of others, but some, like the brew makers, are forging new ground.  Essentially, they are filling a niche.  But if successful, notes one observer, the niche will become the role model.

There are historical truths in the film, as well, and none may be as familiar as the one that there is nothing new under the sun.  Vermont has always attracted people from elsewhere.  Or, as one of the film’s talking heads says, Vermont was never a backwater state.  It stood out from the day it banned slavery in its constitution and became part of a vast underground railway that had little to do with trains and everything to do with hiding and protecting runaway slaves.  But lest we hold our heads too high, the film reminds us it was the Allen brothers, Ira and Ethan, who convinced the Congress that no Native Americans had ever lived in Vermont, so there were no land treaties to resolve before admitting the Republic as the fourteenth state.

Nor was Vermont such a great place for black people to live in once the Civil War ended.  Blacks were not hired by industries like the railroad and were often ignored by mainstream Vermont.  “Things change when you’re not a mascot,” or someone there to be saved, noted one observer.

vermont movie abenaki

Early in part one of Freedom and Unity, the Vermont Movie, a twenty-first century Abenaki says his people regarded nature as “a common pot” that feeds all people. Photos courtesy of TheVermontMovie.com.

One of the most sordid and racial episodes to occur in Vermont’s history came in the twentieth century with what has become the Eugenics Movement.  It involved the practice of state sanctioned sterilization of Indians, people of mixed blood, the poor and feeble-minded, along with other undesirables who did not fit the image that the movers and shakers were trying to market of Vermont following the end of the first World War.

It was a time when Vermont was losing its population, and hillside farms were being abandoned.  And to bring Vermont more in line with the new century, developers and a class that historian Paul Searls calls the downhill Vermonters wanted to transform the state into a place to recreate.  To that end, and with the aid of federal money, they tried to push through a Green Mountain Parkway and create a scenic highway.  But it came to naught as Vermonters in one town meeting after another voted against it, with some expressing fear that it might turn the state into a new Catskills, which was also known as the Jewish Alps.

But, as this six-part documentary makes clear, Vermont has become something more, something larger than the sum of its parts.  In the film the state’s poet laureate, Sydney Lea, attributes civility as Vermont’s most enduring characteristic, stemming from colonial days “when neighbor treated neighbor with decency because he or she knew that one day that neighbor might be a crucial friend in need.”

The entire six-part documentary runs about nine hours.  According to a webpage for the documentary, 36 filmmakers contributed to the project under the leadership of Nora Jacobson.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com.

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North Branch Trail now open to public

Pictured, from back to front, are:  Kyle Bunnell, Ethan Vaniere, Maylynda Fairgrieve, and Eric Howarth.  Photo courtesy of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge — Nulhegan Basin Division

Pictured, from back to front, are: Kyle Bunnell, Ethan Vaniere, Maylynda Fairgrieve, and Eric Howarth. Photo courtesy of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge — Nulhegan Basin Division

The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge — Nulhegan Basin Division announces that the North Branch Trail has been completed and is now available for public use.

The four-mile loop trail is accessed from a parking area along Route 105 in Ferdinand, approximately one-half mile west of the railroad crossing.  It’s expected that the trail will enhance opportunities for bird watching, environmental education outings by school children, and especially fishing — with improved access to the North Branch of the Nulhegan River, a high quality cold-water stream.  In addition, the parking area will be plowed during winter to allow access for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, opportunities that are currently lacking on the refuge due to the limited number of access points available to pedestrians during winter.

The rustic trail was constructed during the past two summers by the Nulhegan Basin Division’s Youth Conservation Corps crew, with special assistance from Conservation Corps staff from NorthWoods Stewardship Center in East Charleston.

The new trail and all the division’s lands are open to the public year-round.  Maps and other orientation materials are available at entry kiosks and at the visitor contact station in Brunswick.  — from the United States Department of the Interior.

For more things to do, check out our events section.

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Rifle season for white-tailed deer opens November 16

deer menard web

The weekend before rifle season is set aside for youth hunters. Noah Menard of Barton poses proudly with the spikehorn he shot Sunday, November 10, in Barton. He and his father, Nathan, stopped by the Chronicle for a photo before having the deer weighed, but his first buck, taken at a distance of 55 yards, was big enough to put a smile on the eight-year-old’s face. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 11-13-2013

Why do deer hunters enjoy less success in the Northeast Kingdom than they do elsewhere?

The 2013 deer rifle season opens Saturday, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife is projecting a harvest similar to 2012 when rifle hunters took 6,159 buck over the 16-day season.

Adam Murkowski, the department’s top deer biologist, said he expects that 16 percent of the state’s deer population will be harvested.  He estimated the herd’s present population at roughly 130,000, and noted that the harvest rate has been stable for the last few years. Continue reading

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Memphremagog Ski Touring Foundation trails

The Memphremagog Ski Touring Foundation is a nonprofit corporation with a mission to create and promote a system of high quality ski and snowshoe trails in the Derby-Newport area.

MSTF trails vary from railroad flat to precipitous, with skate and classic machine grooming on the core network.

MSTF is made possible by volunteer efforts, many generous landowners, and contributions from users. We hope to see you out on the snow and hope you will support MSTF with your membership!

Tickets and maps are available at IROC, at the MSTF Barn, and at the Southern Trail entrance off the Derby Recreation Path.  Trailhead parking includes MSTF lot near the Barn, IROC, the North Country Union High School land lab on the Quarry Rd, North Country Hospital and along Lakemont Rd adjacent to the bike path. After school hours, Derby Elementary also has a trailhead.

The cost is not expensive. An individual daypass is just $5 and a family season pass is just $35.  For more information, see www.mstf.net/ find the group on facebook,or e-mail Peter Harris at: PLHarris969@comcast.net.

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A birdwatcher’s challenge: find 100 species of birds in one day in the Northeast Kingdom

A Blackburnian Warbler. Photo by Bob Stymeist

by Martha Steele

copyright the Chronicle July 18, 2012

Ruth Gjessing, my mother, has lived in Westmore for over 30 years.  Although she and I both grew up in Burlington, neither of us knew much about the Northeast Kingdom before she married Erland Gjessing in 1969.  I vividly recall my first trip to his property in Westmore.  We were driving from the north on Route 5A, when Lake Willoughby, framed by the cliffs of Pisgah and Hor, came into view.  It literally took my breath away; I had never realized Vermont had such a stunning and majestic lake.

These days, my husband, Bob Stymeist, and I spend a lot of time year-round peregrinating throughout the Northeast Kingdom, particularly Orleans County, in search of birds.  By far, the best time for birding in the Kingdom is May and June, the time when migratory birds return to breed and are in full song, establishing their territories and finding their mates.

Arguably, the Northeast Kingdom is one of the better areas to bird in the lower 48 states during those two months.  Its combination of a northern latitude, boreal forest habitat, mountain peaks, and numerous small ponds, marshes, and lakes gives plenty of habitat for many breeding songbirds.  On our property alone in Westmore, over the past several years, we have recorded a total of 84 species of birds.

During our vacation this past June, we decided to do a Big Day for Orleans County to see if we could tally at least 100 species of birds in the county in one 24-hour period.  A birding “Big Day” requires some prior scouting to find birds that are relatively uncommon or restricted to certain habitats or areas.  They also require planning a route to maximize the chances of seeing as many bird species as possible.  We listened to weather reports and decided that our Big Day would be June 14.

A Hairy Woodpecker, spotted at Barr Hill Nature Preserve in Greensboro.

At 2:15 a.m. on that Thursday morning, we got up to get the coffee going and get ready to leave.  The first birds we heard in the darkness were an Ovenbird along our forest edge and a distant common loon from Lake Willoughby.  We left the house at about 3 a.m., headed for East Charleston near the NorthWoods Stewardship Center, where we heard Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling.  As the sky began to brighten, the dawn chorus along the fog-enshrouded Clyde River was nearly deafening:  Wilson’s Snipe, Alder Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Winter Wren, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Veery, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, American Redstart, White-throated Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch, and more.  An Osprey was on its platform nest, and by 5:30 a.m., we had tallied 40 species.

We went on to the Newport area, headed for the Barton River and Coventry marshes.  These locations added such birds as Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Virginia Rail, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Marsh Wren, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bobolink.  We then opted for a quick detour to the Coventry quarries where we picked up bank swallow and then headed back to Barton by way of Burton Hill Road, where we added cliff swallow and barn swallow in Irasburg.  In Barton, we stopped at the Randalls’ feeders on Breezy Hill Road to get what would be our only White-breasted Nuthatch of the day.  Earle Randall came out to greet us, but we were already heading out to the next stop (“Got our nuthatch, gotta go, see you later!”)

It was now time to return to the feeders and woods of our property in Westmore for a quick lunch and a few more species:  Ruffed Grouse, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, and Purple Finch.  Our next stop was the Westmore Town Forest, where we added Canada Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Nashville Warbler.  It was now almost 2 p.m., and we were up to 92 species.

The problem, of course, is that as you get more species, there are fewer new ones to get.  We headed to the Barr Hill Nature Preserve in Greensboro, where we saw a few species that we still needed during our pre-Big Day scouting.  This small boreal jewel produced what we hoped for:  Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mourning Warbler, and Dark-eyed Junco.  An added bonus was finding a Northern Rough-winged Swallow cruising over Caspian Lake.

It was now about 6 p.m. and we had 96 species, just four short of our goal to reach 100.  We were missing some we thought surely we would get:  Wild Turkey, American Bittern, Broad-winged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Pileated Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Scarlet Tanager.  We headed back to our property in Westmore, but had no luck along the way or back at the house.  As nightfall descended, we hoped our barred owl would call — not this night — or that there might still be calling American Woodcock in the field below us.  But after calling and displaying nightly since sometime in March, they too had quieted down.  So, the curtain came down at 96 species, and an exhausted pair hit the sack.

It was our first Big Day for Orleans County, and the experience has us already planning for next year.  In the 48 hours before and after our Big Day, we saw several species in Orleans County that we had not recorded on the Big Day, including Peregrine Falcon, at Jobs Pond and our property; Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, at Bald Mountain in Westmore; Broad-winged Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, and Scarlet Tanager, on our property; Wild Turkey in Brownington; Swainson’s Thrush at Long Pond Road and Bald Mountain; and Hairy Woodpecker at Barr Hill Nature Preserve in Greensboro.  We also now know of other spots that we have yet to fully explore, such as the Bill Sladyk Wildlife Management Area in Holland or even the top of Jay Peak.

We may be crazy birders searching for any species we can find for no reason other than “it’s there to be done.”  But in the process, we are filled with joy in the pursuit and in the din of the familiar songs that greet us each spring for only some weeks before the songs are quieted as parents grow busy feeding their young.  The next time we go to Westmore this summer, we will hear far fewer birds, but we know they are there.  We know they will leave in the late summer and early fall, and we know they will return again next spring.  And this time, we’ll be ready.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler, spotted in East Charleston. Photo by Bob Stymeist

 

 

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Museum of Everyday Life opens with match stick exhibit

by Tena Starr
copyright June 1, 2011
GLOVER — There’s a theory, at least, that the first matches were invented by women in China while their city was under siege.  Since they couldn’t gather tinder and start fires in the usual way, they used what was at hand, which happened to be white phosphorous.
Thus, the match, which they called a “light-bearing slave.”
There were problems, however, with white phosphorous matches.  For instance, the people who made them were prone to coming down with “phossy jaw,” an infection of the jaw caused by exposure to phosphorous.  The disease started with toothaches and swollen gums and progressed to abcessed jawbones that had to be removed.  The affected bones would glow greenish-white in the dark.  Brain damage was also a symptom.  Victims were either grossly disfigured, or died.
Eventually, matchmakers (the literal type) moved to using red phosphorous, which doesn’t cause the disease.
Matches are one of those everyday items that most of us don’t give much thought to.
Clare Dolan, however, has thought about matches quite a lot.  She also thinks about safety pins, zippers, paper clips, and all kinds of other objects that
most of us consider so innocuous that their existence, much less their history, barely enters our minds.
This coming weekend Ms. Dolan’s Museum of Everyday Life, will open.  Don’t expect spectacle, but do expect to learn something, and to be entertained.
The initial exhibit will be called Fire! and will include at least some of the following:  The history of the match, sulfer and its properties, the international collection of things made from matchsticks, an X-rated collection of pornographic matchboxes (well, not exactly pornographic), portraits of the Glover Volunteer Fire Department, and the arson evidence collection.
Ms. Dolan is a nurse by profession.   She also works with the Bread and Puppet Theater, and involves herself in other ways in the arts.  About seven years ago, she bought a big old house on Route 16 in Glover.  It includes a barn, and that space opened up new artistic possibilities.
“I’m not really a farmer lady,” she said.  “I didn’t think about getting a lot of cows.  I just maybe thought about getting a donkey.
In fact, she does have a donkey.  His job is to mow the lawn, and he appears to be reasonably efficient at it.  Nancy the goat also lives there, but her function in life is more social — she’s the greeter.
Ms. Dolan said in an interview Sunday that she’s always been interested in collections and displaying objects.
“This just springs out of that interest,” she said.  “I take a lot of pleasure in everyday life objects.  Like, how did they invent the paperclip?  And batteries and matches and thimbles and zippers?”
Everything in Ms. Dolan’s museum is an object with a cost of $5 or less.  Not that she’s selling her displays; it’s just that she wants to stick to a celebration of the small, unglamorous and everyday.
The subject of her initial exhibition was a choice between safety pins and matches, she said, but she had more material on matches.  “Matches, like most everyday objects, have a lot of interesting history.”
There was, for instance, the evolution of the matchbook from the match box.  The matches in a box contained enough white phosphorous to kill someone.
“By scraping off the matches, people could kill themselves, and they did,” Ms. Dolan said.
Matchboxes and books were used for all sorts of endeavors.  For instance, Ms. Dolan acquired a bizarre collection of small matchboxes that show on their covers photographs of the Soviet dogs that went into space.
Beer companies used matchboxes in their advertising campaigns.
Matches were called lucifers and still are in some places.
And then there’s phillumeny — the hobby of collecting match-related ephemera, of which Ms. Dolan herself might be considered guilty, though she
might prefer pointing to some unknown fellow who was in the military and collected matchbooks from all over the West Coast, including Alaska.
“This guy spent a lot of time in nightclubs and dance halls,” she said, pointing to the collection of rather artistic matchbooks.  She noted that it’s possible to tell a lot about a person by what they choose to collect.
But the crown jewel of her match collection is likely an assortment of instruments — violins, a banjo, and a mandolin — built entirely of match sticks.  They were made by a man named Dale Brown who was in prison at the start of his unlikely and time-consuming project.
“He only had access to matches and white glue,” Ms. Dolan said.  “He stained them with coffee.”
The museum also includes the “Beastiary,” a whimsical zoo of creatures whose appearance is enhanced by the addition of matchsticks.
The museum will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. throughout the summer.  It’s self-service, meaning show up, turn the lights on, and turn them off when you leave.  Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
The museum’s official opening will be on Saturday, June 4.  It’s located on Route 16 south of Glover Village in the barn adjacent to a big yellow house.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

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