Christmas trees growers turn to the Canaan fir

copyright the Chronicle 12-18-13

by Natalie Hormilla

christmas tree tester

Bill Tester stands with one of his balsam and Fraser fir hybrids at his choose and cut stand in Barton. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

“I will never plant another balsam again,” said Steve Moffatt.  “Between the frost and the disease and the insect issues, I won’t.”

Mr. Moffatt owns and operates Moffatt’s Tree Farm in Craftsbury with his wife, Sharon.

This year is about the tenth year that Mr. and Ms. Moffatt have run the family business, which has been operating in some capacity or another since the 1960s.  Mr. Moffatt’s dad, Jim, still works at the farm, where he was born. Continue reading

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Ruminations: Start a new tradition with Christmas cookies

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Some of our Christmas cookies from a previous year.  Clockwise from the bottom center, are:  Cuccidati, or Italian fig cookies; pizzelle; almond cookies (recipe not provided here); merenguitos; and more pizzelle.  Photo courtesy of Natalie Hormilla

Some of our Christmas cookies from a previous year. Clockwise from the bottom center, are: Cuccidati, or Italian fig cookies; pizzelle; almond cookies (recipe not provided here); merenguitos; and more pizzelle. Photo courtesy of Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle December 11, 2013

by Natalie Hormilla

Some years ago, when we got tired of too many Christmas gifts with too little meaning, we started to give away Christmas cookies.

The whole process is beautiful.  We bake together, listen to Christmas tunes, talk about the people we’ll give them to, sip amaretto, and just hang out as a family.

The best part is giving them.  The cookies we make for Christmas make their appearance just once a year.  They have a way of inspiring talk about those past family members who carried the recipes into the present.

Continue reading

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Examining the crossroads of bullying and social media

Irasburg Village School students wore blue to take part in “Stomp Out Bullying,” on October 7.  October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  To signify its importance, STOMP Out Bullying created Blue Shirt Day, which is the World Day of Bullying Prevention.  Pictured, sitting in the front row, from left to right, are:  Mia Moore, Harley McCormick, Holden Lefebvre, Brody McDonald, Chase Monfette, Owen Brochu, Hutch Moore, and Dominick Daigle.  Sitting in the back row are:  Katelyn Turgeon, Abby Mcdonald, Sam Fecher, Thomas Annis, Ava Carbonneau, Joey Annis, Ryan Moulton, Seth Moulton, Tyson Horn, Hunter Baraw, Cy Boomer, and Zachary Rooney.  Standing in the front row are:  Dominick Fontaine, Bronson Smith, Logan Verge, Freddie Moore, Tyler Goodridge, Wyatt Gile, Rosie Fecher, Abigail Moore, Nicole LaFratta, Madison Berry, Mckenna Cartee, and Isaiah Brochu.  In the next row are:  Alyssa Butler, Byanna Palmer, Nicole Parrish, Hunter McElroy, Peyton Lackie, Garrett Labounty, Tyler Young, Keira Butler, Kaylee Jewer, Harlee Miller, Nicole Dutton, Mercedez Hodgdon, Dakota Jones, Taylor Schneider, and Michael Kittredge.  In the next row are:  Beverley Hall, Tyler Jewer, Dillon Stebbins, Josh Cole, Dinah Daigle, Glen Cartee, Drew Drageset, Connor Lanou, Dawson Stebbins, Emma Downs, Denise Goodridge, Seraphina Fecher, Abigail Bromley, and Sarah Cousino.  In the last row are:  Desiree Ouellet, Tucker Wilson, Jordan Fecher, Kiara Hodge, Brendan Dutton, Cody Lanou, Garrett Gile, Jacob Young, Nick Young, Maureen Currier, Emily Wells, and Francis Annis.  Photo courtesy of Paul Simmons

Irasburg Village School students wore blue to take part in “Stomp Out Bullying,” on October 7. October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. To signify its importance, STOMP Out Bullying created Blue Shirt Day, which is the World Day of Bullying Prevention. Pictured, sitting in the front row, from left to right, are: Mia Moore, Harley McCormick, Holden Lefebvre, Brody McDonald, Chase Monfette, Owen Brochu, Hutch Moore, and Dominick Daigle. Sitting in the back row are: Katelyn Turgeon, Abby Mcdonald, Sam Fecher, Thomas Annis, Ava Carbonneau, Joey Annis, Ryan Moulton, Seth Moulton, Tyson Horn, Hunter Baraw, Cy Boomer, and Zachary Rooney. Standing in the front row are: Dominick Fontaine, Bronson Smith, Logan Verge, Freddie Moore, Tyler Goodridge, Wyatt Gile, Rosie Fecher, Abigail Moore, Nicole LaFratta, Madison Berry, Mckenna Cartee, and Isaiah Brochu. In the next row are: Alyssa Butler, Byanna Palmer, Nicole Parrish, Hunter McElroy, Peyton Lackie, Garrett Labounty, Tyler Young, Keira Butler, Kaylee Jewer, Harlee Miller, Nicole Dutton, Mercedez Hodgdon, Dakota Jones, Taylor Schneider, and Michael Kittredge. In the next row are: Beverley Hall, Tyler Jewer, Dillon Stebbins, Josh Cole, Dinah Daigle, Glen Cartee, Drew Drageset, Connor Lanou, Dawson Stebbins, Emma Downs, Denise Goodridge, Seraphina Fecher, Abigail Bromley, and Sarah Cousino. In the last row are: Desiree Ouellet, Tucker Wilson, Jordan Fecher, Kiara Hodge, Brendan Dutton, Cody Lanou, Garrett Gile, Jacob Young, Nick Young, Maureen Currier, Emily Wells, and Francis Annis. Photo courtesy of Paul Simmons

by Natalie Hormilla

“I wish that I could put a scrambler over my building that would not allow any airwaves to come in and out during the day,” said Lake Region Union High School Principal Andre Messier. 

He made that comment during a phone interview Monday on the topic of cyber bullying.

Sometimes cyber bullying happens only online — as in a “comments fight,” or nasty e-mails — and sometimes there’s an instance of a real incident continuing to live online.

Such was the case recently when an argument between students at the Orleans Elementary School was posted online.

The incident occurred while students were on the way home from school and involved a group of middle schoolers and at least one younger student. 

What most agree was basically an argument between kids generated much attention because videos of it were posted online, and it appeared to some that a young black girl was targeted by an older white boy.

Orleans Elementary School Principal Kim Hastings conducted an investigation into the argument, which took place off school grounds last month, she said in a phone interview Monday.

“It was a just a verbal fight amongst middle school kids,” Ms. Hastings said.  “There were inappropriate things said all around by the kids, and what happens is that they all got mad.”

Social media has exacerbated bullying, Mr. Messier said. 

He has been an educator for 22 years, so he’s been on the front line of handling social media issues with students as they have become more prevalent and more complex.

“Back in our day, it was passing notes and throwing them in people’s lockers…now everything is so immediate and so much out into the world,” Mr. Messier said.  “You know, you post something and it’s not just that one person you’ve written this note to, it’s public.”

Because of the public nature of the Orleans incident, many people learned about the fight, which some did consider to be a case of bullying.

At least one of the students recorded two videos of the incident and posted them on Facebook.  Then an account of the story appeared in a local newspaper. Continue reading

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Chronicle jack-o’-lantern contest winners speak

A jack-o’-lantern imprisoned in its own shell won a subscription to the Chronicle for Meredith Holch.  It was one of 48 entries in the 2013 Great Chronicle Jack-o’-lantern Contest held Sunday at the Barton Memorial Building.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

A jack-o’-lantern imprisoned in its own shell won a subscription to the Chronicle for Meredith Holch. It was one of 48 entries in the 2013 Great Chronicle Jack-o’-lantern Contest held Sunday at the Barton Memorial Building. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Natalie Hormilla

“You have to look at the pumpkin, and see what it tells you,” said Lila Winstead of Glover, about one of her rules of pumpkin carving.

Ms. Winstead is usually a winner at the Chronicle’s annual jack-o’-lantern contest, and 2013 was no exception.

She was one of three winners in the adult category this year.  She won with a smaller pumpkin that featured an intricately carved face.

“That’s my fallback,” she said.  “Every year, I think, it should be a face.”

There was also the matter of practicality in coming up with her idea.

“I was tired, and I couldn’t think of a big project, and I do indeed have rules — I’m a classicist.”

The jack-o’-lantern face is meant to sit by the front door of a house to keep away gremlins this time of year, Ms. Winstead said.

“In my heart of hearts, that’s what I really believe, that the pumpkin is a face.  Nice things should not be depicted on the face.  Sweet things — that’s not Halloween.” Continue reading

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What drives the price of firewood?

These are some of the logs from David Poirier’s woodpile in Barton, familiar to drivers along the Barton-Orleans Road.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

These are some of the logs from David Poirier’s woodpile in Barton, familiar to drivers along the Barton-Orleans Road. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

The price of a cord of green firewood is running about $185 this year, about the same as last year. It’s a price that’s mostly determined locally — at least compared to other home heating fuels, like oil or propane. It reflects the cost of pulpwood and fuel, and the weather, to name some of the factors that figure into the annual cost of cordwood.

And it’s a price that hasn’t fluctuated much for long stretches of time, although there was a dramatic leap around the turn of the millennium.

Back in 1970 or 1971, when he first started logging, David Poirier of Barton charged $50 a cord. Today he’s asking $185, but for years the price did little more than creep up.

Michael Moore of Brownington is selling firewood for $170 a cord this year, the same as last.

Mr. Moore said he’s been logging, or at least involved in it, since he was four years old. “I used to ride the horse, the skid horse,” he said.

While a number of factors affect the price of firewood, one in particular is weighty:

“The pulp wood market — it’s what the mills are paying for the wood,” Mr. Moore said. “The pulpwood market is what drives the price. You’re not going to buy firewood that’s cheaper than pulpwood. It can make a difference of $10 a cord on firewood, very easily.”

Mr. Poirier agrees.

Mr. Poirier logs with his son and partner, Jeff, and they cut about 600 cords of wood per year. He said mills can determine the price that they’re willing to pay, notify the loggers they work with through the mail, and therefore control the price of firewood through supply and demand.

“When the demand is there to make wood products, they’ll raise the price,” he said. “It might be for three months, but if it’s worth $150, and they decide they need a bunch of stuff, they’ll raise it to $175. They pretty much determine all that stuff.

“They’ll raise their prices so they can get more of it. It gives more incentive to the loggers to say the hell with the firewood.”

Mr. Poirier also pointed out that the pulpwood market is a year-round market for loggers, and therefore an important part of their business.

“Pulp is what you make toilet paper out of, writing paper, anything that you do that you write on, is all made of pulpwood, whether it’s hardwood or softwood,” Mr. Poirier said.

The pulpwood market can change quickly, too. “A big outfit might need 100 tractor-trailer loads of Scott paper towels, but then the market might change and they say they only need 20,” he said.

Those changes have an immediate effect on the price of firewood.

“Say your wood at the mill just drops like heck,” Mr. Poirier said. “Course that’s going to affect the price of your firewood. If you don’t drop the price of your firewood there’s people out there that will do it just to cut you out of the picture. Just like the stock market, you keep an eye on it very closely.”

The price of firewood is relatively stable, he said.

“It usually doesn’t fluctuate too much. Last year, we were selling for $190 and we actually went down to $185, because there are a lot of cutthroats out there. We should be getting $200 now, but there are so many people out there doing it for easy money, and people see that.”

“I’d say, it doesn’t usually fluctuate more than five bucks a year,” he said. “Sometimes ten, but that’s rare.”

Mr. Poirier and Mr. Moore both said that the price of gas and oil affect the price of firewood.

“Everything we run is fuel related, and fuel is $3.50 a gallon right now,” Mr. Poirier said. “The more you pay for fuel and repairs and all this, it all fluctuates like that. So the cost of fuel means it costs more money to produce the cord of wood.”

Mr. Poirier said that when he first started logging over four decades ago, fuel was only a quarter a gallon.

“So that makes a big difference,” he said. “Hydraulic oil over the last ten years has doubled in price.”

“It’s expensive, period,” he said, about the cost of producing a cord of wood. “All your expenses to get it out, whether it be fuel or whatever.”

Mr. Moore also cited the rising cost of fuel, and the equipment itself, as drivers of the cost of firewood.

In 1980 he sold green, cut and split wood, delivered, for between $50 and $55.

“In 1980, I could buy the best saw around for $200,” he said. “Now it’d be $2,000, or $1,500 anyway. We were buying chainsaw gas for 50 cents a gallon and diesel fuel for 40 cents a gallon,” he said.

He also pointed out that just about everything under the sun is more expensive over time.

firewood price chart chronicle classifiedsHe also said that delivery, and where the logger and customer are located, add to the cost. He said it’s hard to compete with people who are closer to their customers, so that makes a difference in price — by up to about $5 a cord, he said.

“Who’s near you and who ain’t?”

Mr. Moore also touched upon a bigger-picture factor that he believes affects the cost of firewood.

“Next big thing is probably the state of Vermont,” he said. He said the state owns hundreds of thousands of acres that don’t get cut. “The wood is going by because it’s not getting cut.”

Mr. Moore believes this has had a big effect on the cost of firewood.

“Because all the wood is in competition with the lack of wood. Because the more you shrink the supply, the more you drive the price up.”

“The supply is limited by the amount of wood the state isn’t cutting in certain areas,” he said.

“We had a dramatic change in the price here during and after the Champion Lands buyout,” he said. “Because it was a huge mark of land, and it went off the grid.”

The Champion lands buyout, completed in 1999, is Vermont’s largest conservation project in history, according to the Vermont Land Trust. The former Champion Lands consist of 132,000 acres of forestland, located mostly in Essex County. The land was owned by Champion International Paper Company before being transferred over to a mix of public and private entities including the Fish and Wildlife Department and the Agency of Natural Resources.

The firewood market is particularly important in the state of Vermont.

About 15 percent of Vermont homes use wood as their primary source of heat, said Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

There are still more homes that use wood to supplement a heating system that mostly runs on other fuels, like oil or propane.

“If you look at the U.S. census data, wood is a minor player in every other state,” he said. “In Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, it’s in double digits. But everywhere else it’s in low single digits.”

Another factor in the price of firewood is that about 50 percent of homes in Vermont use oil as their primary source of heat, Mr. Cota said.

“When oil prices go up, there’s more demand for cut and split wood,” he said. “The higher the price of oil goes up, the higher the price of wood goes up. If the oil price is okay, people might not go out and buy that extra cord of wood. A lot of people in Vermont supplement with wood, even if they use oil.”

The use of oil as a primary source of heat is mostly unique to this area, Mr. Cota said.

“Of all the oil heat consumed in the United States, almost all of it is consumed in New England, New York and New Jersey. Over 80 percent of oil heat is used in the nine Northeastern states. It’s gas and electricity elsewhere.”

Mark Collette, alternative heating specialist with Blanchard Oil Company of Orleans, has seen the effect of the price of oil on the firewood market.

“In ’08 or ’07, when $4 oil was thrown in our faces, and people were looking at a $10,000 a year oil bill, it was a banner year for boilers,” he said, referring to wood-fired hot water heating systems.

Mr. Collette said that newer, more efficient wood stoves can also cut down on a person’s need for firewood. He said that if a person replaced a “non-EPA, old technology, pre-1985” stove with a more efficient model, they could use between 25 and 40 percent less wood to heat the same home.

Mr. Collette said that convenience factors in, when people decide whether to heat their homes with wood or other types of fuel.

“The convenience is what you pay for, and that’s the big deal with oil and propane — it’s convenience, and you pay for it,” he said. “The time it takes, the physical demands of cord wood are significant, depending on one’s potential.”

“People forget — short term memories — what it used to be like,” he said. “It’s like $3.50 or $3.60 for oil per gallon, and propane varies widely on consumption.”

Mr. Cota said the same thing.

“On a BTU basis, oil costs more than wood, but there’s also something nice about turning the thermostat and leaving it — the comfort and simplicity. With wood you got to wrestle either the bag of pellets or the chunk wood. It’s part of the Vermont tradition, but it’s hard work. It can be very satisfying, but it’s hard work.”

Weather also factors in to the price of firewood, Mr. Cota said.

“Wood prices go up or down according to weather. Is there a supply? Can they get out into the forest to get it cut and split and dried before it’s cold?”

“There could be a supply and demand issue if the weather is bad,” he said. He remembers a summer sometime in the last five years that was really wet, so the wood was hard to deal with.

“The amount of wood taken off land to cut for the winter was less. Then there’s great summers.”

Mr. Poirier said he couldn’t put away any seasoned wood this summer, due to the wet conditions.

Much like the loggers, Mr. Cota said that the wood market is driven more by what’s happening in the area, as opposed to the cost of other fuels.

“Oil price is determined on a global level. Wood is local,” he said. “The price of oil in, wherever, you name it, affects the price of oil in Vermont.”

Mr. Poirier pointed out that while wood is cheaper than oil, propane is cheap, too. “But the trouble with that is that’s not a real controllable market,” he said.

“Anything you have as far as gases, we don’t control that — government controls that stuff. Wood is controllable, but not the same way.”

“I think people get a lot more for their dollar from a cord of wood compared to oil,” said Gary Lyman of Glover.

Mr. Lyman cuts about 50 cords of wood a year from his property.

“Like eight cord will heat most homes,” he said.

He multiplied that number by the cost of a cord of his wood this year, which is $200, to show what it would cost to heat an average home with wood.

“I bet they would use more than that on fuel oil,” he said.

Mr. Lyman described himself as a farmer and a half-ass logger, who only cuts wood for firewood customers. Still, the pulpwood market affects his price, too.

“I go with what everyone else gets,” he said, on how he determines his price. “So of course it affects me.”

He said his price is maybe $10 higher than last year. He couldn’t remember how much he charged when he first started cutting wood about 45 years ago.

“I’m sure way back we gave it away, you know, it was really cheap. I can’t remember how cheap, but not much. Just in the last ten, 15 years, it’s got up to worth doing.”

When asked if he thought the price of wood is determined more locally than globally, he referred to recent conversation with family.

“A relative in the Burlington area said it’s $250 and higher, a relative in Connecticut says it’s the same as it is here. So you figure it out, because I can’t.”

contact Natalie Hormilla at natalie@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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In Barton: Chronicle reporter watches car get stolen

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by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — A veteran reporter for the Chronicle had his car stolen from the office as he was working inside on Tuesday.  But about three hours later, the vehicle was found in Orleans, and the person who took it was caught.

About 3:30 p.m., Assistant Editor Natalie Hormilla Gordon arrived for her evening shift job and noticed a young man in a hooded sweatshirt sitting in Paul Lefebvre’s car, holding the steering wheel.

She did not recognize him, thought it was odd, and when she went inside, she told Mr. Lefebvre, who went outside to take a look.  By then the car was being driven from the scene, badly.  It’s a Honda CRV with standard shift, and the driver was stalling as he made his getaway, down Water Street and north on Route 5, as Mr. Lefebvre watched.

Thinking he might be able to head it off on foot, Mr. Lefebvre cut through the schoolyard at a run to try to get his car back.

The attempt proved unfruitful, so he came back to the office where he called the State Police to report the theft.  Chronicle staffers also decided to post the car’s theft on Facebook.  Trooper Erika Liss came to the Chronicle office and interviewed Mr. Lefebvre and Ms. Gordon, who had got a good look at the robber.  She described him as a white male in his twenties, average size, with blue eyes, wearing a Navy blue hoodie.

“He had his hands on the wheel, looking kind of intense,” she said.  “He was just sitting there, and I thought, maybe he knows Paul.”

Mr. Lefebvre said his first thought was, “How am I going to get home tonight?”

His car had been in an accident about a week and a half before, and the back window was smashed out and covered with a green tarp and duct tape.  It also had problems with the door, created in the accident.

Mr. Lefebvre said it has not been a very lucky car for him, as he has had to put in a new motor, water pump, and clutch.

“I think that car has a hex on it,” he said.

But Mr. Lefebvre’s luck was apparently turning a few hours later, when people started calling the office to say they had seen the car in Orleans Village.  They were aware of the theft due to the Facebook post.  Mr. Lefebvre called the police back to say the car had been spotted in Orleans, and Lieutenant Kirk Cooper went to the village, spotted the car and found out the driver was in the bathroom at the Sunoco station.  The driver, who said he is from Enosburg and had no wallet with him, was cited after he came out of the bathroom.

Mr. Lefebvre had his car back, and nothing seemed to be missing from the vehicle.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Hand Artists introduces sign language

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Pictured is Jan Caswell, a Derby Line native, holding her book, Hand Artists.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

Pictured is Jan Caswell, a Derby Line native, holding her book, Hand Artists. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

When Jan Caswell was growing up in Derby Line, she had no idea what sort of career lay in her future.  Now, after 40 years of working with deaf people in a variety of ways, she’s created a book that introduces American Sign Language and deaf culture, entitled Hand Artists.

Ms. Caswell said she basically fell into working with deaf people.

“It’s given me a career for 40 years, and I have met some people who are just fascinating,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle.

After graduating from North Country Union High School’s second class, in 1969, Ms. Caswell went to the University of Connecticut.  She said she thought she’d return to the Northeast Kingdom, but took a job at the Austine School for the Deaf in Brattleboro, on a lark.

“I needed a job and I wanted to be back in Vermont,” she said.  The job was to be a dormitory counselor at the Austine school.

“I lived in a separate house with 25 girls between the ages of 16 and 21,” she said.  All the girls were deaf students at Austine.

“I was like the big sister,” she said.

Ms. Caswell was 22 years old at the time, and had no previous experience in sign language.  She was told she wouldn’t need to know sign for the job.

“That was too scary,” she said.

As luck would have it, Ms. Caswell knew a returning senior at Austine who lived in Newport.  Ms. Caswell asked to borrow the girl’s yearbook, and taught herself how to letter spell each student’s name so she would at least have an entry point for conversation once she got to Austine.

Ms. Caswell picked up American Sign Language very quickly once she got to Austine.

“In six weeks, I was fluent,” she said.

“It was hands-on the minute I started.”  Ms. Caswell said the girls would try to tell her dirty jokes in American Sign Language.
“I wouldn’t understand them.  I’d sign, ‘slow,’ ‘again.’”

That job marked the beginning of a lifelong love for signing.  Since then, Ms. Caswell has worked as the Vermont state coordinator of services for the deaf, as an educational interpreter in California, as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the deaf in Massachusetts, and she even worked as the interpreter on Madeline Kunin’s gubernatorial campaign, among other things.

“I’ve done everything you can do — I think.”

She said that she is sometimes mistaken as being a deaf person, rather than a hearing person.

Ms. Caswell said that her kids really encouraged her to publish a book after learning that she had written some stories, just for fun.

After she wrote the book, she used the online funding platform Kickstarter to gather money for publishing expenses.

Kickstarter allows for people from just about anywhere to donate to a project, whether because they know the project creator or they just think it’s a cool idea.

Ms. Caswell said that she raised most of the $6,600 she needed through Kickstarter.  Donations ranged from $5 to $500.
“People donated from all over:  Alaska, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, California, Oregon, Arizona, Vermont, Connecticut, Florida,” she said.

She said some people who weren’t at all connected to her or even the deaf community donated money.

The donations were helpful because, as Ms. Caswell put it, “I’m not going to make millions.  It’s really a work of love.”

Ms. Caswell brought on a late-deafened woman, Stephanie Labrie, to be the illustrator.
“Steph had never done anything professionally before,” she said.

Ms. Labrie used watercolor pencils, which allow for colors that are deep and bold.

“When you take a 3-D language and put it on a 2-D page, it’s extremely difficult,” Ms. Caswell said.

Hand Artists is a very colorful book that tells the story of Kyleigh, a deaf girl, and Erin, a hearing girl, who are best friends.  American Sign Language is interspersed throughout the pages.  The discerning reader will learn the signs for different letters, numbers, and even words like “story” and “goal.”  The illustrator used curved arrows to indicate the hand motions needed for more complicated signs.

“It’s an opportunity to learn a little bit about sign, but it’s not something to ‘teach’ sign with,” Ms. Caswell said.  “It’s meant to introduce it.”  The book is also meant to be an introduction to deaf culture.

“My friends who are educators said it’s most likely for five-to-ten-year-olds, but older kids can benefit, too,” she said.  “It’s meant for whomever, or for hearing people who want to learn a little more about sign.”

Ms. Caswell said that about a dozen teachers, from Ontario, Canada, to western Massachusetts, have ordered the book for their classrooms.
Ms. Caswell lives in western Massachusetts, but she said she still considers Vermont her home, and visits her parents in Derby Line often.

Hand Artists is available at Wider Than the Sky in Newport, the Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, Barnes and Noble, and amazon.com.

contact Natalie Hormilla at natalie@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Reviews pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Bread and Puppet celebrates half a century

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Pictured is Peter Schumann, with many other puppeteers, opening the Total This and That Circus in Glover on July 28.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

Pictured is Peter Schumann, with many other puppeteers, opening the Total This and That Circus in Glover on July 28. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

GLOVER — “The assessment is more important for the participants than for me.”

This is what Peter Schumann answers when asked what he thinks of Bread and Puppet Theater turning half a century old this summer.

Mr. Schumann has been the artistic director, or whatever you want to call him, of the theater since he founded it in New York City in 1963.

Bread and Puppet is often referred to as political theater.  The company, comprised of a small cast of core employees who are complemented by a large set of mostly seasonal volunteers, puts on shows with strong, political themes, usually in protest of capitalism, corporatism, and imperialism.  These shows, which Bread and Puppet refers to as “the circus,” happen here in Glover every Sunday for a couple months in summer.  After each performance, audience members are treated to homemade bread, baked by Mr. Schumann himself.

Bread and Puppet also hosts a variety of other events at the Bread and Puppet farm — sometimes talks, sometimes shape-note sings, sometimes art exhibits — but it’s the Sunday circuses for which they’re best known.

Pictured is a scene from a Bread and Puppet circus which ran in the Chronicle on September 1, 1982.  The caption read, “Giant washerwoman and garbage man puppets performed a square dance just before the grand finale of this year’s Bread and Puppet circus in Glover on Saturday and Sunday.”  Photo by Jim Doyle

Pictured is a scene from a Bread and Puppet circus which ran in the Chronicle on September 1, 1982. The caption read, “Giant washerwoman and garbage man puppets performed a square dance just before the grand finale of this year’s Bread and Puppet circus in Glover on Saturday and Sunday.” Photo by Jim Doyle

Local people, even if they’ve never been to the circus, will recognize Bread and Puppet’s trademark larger-than-life, papier-mâché puppets, some worn by people on stilts, which appear regularly in community parades.  The company also tours around the world, appearing at events like festivals and rock concerts.

The Bread and Puppet Museum, housed in an old barn on the company’s farm, has long been a site frequented by visitors and natives of the Northeast Kingdom.  The museum displays many of the old puppets from shows past, and has a small area where Bread and Puppet’s trademark posters, prints, and calendars may be purchased.

Bread and Puppet has been based here in Glover for most of its existence, but an eye to the whole world has informed its performances since the very beginning.

Mr. Schumann said he chooses the Bread and Puppet show themes using “things we’re totally upset by.  We don’t choose them, they choose us.”

He says he focuses on issues for which there are no other outlets.

“You meet people who are so frustrated with the state of the world,” he said.  “But there’s no outlet for them.”

He says the circus themes are the “result of the stupid New York Times, or whatever, these miserable news organs.  What they don’t print, or talk about, is what we do, or what they only mention — things that need more mentioning.”

For an example, Mr. Schumann points to an edition of the New York Times from this past April.  He says that the front page read something like, “Boston bomb outrage,” and that a story about the destruction of an Afghan village by U.S. drones was buried on page 35.  He said the village was seen as just “collateral damage.”

Bread and Puppet circuses often refer to many different world incidents — the performance on July 28 paid respect to Operation Enduring Freedom, including the number of people killed, and a solo dance for Trayvon Martin, involving a black flag.  Those acts were part of the “Total This and That Circus, Part One:  This, Part Two:  That,” which is the theme for Bread and Puppet’s fiftieth year.

“People come for obscure reasons, not the normal theater reasons, getting your money’s worth of giggles and tears.  We don’t provide that.  We don’t feel obliged,” Mr. Schumann said.

“It’s bread and puppet, and we mean that.  The puppetry is to create the situation to share the bread, because without that you couldn’t persuade them, in a capitalist country, to come and eat bread.  They’d be too skeptical.

“What we’re trying to sell is zero value,” he said, in reference to the free bread.  “And that’s hard to sell, so we must make puppetry.  It’s a trick.”

A bit of history

“The bread came before the theater,” said Elka Schumann, in an interview on the Bread and Puppet farm.

Ms. Schumann has been married to Mr. Schumann a long time, and is deeply involved in Bread and Puppet, and particularly in its music.

“Peter is the founder, the artist, and the director,” she said.  “I gave support and criticism, I’ve nagged, and done all those things wives are famous for.”

Ms. Schumann said the famous Bread and Puppet bread is a Schumann family recipe.

“Peter learned it from his mom, sourdough rye.  She baked it for the family until her death at over 100.”

She said the original recipe is pure rye, sourdough, salt and water.  The original, all-rye bread used to be served to members of the circus audience.  “But Peter kept noticing bread in the garbage with one bite taken out.”

So he created a recipe that is half rye berries and half whole-wheat flour.

“It’s more generally liked,” she said.

She said the rye berries are still ground by hand on the farm, using a mill from England.

The bread is baked in ovens built in a Quebecois style, with clay splashed on bent branches.  “Sort of like a loosely woven basket,” she said.  “It’s just a really simple, great place to bake over 100 loaves at a time.”

She said that Mr. Schumann bakes bread about four times per week in the summer.  The bread is served at the circuses, but it’s also sold at some locations, and it is devoured by the puppeteers at the farm.

The Bread and Puppet bread is always served with aioli, which they started doing after encountering it while on tour in southern France.  Ms. Schumann said the aioli is just mashed garlic with oil dribbled in.

But long before aioli and hundreds of loaves of bread at a time, came the puppet shows in New York City.

Mr. and Ms. Schumann lived in the Lower East Side in the early 1960s.  They had a loft on Delancey Street, within walking distance of their home, and it was there that Mr. Schumann began his puppet career.

Ms. Schumann said that Mr. Schumann had dreamed up a new sort of dance as a high school student in his native Germany.  The dance would include ordinary gestures, like walking and then stopping, done by a group of people all very focused on what they were doing.

“There was no interest in this in Germany, in the ’50s, in something so strange,” she said.

But then they came to New York.

“In New York City he met this whole world of avant-garde artists,” Ms. Schumann said.  “Then he went to a puppet festival of the Puppeteers of America, who had a very orthodox style.  But there was a group there from Sicily with marionettes with simple technology, which Peter liked.  Their plays were retellings of the Crusades.  It put puppetry in a totally different light.”

That was 1961.

Mr. Schumann would put on puppet shows for kids in his Delancey Street loft.  Before long, he moved on to bigger puppets.

This photo ran in the September 1, 1982, edition of the Chronicle.  The caption read, “The giant apes — operated by puppeteers on four stilts — are among the more imposing features of the afternoon Bread and Puppet circus.”  Photo by Jim Doyle

This photo ran in the September 1, 1982, edition of the Chronicle. The caption read, “The giant apes — operated by puppeteers on four stilts — are among the more imposing features of the afternoon Bread and Puppet circus.” Photo by Jim Doyle

“And then right away he made huge masks, and had the puppeteers inside the whole figures, and then later they got so big they needed two people — one person manipulating and one inside,” Ms. Schumann said.

“In the U.S., in the early ’60s, there was a real openness in the air to strange kinds of theater,” Ms. Schumann said.  “There was an audience for those things.”

“There were immediately volunteers who wanted to express political feelings, who wanted to do more than attend meetings and hold a sign.”

Bread and Puppet became known for protest against the Vietnam War.  Their first tour abroad was for the piece, “Fire,” which was about three Americans who set themselves on fire in protest to the war.  Bread and Puppet performed the piece in their loft and in a New York City church.

“A French talent scout saw it and invited Bread and Puppet to Nancy, France, in 1968, for a big festival,” Ms. Schumann said.

“We were somehow riding this wave of protest, anti-war feelings, general turmoil of society.  Things were moving away from talking head monologue in theater, to spectacle and audience participation.”

Bread and Puppet’s big puppets were a hit, and the company was invited to many big festivals from there.  Ms. Schumann said that they traveled to Europe several times per year over the next decade to perform.

In the early ’70s, Goddard College in Plainfield invited Bread and Puppet to be the school’s theater in residence.  The Schumanns stayed at a nearby farm, the Cate Farm, during the four-year appointment.

The invitation was a welcome one.  The Schumanns had been living in New York City with their five children, and had been longing for the countryside.

“It felt so good to have a home in the country, and to have gardens,” Ms. Schumann said.

Bread and Puppet’s stop at Goddard was an important one.  It was there, in 1974, that they performed the first of their annual “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus.”

“That was the prototype,” Ms. Schumann said.

Different versions of that circus would be performed from then on, every summer, until 1998.

But the circus would not live on in Plainfield.  “We were there until the college politely implied that this was temporary faculty housing,” Ms. Schumann said.  They paid no rent and made no salary, “but had a beautiful facility,” she said.

As luck would have it, Ms. Schumann’s parents had recently bought the old Dopp farm in Glover. Restoration of old buildings turned out to be more than they bargained for, so they let their daughter and son-in-law move onto the farm with their family.  It was there that the circus, which became a major two-day event, would continue.

The Domestic Resurrection circus was the result of two to four months of work each summer, Ms. Schumann said.  The circuses were performed by the core company and many volunteers, sometimes off the street.

The Glover farm had a ready-made amphitheater in which the circuses were, and still are, performed.  The space was originally a gravel pit.

This is a shot of the circus and the crowd at Bread and Puppet from the August 17, 1983, edition of the Chronicle.  The photo accompanied an article that wrote about the fact that show goers left almost no litter behind after the circus weekend, despite a crowd estimated at 15,000 on each day.  File photo

This is a shot of the circus and the crowd at Bread and Puppet from the August 17, 1983, edition of the Chronicle. The photo accompanied an article that wrote about the fact that show goers left almost no litter behind after the circus weekend, despite a crowd estimated at 15,000 on each day. File photo

“Scores of trucks would take gravel away, and it went to I-91,” Ms. Schumann said.  “It was supposed to be filled back in, but Peter said, ‘don’t touch a thing!’  It was perfect for the circuses.”

The first circus in Glover was in 1975, the same year the Bread and Puppet Museum opened.

Over the years, the Bread and Puppet circus, held in late August, would become a major attraction for people from all over the world.

The circus

 The annual Our Domestic Resurrection Circus was something like an allegorical play dealing with good versus evil, involving giant papier-mâché puppets, stilts, and a big brass band.

It was a show where you would see Governor Madeline Kunin in the crowd, or Congressman Bernie Sanders in the performance itself, on election years.

The circus was a weekend event which drew crowds of tens of thousands to a town in which fewer than one thousand people resided.

This meant many cars, and many tents, stationed near the Bread and Puppet farm, located off Route 122.

A Chronicle article from August 17, 1983, reads that the circus “left a line of parked cars that stretched 11 miles along routes 122 and 16 in Glover, and filled several hayfields and gravel pits that were pressed into weekend service as parking lots.  Because the circus is free, nobody knows how many people came.  But Deputy Sheriff Ray Young of Glover measured the miles of cars, made some calculations, and estimated crowds of 15,000 on both Saturday and Sunday.”

This is a shot of the crowd at the 1997 Bread and Puppet circus.  This photo has not run in the Chronicle previously.  Photo by Cécile Daurat

This is a shot of the crowd at the 1997 Bread and Puppet circus. This photo has not run in the Chronicle previously. Photo by Cécile Daurat

By 1998, the crowd estimate reached 30,000.

The people brought with them traffic, but they also brought business.

“Oh mister, talk about busy,” said Jimmy Currier, who owns Currier’s Quality Market on Route 16 in Glover, a short distance down the road from Bread and Puppet.

“That was the busiest day of the year, when the old circuses were on for a weekend, years ago.  It was unreal.

“If a show was out, and you came into Currier’s, all you could see was heads,” he said.  “And on the street there were so many people.”

He said that Currier’s would get a tractor-trailer of just ice for the show goers, along with plenty of beer, wine, fruit, and produce for salads.

“They weren’t the bologna type.”

“If I remember, the juice section would get wiped out, tons of water, cases of water.  Sold it all.  We would have somebody pumping gas,” he said.

“The Busy Bee, the little diner across the street, Edna Chamberlain ran it, and she was right out straight,” he said.  “Course you got to remember there were a lot of food booths, but Edna was very busy.”

Mr. Currier said that he liked the excitement the circus brought.  Not everyone in town shared this sentiment.

“I do know there were some people in town that did not like it.  I could hear grumbling,” he said.  “I never discussed it with anybody, but I could hear grumbling.  Some did not like it.  Flat out right.”

Mr. Currier said he never had any issues in the store, even with so many strangers around.

“The Bread and Puppet people were really docile,” he said.  “Always courteous, never wise.”

“I don’t really think there was ever any trouble, ever, until the wrong people started coming,” he said.

“It was always a very family-oriented environment, and even to the end, the environment on the farm itself was very family friendly,” said Randy Williams, an EMT who was captain of the Glover Ambulance Squad when the big circuses were still around.  “But the campgrounds did take on a life of their own.”

“All the fields surrounding Bread and Puppet were camping areas,” Mr. Williams said.  “Even the gravel pit, Thompson’s gravel pit, back behind Bread and Puppet, that was a big parking area.”

Mr. Williams helped treat many people for a variety of issues during the circus weekends.

“We were getting like ten ambulance calls a day, which for us was overwhelming, and in fact we’d have to call in Barton ambulance to take some of the calls,” he said.  “We only had one ambulance, and we were being run ragged, because it was 24/7 with all the campers.”

Eventually, the Glover Ambulance Squad set up a tent right in the Bread and Puppet field.

“Over a period of several years, this tent escalated in size, and we eventually put up an old army tent that was, I believe, 30 by 50 or something like that,” he said.  “It really for all intents and purposes was a MASH unit tent.”

“And we got a lot of visits.  Over the weekend, we would treat over 100 people,” he said.  “I mean most of it was just real benign stuff, like heat problems.”

Mr. Williams even went around to all the campground areas and lined up landing zones for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock helicopter, in the event of a major emergency, like a big fire.

“We never had to use that service, but it just illustrates how elaborate our setup was.”

Over the years, the number of people who showed up just to party grew.  Some people would need to be treated for drinking too much, or overdosing on drugs.

“We had people that had never done LSD before, and somebody gave them some down at the campground and they came wandering up to the field and had no earthly idea where they were, and they got freaked out because they didn’t understand what was happening to their body and their mind,” he said.  “We’d take them to the tent, let them lay down for a couple hours, and generally they’d be fine.”

“Part of the reason that that evolved, we understand from talking to people that were doing this, was they saw Bread and Puppet as a fun thing to do between say a Phish concert in Boston and a Grateful Dead concert in Montreal.  They would stop over for the weekend and party at Bread and Puppet, and many of them never even went up to see what Bread and Puppet was.  They just paid their money and camped and partied, and they ended up dancing in the fires, and eating the local mushrooms which caused some major health issues, so it was a whole other scene when all that started to happen.”

Mr. Williams said he had several patients who gave that explanation when asked why they were at Bread and Puppet.

“Peter had been concerned about it for years, that the traffic was bad, dogs were an issue, there were all kinds of things that started to progress,” said Betsy Day, who is also an EMT who worked at the Bread and Puppet circuses.  “And every year they tried to solve it in a different way, and every year the crowd got bigger.”

The final weekend-long Our Domestic Resurrection Circus was held in 1998.  That year, a man named Michael Sarazin died after having been punched in the head at one of the nearby campgrounds.

Some people blamed alcohol and drugs, some people blamed Phish, some people blamed bad luck, but one thing was for sure — it spelled the end of the major circus.

This photo ran in the August 13, 1997, edition of the Chronicle.  The caption read, “A dance of freedom by giant white birds happens at the end of the pageant.  A gigantic puppet holds the people in its arms and sets fire to a machine of oppression.”  Photo by Cécile Daurat

This photo ran in the August 13, 1997, edition of the Chronicle. The caption read, “A dance of freedom by giant white birds happens at the end of the pageant. A gigantic puppet holds the people in its arms and sets fire to a machine of oppression.” Photo by Cécile Daurat

In an announcement in the Chronicle on August 19, 1998, Mr. Schumann said that Mr. Sarazin’s death “makes the continuation of the event impossible.”

Bread and Puppet would continue to give smaller shows throughout the ensuing summers.

“I’ve always thought very highly of Peter for calling it, because of that,” said Mr. Williams.  “Because you had to remember that the one weekend circus pageant was their major fund-raiser for the year.  But it was obviously, philosophically, the right thing to do.”

Mr. Williams also pointed out that many other people benefited financially from the circuses.

“It was a huge financial weekend for Jim Currier, the Busy Bee, and every business within a 20-mile radius probably,” he said.  “There were no places to stay other than the campgrounds, with what meager pickings there are here for lodging, but the farmers certainly made tons of money, and so when it went away of course that depleted that source of income as well.”

“There were of course factions of people that were disgruntled about the whole thing, but there was no denying that it was an economic boon to the community,” he said.

He also said the Glover fire department would make thousands of dollars each year through a roadside coin drop.

Mr. Williams said the Bread and Puppet circuses gave the members of the ambulance squad valuable experience.

“You got a volume of varied calls, and you had to use your training to deal with it, and we did a great job doing that,” he said.

“It gave us, us on the ambulance squad, a lot of experience that we would not have had, and therefore a real sense of pride that we were able to get it done.”

Bread and Puppet in the world

“The theater has given so much to the community,” said Linda Wells, who has retired after 28 years as librarian of the Craftsbury Public Library.

She said Bread and Puppet helped when the library needed a new building. “Bread and Puppet did a big show in the high school gym, and all the proceeds went to building the Craftsbury library, which was very kind.”

She said that Bread and Puppet works with Upward Bound, a college-preparatory program for kids who will be the first in their families to attend a university.

Pictured is the Bread and Puppet elephant puppet who runs the Run, Chamberlain, Run race at Glover Day.  In addition to shows the theater puts on at its farm in Glover, Bread and Puppet appears at community events throughout the year.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

Pictured is the Bread and Puppet elephant puppet who runs the Run, Chamberlain, Run race at Glover Day. In addition to shows the theater puts on at its farm in Glover, Bread and Puppet appears at community events throughout the year. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

Bread and Puppet also performs for people in Independence Day parades, at Old Home days, and at libraries and nursing homes.

“The tradition of summer parades are a great chance to bring these puppets to people who wouldn’t dream of coming to shows or the museum,” Ms. Schumann said.  “It’s a way to bring theater to the community.”

Ms. Wells also said that Bread and Puppet helps teach people how to be heard.

“When there’s an issue we care about, or is disturbing to us, they will come and help us with parading and protest,” she said.  “They’ve taught us a lot about how to speak out.  That can be very hard in a small community, to find a voice for that.”

Ms. Wells has been involved with Bread and Puppet since 1977, “before the circuses were even big.”

She used to perform in the big weekend circuses.

“It was fabulous.  A little — what’s the word? — nerve-wracking, in front of that many people, to get your cues right.  You’d sleep for about two weeks after.  It was intense.”

Ms. Wells said that both her children were inspired to become musicians thanks to Bread and Puppet.  “No question about it.”

Her son played violin for a long time after seeing someone in Bread and Puppet with one; he’s since moved on to guitar.  Her daughter plays cello in a band called Anodyne Gearhart, based in Portland, Oregon.  Her kids were involved with the Bread and Puppet Theater right until college.

“It’s had a huge influence on us, in all aspects, and each one of us has been influenced strongly by the theater, in a good way.”

She said her family has made friendships from all over the world through the theater.

“We started coming here because we felt very akin to what the stories were about, and things going on in the world.”

Amy Trompetter of Rosendale, New York, has been involved with Bread and Puppet since 1968.  She grew up in Ohio, attended Berkeley, and found Bread and Puppet in New York.

“It was exactly what I was looking for,” she said.

She has a theater company in Rosendale called Redwing Blackbird which is “heavily influenced by building giant puppets, backdrops, and activism.”

Ms. Trompetter said that Bread and Puppet is “a model for living outside the compromises of work life in the U.S.  The corporate model is dominant.  People spend their lives doing something they don’t want to do.  Bread and Puppet says it’s possible to have integrity in what you do.  To live simply, without needing.”

Ms. Trompetter is one of the many puppeteers who arrange their lives to be able to live in Glover for the summer to perform with the theater.

“It’s like my tribe,” she said.  “When I’m in Rosendale, I’m convincing people that what we’re doing is effective and working.  But when I’m here, we’re all on the same track.”

“The wish to live differently is embodied in doing the theater,” she said.  “It gives us spirit and happiness, which is the kind of life we’re wanting.”

The Bread and Puppet farm teems with activity in summer.  Drop by on a random weekday, and you’ll find a group of maybe 20 people singing shape-note songs beneath the shade of a tree.  Some are out back behind the shed, painting signs or sculpting papier-mâché.  Some are inside preparing the lunch that everyone will share at noon.  Some are out in the print shop painting the iris and rose prints that adorn the houses of many, whether they’ve been to a Bread and Puppet show or not.  Mr. Schumann can be found in the thick of it, working on a giant mask, and later, doling out bread to his volunteers.

Everybody is doing something, working on the same thing in different ways.  And yet the energy is calm.  There is no need to give orders.  The schedule is scratched onto a chalkboard that sits near the lunch hut.  The different hours of the day list tasks like “paper mache,” “turkeys,” “stilt rehearsal,” and “outhouse gallery walk.”

Ms. Schumann said that some people refer to the farm as “a bubble.”

“We’ve been so enormously lucky to find this place and also the people who give creatively and who organize, which is very important,” she said.  “The days are so full.”

Bread and Puppet has few year-round employees.  The rest are either volunteers or seasonal employees, many of whom travel from all over the world to work in Glover for the summer.

Katherine Nook, a Utah native, is a Bread and Puppet staff member and lives on the Glover farm year-round.  She is the resident puppeteer, which means she does everything from performing on tour to feeding the pigs on the farm in the morning.

She also helps organize the team of summer interns who descend upon Glover every summer.  She said they get more and more letters every year from people from all over the world who want to be an intern at Bread and Puppet.

“One hundred and six people wrote letters to be interns this year.  There were only 35 spots, though,” she said.

Ms. Schumann said that, in summer, there are 40 to 60 people living on the Bread and Puppet farm for a couple months.  They mostly stay in tents and defunct touring buses.

“They come for two months,” she said.  “They learn to do it all — print, wash dishes, mow the lawn, rehearse.  We encourage people to do their own little shows before the big circus.”

Ms. Schumann said that many people who have traveled to Glover to work with the theater have bought land in the area to live permanently.

Linda Elbow of West Glover, who is a native of New Jersey, began working with Bread and Puppet in the ’70s.  At the time, she was working in theater costuming at Goddard.

“When Bread and Puppet was based at Cate Farm, they would come into that theater to perform before going out on the road, and so I was spying on them,” she said.  “And I was also very interested in what Peter was talking about, like scale, depth, and sound.  But I was totally terrified of getting to know those people, because they were like wild European hippies in my mind.  But I just got to know them better, and I decided they weren’t so wild after all.”

These days, she’s the business manager for the theater, which means she handles the money and books the shows on tour.

Bread and Puppet is one of the oldest nonprofit theaters in the country.  It does not seek out grants of any type, which Ms. Elbow said is important.

“We just want to be free,” she said.  “We don’t want to have any restrictions on what we’re doing.”

Ms. Elbow acknowledged that some Bread and Puppet performances most likely happen because of grant funding, which is sometimes from the government.

“When we perform at a local school here in Vermont, chances are they got their funding from a state council through the government, and that probably happens when we go to colleges, too,” she said.  “But we do not apply for these things directly at all.”

Ms. Elbow said that a mix of donations, payments for touring shows, and sales from the print shop, along with countless volunteer hours, are what make it possible for Bread and Puppet to function.

“We do get donations throughout the year,” she said.  “Anything from $10 to like a $1,000.  One family gives $10,000 each year.  That helps.”

“We try to be very low budget,” she said.  The paid puppeteers make very modest salaries, she said, and the theater company provides them with room and board.

Bread and Puppet also asks to be both housed and fed when invited on tour.

“We usually stay in local homes.  I can remember sleeping on a church floor one time when I was touring with the company.”

A single afternoon on the Bread and Puppet farm revealed several ways in which the company pinches pennies.

Mr. Schumann said that, not counting paint, Bread and Puppet has only spent about $30 on its papier-mâché supplies over the last 35 years.

The company has been using the same batch of cornstarch — “either a half a ton, or a ton,” he couldn’t remember — in its papier-mâché puppets for over 35 years, after buying a big load in the late ’70s.

“It was a nice deal,” Mr. Schumann said.  “We share it with the mice.”

He also said most of the cardboard used for papier-mâché is from a load of scraps he received in the late ’70s from a friend who worked at a cardboard factory.  Bread and Puppet continues to add to that supply, picking up cardboard from furniture and appliance stores for free.

“That’s our religion — ‘cheapicity,’ it’s called.  I don’t know which Gods,” he said.  “Dozens, probably.”

Mr. Schumann acknowledged that volunteer work is a major force at Bread and Puppet.

“We can’t afford to hire,” he said.

Providing entertainment to everyone, even if they don’t have any money, is a focus of the theater.

“We performed in a park in downtown Richmond, Virginia, and most of the audience lived in the park, homeless on benches,” said Noah Harrell, who works with Bread and Puppet in summer.  “And they went there for the bread, and they saw the show.

“They would stick around afterwards and eat bread and mingle with the other people who didn’t live in the park,” he said.  “When would those two people spend time together?  And share bread together?”

Mr. Harrell said that Bread and Puppet tours all over the world in a variety of venues.  He said the theater did a show in Tuscany, Italy, last month, where Bread and Puppet was the highlight performer of a big festival.  But the theater has also worked in Palestine, and in Haiti after the massive earthquake in 2010.

“Usually when we tour abroad it’s organizations that have enough money to bring us.  Unfortunately, that’s the reality of it,” he said.  “Often the groups that would benefit most from the Bread and Puppet style of performance aren’t necessarily the ones that could afford to bring us, so there are a lot of festivals, puppetry festivals, performance festivals, music festivals.”

When he’s not in Glover, Mr. Harrell runs a small theater company of his own in his native North Carolina called the Rural Academy Theater.  He said Rural Academy provides horse-drawn theater that tours mostly in the southeast.

Mr. Harrell studied theater and has a master’s degree in directing.

“I often say that to join Bread and Puppet, I had to unlearn that training,” he said.

He said his time at Bread and Puppet has informed his company’s work.

“It’s hard not to see the influence,” he said.  “I’ve learned at Bread and Puppet not to make things too carefully, and that’s not a criticism of Bread and Puppet at all.  One of the strengths of Bread and Puppet is leaving something for the audience to do, not finishing a visual piece completely, giving a hint at something and letting the audience participate.

“It’s not a polar opposite to traditional, Western theater,” he said, of the Bread and Puppet style.  “But there’s a lot more emphasis on the group, and the strength of a group of performers, as opposed to individual performers.”

He said it can sometimes be difficult for an actor to let go of the ego of being the solo performer, “but the effect can be powerful.”

Bread and Puppet’s work is well known in the arts world.  The theater has received numerous awards, including the Obie Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1984, which is given by the New York City newspaper The Village Voice, for off-Broadway productions.  That year Mr. Schumann also accepted the Erasmus Prize, a major arts award in Europe.  Other past Erasmus winners include Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman, and Peter Sellars.

“Bread and Puppet has been around for 50 years, so the name is familiar enough and the style has become familiar enough to a lot of people that that reputation alone can sometimes be what brings us on tour,” Mr. Harrell said.  “But at the same time, in the U.S., even in New England, people have never seen us before, and that’s exciting.  Bread and Puppet isn’t mainstream.   There’s a big following and a big family, but it’s still somewhat under the radar.”

“Some people come for the theater and get the bread, some people come for the bread and get the theater, and the message is somewhere in the middle in there,” he said.

The future

 Mr. Schumann will turn 80 years old next year.  When asked if he envisions a future for Bread and Puppet beyond his own life, he surprised this reporter by giving a direct answer.

“We’re talking about that a lot, naturally,” he said.  “It’s complicated — the farm, the agriculture, the living situation, the print shop, the storage, which has way more than the museum.”

“Some of Bread and Puppet is continuable, and some not,” he said.  “It’s a problem.  I have no answer for this.”

As a member of the core company, Ms. Elbow has been working on the issue some.

“About five years ago, we created a new board, to talk about what’s going to happen when Peter’s not here,” she said.  “Do we want to tour?  Perform here?  Do we want to forget about it?  No major decisions have been made.”

Ms. Elbow said that Mr. Schumann is the company’s artistic director.  “And that’s the only director we have.

“He thinks up these ideas.  Sometimes he even comes down to us with a script or with a good outline of ideas.  Other times he has vaguer ideas, like ‘go out to the shed, find some stuff, start having some conversations, and tell me what you got,’” she said.

“Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not.  Sometimes the best ideas have come up when we’ve broken for lunch.  Sometimes it comes from fooling around and Peter says, ‘yes, yes, that’s a good idea,’ so it depends on the resident company and all the interns we have.”

She said that though Bread and Puppet’s cast of workers all collaborate on the shows, Mr. Schumann is, ultimately, the decision maker.

“I’ve always thought of him as the big eyes and ears,” she said.

For now, Mr. Schumann has ideas on how the circus should proceed.  This year marks the beginning of a return to the old style, of just one complete show.

In years past, the Sunday shows have been divided into two parts:  the circus, which takes place in the field, which is followed by a short break, then the pageant portion of the show, which happens uphill.  Then comes the bread.

“It was too comfortable,” Mr. Schumann said, of the two-part shows.  “Now we make it so you have to come uphill to see the rest of it.”

Mr. Schumann called this new form, which is really the old form, “a landscape piece.”

He said it’s “something that is an attempt to create what Greeks did, Chinese, Balinese, to make a total, complete whole, or an incomplete thing — a giant, arrogant idea.  We’re still chasing it, we’re not done.”

Bread and Puppet’s Total This and That Circus will continue every Sunday, starting with smaller, side shows at 2 p.m., through August 25.

contact Natalie Hormilla at natalie@bartonchronicle.com

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Apple crop is skimpy this year

Mort Gellman of Holland, Vermont, stands next to one of his Honeycrisp trees. He manages a 100-tree apple orchard on his property. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle 9-5-2012

After a long, hot summer, people may be looking forward to fall foliage, cooler weather and crisp apple cider.  When the foliage will change or the weather cool is anyone’s guess, but at least one thing is certain:  This autumn’s apple crop won’t be nearly as bountiful as it was in 2011. 

“We had a lot of frost damage this spring,” said Mort Gellman, who manages an orchard of about 100 apple trees of ten different varieties on his property in Holland. 

Mr. Gellman, like many apple growers, was hit hard by the April frost that followed an unusually warm March. 

“Just when they were in full bloom, the temperature went down to 15 degrees,” he said.  “Yep, it was a big hurtin’.” 

Mr. Gellman sells his apples mainly through the Newport Farmers’ Market, and people are welcome to come pick their own.   

“I sold every apple I had,” Mr. Gellman said in reference to last year’s season. 

Some varieties fared better this year than others.  He estimates that he’s down about 75 percent on his crop of Cortlands, but only about 50 percent on his Honeycrisps.  His Rome Beauty tree, which is a very late bloomer, had its best year since he planted it three seasons ago. 

Mr. Gellman said the Rome Beauty is one of the finest baking apples, and it’s a variety from the 1800s. 

As of August 30, his apples weren’t ready for picking just yet.  His earliest variety, Zestar, had about one and a half or two weeks left before harvesting could start. 

Mr. Gellman planted all the trees himself, and takes care of them mostly by himself, sometimes with the help of a neighbor.  He turned 86 in August. 

“I’m not doing this to get rich,” he said.  “The orchard is my life.”

Mr. Gellman started working in apple orchards when he was 18 years old.  At one point in his life, he ran a large vegetable farm in his native New Jersey, where he planted 50 acres of tomatoes for the Campbell’s Soup Company.  He also worked on a 5,000-tree apple orchard in Missouri in the mid-90s. 

“I know enough about growing because that’s most of what I ever did,” he said. 

He isn’t alone in having fewer apples this year.  In fact, the apple crop for all of Vermont is forecast to be down about 28 percent compared to last year. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the state can expect to see a crop of about 24 million pounds of apples, down from last year’s 33.5 million pounds. 

The dip in statewide production mirrors a drop in national production for the year.  NASS has forecast that U.S. apple production will weigh in at 8,065.7 million pounds this year — about a 14 percent drop from last year’s 9,420 million pounds. 

Cate Hill Orchard in Greensboro also expects much less of a crop this year.

“I think we had a total crop failure, really, from that late freeze, or rather that early spring,” said Maria Schumann, who owns and operates the orchard withJosh Karp. 

Last year, Cate Hill Orchard had about 60 or 70 fruit bearing trees, Ms. Schumann said.  This year, about 20 of their trees bore fruit.  “And they all have way less than they had last year,” she said. 

Ms. Schumann cites the same reason as Mr. Gellman:  the April frost. 

“It’s a normal time to have that kind of freeze, it was more just that everything was three weeks ahead because of that warm weather in March,” she said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s March was the warmest ever for the U.S. since formal record keeping began in 1895.   Some states experienced warmer weather than others that month.  Vermont was one of the states to experience its record warmest March, along with the biggest apple producing states in the eastern half of the country, Michigan and New York. 

Cate Hill Orchard sold apples and cider at farmers’ markets in Hardwick, Montpelier and Stowe last year.  Ms. Schumann said they probably won’t do cider this year, except for by the glass maybe. 

Cate Hill Orchard has a mix of trees that are about 100 years old and were inherited from Mr. Karp’s family.  They also have much newer trees, for a total of about 250 trees.  Ms. Schumann said there is no real difference in production among the fruit-bearing trees in terms of their ages. 

“Last year was such a fantastic year,” she said.  “There were apples everywhere.” 

She said that last year’s bounty may also have something to do with this year’s dearth. 

“A lot of apples, not all, but especially heirloom varieties, will tend to have on years and off years.  They won’t bear the same amount every year, even without a frost.” 

Terry Bradshaw, president of the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers’ Association, also said last year’s big crop was a factor in this year’s smaller one.

“Last year was an incredible apple year in terms of quantity of fruit,” he said.  “Even maple trees had apples on them.”

Mr. Bradshaw said it’s prudent to manage an orchard so that spring buds are thinned to a number that doesn’t stress out the trees. 

“If you don’t, you’ll get what’s called biennial bearing,” he said, meaning that the trees will produce a big crop every other year, with little or no production on the off years. 

“So that’s kind of the one-two punch of why things might be a little bit lower this year,” he said.  “I noticed before the frost even came that the count of buds was low.”

Mr. Bradshaw makes the bulk of his observations at his home in Calais and on the orchard he manages for University of Vermont (UVM) Extension in South Burlington. 

He estimates that even without the frost, many trees that produced heavily last year would have only had about 70 percent production this year.  

Mr. Bradshaw explained that it’s in the apple trees’ best interests not to produce a lot of apples each and every year. 

“The only reason why any plant produces fruit is not to feed us, but to have a baby, to keep spreading the plant along,” he said.  “What the plant wants to do is make lots of those seeds, a lot of apples, and it wants to be fairly small so animals can spread them and it doesn’t mind not doing it every year because it breaks up pest cycles.  But the role of an apple grower is to grow big red apples every year, so we’re trying to steer nature in our direction.”

Biennial bearing may contribute to a lack of wild apples this year, which were in abundance in many areas of Vermont in 2011.

“A managed orchard has an annual crop,” Mr. Bradshaw said.  “Whereas wild trees, if they put all their resources out one year, they don’t mind taking a breather.”

Mr. Bradshaw said that state crop production has been variable.  He said the UVM Extension orchard is looking at about a half crop this year. 

“But I’ve heard of some growers saying they’re having their best year in recent memory, so it’s variable, and it depends on the varieties and when their blooms open,” he said.

“In Cabot there are maybe 3,000 trees in a fairly young orchard and they’re having their best crop ever,” he said.  “I’ve heard in the Eastern Townships they’re doing very well.  So there’s plenty of fruit.”  

“The economics of growing is interesting this year,” he said.  “If you’ve got fruit, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, because all those packing houses and processors in west New York and Michigan have been driving to New England with checkbooks in hand trying to buy up fruit, and a lot of that’s for processing cider.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see $7 or $8 jugs of cider this year, so it’s good to be a grower.”

Mr. Bradshaw also said that those who did get fruit this year may find themselves with an especially good quality crop.  He said the sunny and warm weather has been complemented by just enough moisture to get the fruit to size.  

“I’m seeing larger fruit and redder fruit, because there hasn’t been a lot of cloud cover,” he said.  “The sun is what turns the apples red.”

Leaves turn solar energy into carbohydrates, which translates into a sweeter, higher quality apple, he said. 

“The other factor that turns apples red is cool nights,” Mr. Bradshaw said.  “Macs are classic with that, once you get nights in the 40s — and I think the weather is shifting and we’re going to come into the fall weather here.”

He pointed out that apple trees are grown all over the world, so they are very adaptable to different climates.  He said lack of rain and warm temperatures shouldn’t affect the trees. 

“The fruit buds are already set,” he said, referring to the middle of summer.  “If you get a drought in June, that would affect things.  The conditions that we’ve seen, I think we’ll have a good crop for next year.  Trees are adaptable, and they know that in August it dries up.  August is our least precipitous month every year, and all of the tree’s growth processes slow down by the middle or end of July because that’s how the tree’s programmed, to work with the systems we have.”

Chris Rawlings of Heath Orchard in Stanstead, Quebec, said that he’s seeing a crop of smaller quantity but higher quality this year. 

“It’s holding at about 65 percent of an average year,” he said.  “There are varieties which are better than usual in quality, not quantity.

“What I’m seeing on the MacIntosh is that, despite the fact that we had this event of frost on the blossoms, the apples that have come through for the most part are beautiful — round and have very little crevices and bumps for scab spores to install themselves, so they’re much prettier.  They’re an average size, no bigger, no smaller.  They’re looking good and they’re a reasonable size given the dryness.”

He said his Cortlands are looking particularly good as well.  The MacIntosh apples will start getting picked this Friday, September 7, which is early.

“We’re harvesting a week to ten days earlier than usual, across the board,” he said. 

Mr. Rawlings owns and operates the orchard with Lynn Heath.  They have 3,500 trees on 15 acres.  

Mr. Rawlings told the same tale as other growers — that the warm March followed by cold snaps accounts for most of this year’s lighter yield.  He said his Melba trees do take a breather every second year.

He also said that “micro micro climates” within his orchard account for some of the discrepancies he sees among his trees, even among the same varieties. 

“Nothing much is making a lot of sense, you know,” he said.

Still it sounds like Heath Orchard will have plenty of fruit to pick, as will most Vermont growers. 

Even though Vermont will see a significant drop in apple production, it’s still doing better than some other states.  Michigan — normally a top three apple producing state — is looking at a crop of 105 million pounds, as compared to last year’s 985 million pounds; New York is forecast to have 590 million pounds, compared to last year’s 1,220 million pounds. 

Washington — usually the apple producing leader of the country — is slightly up this year, at a total of 5,700 million pounds. 

NASS surveyed orchards of 100 or more bearing-age apple trees to gets its numbers.

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Featuring pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Interview: Craftsbury’s Dave Bett wins Grammy Award

Dave Bett, design director at Columbia Records, sits in his Craftsbury home with his new Grammy award. Photos by Natalie Hormilla

copyright the chronicle July 11, 2012

by Natalie Hormilla

CRAFTSBURY — The public library here will have a special speaker on Wednesday night, July 11. Dave Bett, design director at Columbia Records in New York City, will give an informal presentation on the Bruce Springsteen box set The Promise:  The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, for which Mr. Bett won a Grammy Award earlier this year.

He won the award along with his colleague, Michelle Holme, for the box set’s design. They won in the category Best Boxed/Special Limited Edition Package. The Grammy was a first for both designers.

Mr. Bett said that work on the box set took about three years to complete.
“A lot of it is research, anthropology, detective work, to find all the pieces that make the artist come alive,” he said.

The box set includes three CDs of music: one is the original 1978 Bruce Springsteen album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the other two consist of songs that didn’t make it on to that album. The set also includes three DVDs: one disc chronicles the making of the 1978 album, using footage shot by a friend of Mr. Springsteen’s at that time mixed with some new footage, and the other two discs are of live performances — one in 1978 in Houston, Texas, and another in 2009 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The CDs and DVDs are housed in a facsimile of a blue, spiral bound Eagle Line notebook Mr. Springsteen kept while working on his fourth album leading up to its 1978 release, which is where Mr. Bett’s work really shines.

Mr. Bett and Ms. Holme created a sort of scrapbook of words by and images of Mr. Springsteen. They used snapshots, stills from videos, and copies of the many pages of lyrics, notes, lists and random thoughts Mr. Springsteen kept in the blue notebook while working on Darkness on the Edge of Town, his first album in three years after the 1975 hit Born to Run.

“This whole thing became about making an album, the creative process,” Mr. Bett said.
The box set version of the notebook looks a lot like the real notebook kept by Mr. Springsteen. It includes his scribbly handwriting, and realistic touches like the brown stains and random rips found in the pages of the original.

Mr. Bett said that real fans of The Boss will notice certain details in Mr. Springsteen’s notes, like lyrics that were moved to other songs in their recorded versions or that are missing entirely. There are also voting tallies of which songs should be in the album, and lists Mr. Springsteen kept of which songs and artists he was listening to at the time (Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Elvis). These notes and lists are interspersed with photographs of Mr. Springsteen, chosen by Mr. Bett and Ms. Holme because they were either never used or seldom seen. Some of them are outtakes, and some of them are even stills from video footage, so that the images themselves did not even exist until the art directors at Columbia Records plucked them from old reels.

Pictured is a section of the Grammy-winning Bruce Springsteen box set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. On the left page is a list Mr. Springsteen kept while working on his 1978 album, of songs that he was listening to at the time. On the right page is a working version of the lyrics to Badlands. The pages are part of a facsimile of the original notebook Mr. Springsteen kept, designed by Dave Bett and Michelle Holme of Columbia Records.

“I sat and watched maybe two full days of video from those days,” Mr. Bett said, “and saying ‘oop, keep that frame, keep that frame.’”

The box set is something meant to be pored over by Mr. Springsteen’s biggest fans, to leaf through and learn from. Mr. Bett said that, in designing the box set, he asked himself, ‘what would a fan want to see?’

“The funny thing about doing Springsteen stuff is being from New Jersey,” said Mr. Bett, who is a native of the Red Bank, New Jersey area, near the heart of Mr. Springsteen’s original Jersey fan base. “I can remember hearing about him playing at a high school gym, and everybody wanted to see him.” Mr. Bett was in seventh grade at the time, and was told he was not old enough to go.

He said his mother played pinochle with the mother of a kid in Mr. Springsteen’s band at that time, a connection Mr. Bett told Mr. Springsteen about while working together.
Over the years, Mr. Bett said, he has worked on four or five Springsteen projects through Columbia, some with Ms. Holme.

So what does it mean to be a design director for a record company? “All of the artwork for Columbia’s artists — the packaging — goes through me in some form,” Mr. Bett said, whether he assigns the work to someone else or not.

“Say if Columbia has a project, and we need to get a box set design for it, I’ll either say, ‘I’ll do it,’ or I’ll assign it to another art director.”

Mr. Bett said that each project begins with some sort of direction from the artist.
“Usually it means you talk to the artist about the title, what they might want to see — either a picture of themselves, or a cool illustration, or maybe they have no idea at all — then you find a direction that fits the music. Then you have to find the right photographer, the right people….”

Mr. Bett said that his job involves a lot of coordinating between people. “It’s about building the right creative team and overseeing that.”

Mr. Bett was nominated for a Grammy once before, in the same category, for his work on Tori Amos’ 2003 Scarlet’s Walk.

He lives in Long Island, New York, with his wife, Kate Bernhard. Ms. Bernhard’s mother, Nan Murdoch, owned the cottage near Craftsbury Common that Mr. Bett and Ms. Bernhard visit. They have been coming to Craftsbury since 1981.  “We feel like part of the community,” he said.

When they’re in Craftsbury, Mr. Bett said that he and his wife read a lot, and visit Caspian Lake in Greensboro and Bread and Puppet in Glover.

Mr. Bett also volunteers at the Craftsbury Public Library, where he’ll give his talk on July 11 at 7 p.m. He brought along his Grammy and an edition of the box set for the night.

contact Natalie Hormilla at natalie@bartonchronicle.com

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