Passenger train might come to Island Pond

Kato's Railroad

copyright the Chronicle, October 9, 2013

by Paul Lefebvre

ISLAND POND — For two private developers who would like to start a nighttime rail passenger service between Montreal and Portland, slow is beautiful.

The working name for the project is train-hotel, and in a special meeting here Tuesday with Brighton Selectmen, Francois Rebello of Montreal and Richard Bennett of Biddeford, Maine, laid out a business proposal that would warm the heart of nearly everyone in a town that the railroad put on the map.

Essentially, the pair want to put evening passenger trains on three different routes, all linking Montreal to New York.  Initially, the trains would run for three months, starting in the summer.

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In Island Pond: Quebec maple firm seeks syrup factory

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IP maple web

The REM building in Island Pond. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre

ISLAND POND — A Quebec maple company may be setting up shop in an empty factory here that failed to gain traction as a woodworking facility and create jobs after the Ethan Allen plant shut down in 2000.

The empty factory, known as the REM building on Meadow Street and owned by the town, could have a tenant as early as the middle of the month, according to Brighton Administrative Assistant Joel Cope.

A representative from Bernards Maple of Saint-Victor, Quebec, talked to Brighton’s selectmen late last month, and on Tuesday confirmed that the company is interested in leasing the building and more.

“It’s not a building we’re looking at, it’s an industry,” said Jacques Letourneau, who is negotiating with the town on behalf of the company.

Mr. Letourneau, who spoke guardedly during a brief telephone interview, said negotiations over leasing the building with an option to buy are still at a very preliminary stage, and he preferred “not to divulge anything until everything is in place.”

According to the minutes of the August 27 selectman’s meeting, the company would like to move in by September 16 and have environmental permits in place by the end of October.

“We’re happy to help them with that and move through the process,” said Mr. Cope, speaking in an interview last Thursday.

Still uncertain is what the deal would mean in terms of jobs.  Best estimates suggest that only a few jobs would be created at the outset, with as many as 30 to 40 to “maintain the operation” and three or four permanent jobs at the plant.  Yet the potential has the power to excite town officials.

“We think it’s a very exciting opportunity and is exactly what this community needs,” said Melinda Gervais-Lamoureux, chairman of the Brighton selectmen.

She said the company is considering a two-phase development over four to five years, “and that’s where the jobs will come from.”

The deal offered by the town last week would be to lease the factory for $15,000 — $1 per square foot — with the annual lease payment going toward a $250,000 purchase price.

Tentatively, the company plans to make maple syrup in the building with sap trucked in from maple bushes in the area that it seeks to lease.  To that end, it has already begun talks with Plum Creek, the large timber company that owns more than 86,000 acres in northern Essex County.

Mr. Cope said the company would like to collect sap from roughly 100,000 taps, and expand up to one million.

“If they can find the land and the trees,” he added.

Mr. Letourneau said the company knows the trees are there, having done its research before approaching the town.  Realtor Mick Conley of Derby, who is serving as the company’s agent in Vermont, said Essex County has the third highest number of maple trees in the state.

Mark Doty, a public affairs agent with Plum Creek, would only confirm Tuesday that the Canadian company has expressed an interest.  “It’s still very, very preliminary,” he said.  “Nothing to report.”

The town put the REM building on the market about a year ago, according to Mr. Cope.  It derives its name from the previous owner, Robert E. Miller of South Burlington, who gave the building to the town after its previous tenants — the Island Pond Woodworkers, an employee-owned woodworking factory — failed to make a go of it.  Mr. Cope estimated the town has owned the building since 2010.

Located in Saint-Victor, about an hour south of Quebec City and 125 miles north of Island Pond, Bernards Maple is a fifth-generation-owned company that “has been making maple syrup for over 200 years,” said Mr. Letourneau.

As a company it is involved in every aspect of the maple industry, from tapping the trees to distributing the final product.

“We’re about as close to the consumer as you can get without putting it in the refrigerator,” he said.

The company plans to start off slow and expand.  It wants assurances from the town that it will be able to put on a 5,000-square-foot addition to the building without running into any regulatory delays.

Located in a light industrial zone, the building already has an Act 250 permit.  On Tuesday Steve Paterson, who heads the regional planning agency, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), said his group is looking at what additional permits may be required.

According to the minutes of the selectmen’s meeting last month, the company could be running as many as ten big trucks a day into Meadow Street at certain times of the year.  The REM building appears to be well situated to overcome any permitting obstacles.

“None seem to be insurmountable to me,” said Mr. Cope.

If the company comes to town, one change that will occur quickly is that the building will change its name to the Island Pond Maple Factory.

Mr. Letourneau said Tuesday that, as an old family company in Quebec, Bernards Maple wants the community to be involved.  He told selectmen that the company wants to make sure that the residents of Meadow Street are not disturbed by the heightened traffic on their street.  And on Tuesday, he spoke of the need for community support for the project.

Presumably, that support will grow as jobs become available.  But as Ms. Gervais-Lamoureux noted, the potential for jobs will increase only if the factory is occupied.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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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

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Hoagland novel tells tales of human courage

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hoagland review-1Children are Diamonds, by Edward Hoagland.  Published by Arcade Publishing, New York, New York, 2013.  213 pages. $23.95.

Reviewed by Paul Lefebvre 

What to think of a 30-something-year-old schoolteacher who got fired from his job in New Hampshire, absconded from a sinking ship with his company’s money, and went on the lam into central Africa, where he became a jack-of-all-trades, bringing food and medicine into a ravaged war zone where boy soldiers cut the intestines out of their dead victims and wear them around their necks like a necklace?

Or a woman in her early fifties, a relief worker with Protestants Against Famine, manning an outpost in the bush overrun by refugees speaking many tribal tongues, where she mothers orphans, treats diseases, war wounds, and all the myriad health complications that go with malnutrition and starvation without cutting any slack for herself?

“You have to believe in heaven, and I don’t know if I do,” she says at one point.

Ruth and Hickey are the two riveting characters in Edward Hoagland’s admirable novel, Children are Diamonds.  Each is flawed in ways both morally and spiritually, and each bring to Africa a different kind of American than we are used to seeing, either in other works of fiction or in the history of Western imperialism or colonization.

When it comes to novels set in faraway places few can match what Hoagland achieves in a story that unflinchingly comes to grips with the courage it takes to be human in the face of a time when there is so little to gain.  That it’s a story set in what was once called the “Dark Continent” makes it all the more daunting.

The Africa that Hoagland sets his novel in is the Africa where war and hunger have become the norm of daily life.  It’s the Africa of Idi Amin, whose brutal rule of Uganda has been replaced by tribal warlords who run outfits like the Lord’s Resistance Army, which kidnaps children during village raids and turns them into soldiers by a gruesome ritual that forces them to eat the organs of their murdered parents.  It’s an Africa where the people have been uprooted and displaced, strafed by Russian MiGs in service to the same Arabs who hire blacks from Darfur to do their fighting in the bush.  And it’s an Africa where there are no second chances.

“In Africa, everything is an emergency,” Hoagland writes in the first line of the novel.  “Your radiator blows out and as you solder a repair job, Lango kids emerge from the bush, belonging to a village that you’ll never see, reachable by a path you hadn’t noticed.”

Although one is armed with a Kalashnikov, they are not depicted as threatening, only hungry.  Survival for a white man like Hickey depends on his ability to keep a balance between “friendliness and mystery.”

As a writer, Hoagland cut his teeth on essays and travel pieces, with a novel tossed in every now and then, like the fisherman who fishes in streams for brook trout and occasionally tries his hand spin-casting for bass in still waters, using what he has learned about fish and his own ability to catch them.  In Children are Diamonds, Hoagland combines the wisdom of a seasoned traveler with a novelist’s imagination in writing a book that takes us through a country few of us have seen, through emotions we have seldom if ever felt, and delivers us into a troubled land where unspeakable atrocities suddenly explode.

What better setting could there be for a rolling stone character like Hickey, who moves back and forth between guiding tourists and bedding airplane stewardesses to trucking food into relief camps, “pussyfooting slowly through Lord’s Resistance Army rebel territory in northern Uganda?”  Hickey may be a likeable survivor — the kind you might enjoy talking to over a beer in a bar — but he becomes endearingly heroic when he throws caution to the wind for a woman, a hard-nosed relief worker, who could be his older sister.

Courage is often what we think of when someone risks life and limb for some greater good or noble purpose.  Hoagland tell us that you don’t have to be a doctor to hand out aspirin or Kaopectate, and that it takes very little to be human or brave in the eyes of those looking for a shred of hope.

“The old stone-and-concrete ruins of a Catholic chapel that had been forgotten since the colonial powers had left could be reoccupied, if you chased the leopards and the cobras out and joy, I think, is, like photosynthesis for plants, an evidence of God,” he writes.

Against his belief that the laws of survival are poised to turn against him, Hickey goes into the bush where doom is about to descent on Ruth and her outpost.  A temporary truce in the fighting has ended.  Two white Norwegian doctors and a nurse already have been killed, and everyone who can flee — from aid workers to refugees — is fleeing, except Ruth.

She is the novel’s Mother Courage.  “She shouldn’t be stranded,” says an accomplice of Hickey, who may or may not be a CIA spook.  In one of their early encounters, Hickey watches her as she mixes powdered milk while a toddler clings to her — a malnourished toddler with a “head disproportionately large because skulls can’t shrink.”  Leo, named after a missionary priest, becomes her African diamond.

So into the fray Hickey goes.  The fact that he and Ruth are both white may or may not be a plus.  There is the spearman who warns the fleeing whites of mines in the road, but refuses to guide them.

“He’s telling you you people have the atom bomb so what do you need him for?” says one of the African assistants who, though loyal to Ruth, has no love for the West.

As the opposing armies close on one another, those in the know seek a solitary escape route as “they slid into the forest like fish wiggling into a reef.”  But for Hickey and Ruth there is no looking out for themselves first.  Their jeep is loaded with crippled passengers, and leading the way are the healthy children ready to warn any guerrillas waiting in ambush that the vehicle behind them contains white people who are “not to be casually shot.”

In the end there may be no possibility of escape for Ruth and Hickey who defined themselves by “where we were.”  And they are in Africa, where “everything is an emergency,” which is something each appears to desire and need.

Aside from being a novel about courage and morality, Children are Diamonds is a novel about landscape — a landscape of rivers and their feeder streams, of mountains and valleys that Hoagland renders with the deft touch of a cartographer and the imagination of an artist.  If you want to visit Africa close and up front and don’t have the wherewithal to get there, reading this novel may be your best option.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

For an interview with Mr. Hoagland, click here.

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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Edward Hoagland: 23 books and still going

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Edward Hoagland stopped in at the Chronicle office to do an interview.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

Edward Hoagland stopped in at the Chronicle office to do an interview. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre 

When writer Edward “Ted” Hoagland turned 80 in December, he had 22 books under his belt.  Today, he has one more and is working on another.  Of course there’s an essay in the works, from the man writer John Updike called “the best essayist of my generation.”  And then there’s a journal he’s been keeping that will be published posthumously.

Some people who come to the Northeast Kingdom think there is nothing to do.  Not Hoagland.  He bought a house on Wheeler Mountain in the early ’60s, and has been living there ever since as a summer resident.

To the extent it is in the boonies, the Northeast Kingdom has undoubtedly contributed to his impressive literary output.

“I’m doing very well on what is my sixth novel because, well there is no phone, no electricity, which is fine at this time of year,” says Hoagland, who sat for a taped interview at the Chronicle’s office last week.  “I don’t use all the daylight there is; I fall asleep before it’s dark.”

Hoagland came to Vermont to buy a house and land when he was about 35.  He had been introduced to the state by a college friend whose father, the eminent historian Henry Steele Commanger, had a house in Newfane.  Hoagland says the house was “crammed with books” and rural enough to take walks on dirt roads and see tracks from wildlife, “which, of course, I loved.”

A love of wildlife and wilderness landed Hoagland in southern California as a young, hotshot firefighter in the early ’50s.  Poking through the country on his off hours, he became so intrigued by mountain lions that he traveled to far-away places, such as the mountains of Alberta, Canada, to see one.  This obsession may account for his willingness to risk life and limb when he became a caretaker for MGM’s signature lions, who appeared to produce a loud roar at the beginning of every picture the movie company made.

The company had a retirement home in California for all the lions it had employed since the ’40s.  It was also keeping “a very sweet female mountain lion,” which happened to be in heat when Hoagland was there.  He says he would often sit next to her cage when no one else was around.  Until one day when he was struck with “the impulse to crawl into her cage.

“She was very surprised, and she went to the back of her cage, turned around and sprang at me,” he says.

But as she went to strike him in the face with a paw, she withdrew her claws.

“It was a love tap,” Hoagland says.

Hoagland doesn’t say whether the experience taught him to conquer his fears.  But to this day he strikes a fearless posture in the face of adversity.

“If I saw a black bear in the woods, I would say, ‘You are not a grizzly.’  I love animals.  I am not going to make you unhappy, but you are not going to scare me.”

Or when he encountered a potential mugger on the street he would say, “You are not a tiger,” and continue on his way.

When Hoagland came to Vermont looking for a place, he was living in New York City, a connection that appears to have helped him find what became his heart’s house.  From Avis Harper he got passed on to Em Hebard, who had lived in New York, Greenwich Village, Hoagland’s old neighborhood.  And together they found the place on Wheeler Mountain.

“I loved the house to start with,” he says.  “I knew it as soon as I saw it.  And it wasn’t just the house, it was also the cliffs.”

He figures he’s spent a third of his life there.

“When people ask me about it, I say I’m going to my heart’s home.”

Hoagland says he came to Vermont rather than Maine, New Hampshire, or the Adirondacks because of the people.  Prior to Hoagland’s purchase, the man who had lived in the house made corn whiskey and brewed bathtub beer.

“For a long time after I bought the house, old customers would periodically drive up and would be disappointed there was no white lightning,” he say.

From living in Barton, he got to know Phil Brooks, a taxidermist, and Paul Brochu, who owned an exceptionally clever hound dog.

“Paul could call the dog and point to the fox, and the dog would stop chasing the coon and follow the fox. And if they happen to come onto a bobcat track, which is much more valuable, the dog would just pick up the bobcat track.”

The state shared physical characteristics that he had seen elsewhere in his travels.  But there was something else.  The people.  And not just those who shared his interest in mountain lions or wildlife.

“Vermont combined the landscape of the West, I mean it looked like Idaho,” he says.  “But the people of the East I have always loved.  I’ve been to Alaska and British Columbia, too, nine times.  But I don’t like the people who live there as much as Vermont.”

Vermonters, he says, have “more of a sense of conservation.”

At the time he bought the house, he had written three books and was working on his fourth.  Although he’s a prolific writer, Hoagland writes with the concentration of a monk. He says it takes him three or four months to write an essay, and four to five years to write a book.  He routinely goes from fiction to non-fiction with the facility of a Northeast Kingdom native who can switch from English to speaking French.

If he becomes stymied while writing a novel, he picks up where he left off writing an essay.  And often, working on the essay, he figures out the next conversation or scene to use in the novel.

Since Hoagland only spends summers in Vermont, he had never written a book from beginning to end while residing in Barton.  But, perhaps not surprisingly, he was in residence at Wheeler Mountain when he wrote the essay, “Hailing the Elusory Mountain Lion,” which was published in 1971 by The New Yorker.

Other essays of Vermont origin include “Of Cows and Cambodia,” and the “War in the Woods,” after an outing with houndsman Paul Doyle.  During the ’70s, Hoagland also wrote “The Moose on the Wall,” which took its title from a head mount inside the Howard Bank and featured his taxidermist pal, Mr. Brooks.

But among Kingdom readers with long memories, Hoagland may best be known for the essay he wrote about the girlie shows at the fair, which caused the uproar that led to their early and premature demise.

“Unfortunately,” says Hoagland.  “It was not my intention.”

The shows continued for three or four years elsewhere before they were banned.  Hoagland says his essay took the church-going people of Barton by storm.  “Of course they stay away from that so didn’t know what happened inside until I wrote about it,” he says.  “But they found out why boys went to the fair as boys and came back men, which they had never known before.”

After his spate of Vermont essays, Hoagland traveled to Africa.  He went twice during the ’70s; once in 1976 and again in 1977.  He went during a time when there was a lull in the fighting.  On his return, he wrote African Calliope: A Trip to the Sudan, first published in 1979.

War had returned to central Africa and the Sudan — “that I love so much” — when Hoagland made a second round of visits, once in 1993 and again in 1995.  The war caused widespread famine and Hoagland says he had to be there.  Strafed by MiGs and living in a church compound close to the war zone, his experience this time around resulted in what some critics believe is his best book, Children are Diamonds.

“It took me 20 years to produce this novel because the experiences are based on my own experiences,” he says.  “I did do a couple of pieces for The Nation, but I couldn’t exorcize them through those pieces.”

Hoagland was working as a freelance journalist when he accompanied a transport of food into a relief workers’ compound where thousands and thousands of starving refugees had gathered.  It was the first shipment of food since the killing of four UN aid workers four months ago.  The scene beggars description.

“They had eaten all the insects, all the grasshoppers, all the song birds,” Hoagland says.  “All the area smelled of smoke for in order to smoke out the insects and the rodents, they had burned everything off.”

There were 58 trucks in the transport, carrying corn.  He recalls watching children running alongside the lorries, gathering spilled kernels that they would bring to their mothers after acquiring a handful.

It was that moment, he says, that he had the most powerful experience of his life.  Hoagland was in his sixties at the time and his hair had turned prematurely white.  The women and children equated white with power, and in Hoagland they saw someone they believed to be their deliverer.

“So, they asked me if I was the head of the United Nations,” says Hoagland, who after all these years still chokes up with the memory.

“Are we forgiven?” they asked him.

Hoagland told them he had just arrived from America, and he says they looked at his boots and asked if he had walked.

The most powerful emotion he experienced came moments later when he heard the mothers tell their children: “That white man can save your life.”

And, just like that, he remembers it happened.  “These wobbling, staggering children with huge bellies came up and touched me.”

Throughout his career, Hoagland focused on being the best American essayist he could be.  But it’s an attitude he’s extended to the very craft of writing, and one that leaves no regrets.  Every book he has written, he says, “was the very best I could do at the time.”

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

For a review of Mr. Hoagland’s newest book, Children are Diamonds, click here.

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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Book review: A requiem for Rocky

review crossing webReviewed by Garret Keizer

Crossing Jack Brook:  Love and Death in the Woods, by Paul Lefebvre.  Published by Beck Pond Books.  169 pages.   Paperback.  $20.

Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover on your first try are roughly on a par with those of being injured by a toilet seat, about one in 10,000.  You have at least a seven times better chance of becoming President of the United States than winning at Powerball with your first ticket, though in the former case multiple variables come into play, such as whether and where you went to college and in which rest room, ladies’ or gents’, you’re entitled to test your luck with a toilet seat.

However you choose to place your bets, few factors reliably alter the odds of surviving the love of your life.  No matter where you live, how many minutes a day you exercise, or whether your beloved is a Methodist, a lesbian, or a canary, those odds are essentially the same.  One in two.

For that reason, books about grieving a dear companion’s death — Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, and, closer to home, Edie Clark’s The Place He Made and Donald Hall’s Without — are among the most useful on the shelves.  That doesn’t mean they’re always the most readable or will all deserve to be called beautiful.  Chronicle reporter and columnist Paul Lefebvre’s Crossing Jack Brook is both.

It’s also three captivating stories for the price of one.  The most prominent is about the sickness and death of the artist Elin K. Paulson, Lefebvre’s long-time partner, which he tells without a trace of morbidity.  Nicknamed “Rocky” for her passion for collecting rocks, Paulson comes across as a fascinatingly complex character:  “a bohemian woman” who did not like to be called a hippie, a nature-lover who did not care to grow a garden, a pacifist who loved John Brown.  We can wonder about all of that, but we never wonder why Lefebvre loved Paulson.  After only a few pages, we’re pretty fond of her too.

In the symbolism of their love affair, Lefebvre fleshes out his second big story:  the initial clash and ultimate fusion of two tribes that occurred when the migratory counterculture of the 1960s met the indigenous counterculture of the Northeast Kingdom.  Lefebvre and Paulson come across as representative, if highly individualized, members of their respective tribes:

he an Island Pond native of French Canadian extraction with railway men and loggers in his family and roots in the Kingdom that go back as far as 1799; she the down-country daughter of a Catholic-Worker couple, artisans and homesteaders devoted to a movement that was talking about peace, love, and communal living before there were television sets and atom bombs.

Mixing these diverse elements, Lefebvre gives us a darker, more viscous narrative than that fancy-grade syrup that often gets poured over things “Vermont.”  He also introduces us to a motley cast of characters:  the Count and the Commissioner, “the girls of Lost Nation,” and the denizens of Mad Brook Farm, will-o’-the-wisp hermits and stoned entrepreneurs, gun-packing truckers and the activist priest Bob Castle, aka “Reverend Slick.”  At Lefebvre’s hunting camp we hear “anthems to those who have prepared liver and onions on a cookstove, brought bottles of whiskey to Thanksgiving Day dinner, and left the air charged with the pungent odor of Hoppes #9 oil from cleaning their guns at the kitchen table.”  Well, many of us have been to a hunting camp, but few of us could describe it like Lefebvre.

So we are not surprised that the third main story of Crossing Jack Brook is about becoming a writer, not only as a way of making a living but also as a way of fighting for one’s life.  The theme is clear from his first paragraph:

“When the woman I lived with became ill with cancer in 2005, I began writing about it in a column I had been writing for a weekly newspaper in northern Vermont.  When she died about nine months later, I continued to write about her because it was the only thing I could do.  I am not a religious man or a deeply spiritual one, but for years I have earned a living as a reporter and have come to rely on the power of words.”

Lefebvre’s columns about Paulson, their adventures together, and other features of their shared life in the Kingdom are interspersed throughout the book, dated and titled as they were when they debuted in the Chronicle.  Some readers might wish that Lefebvre had taken apart these pieces and reworked the material into one seamless whole.  I happen not to be one of them.  The juxtaposition of what Lefebvre wrote in his columns and what he writes in Crossing Jack Brook adds much to the texture — and pleasure — of his narrative.  In a book that is nothing if not a memoir, the technique works like memory itself, moving us backwards and forward in time.

We move easily because he keeps things clear.  Lefebvre is an unpretentious stylist, a straight shooter, never sentimental but unafraid of revealing his heart.  Like the best prose writers in what William Carlos Williams called “the American grain,” he knows about real stuff:  how to pitch a tent, fell a tree, build a deck.  He also knows the stuff of history:  You will learn about how ice used to be harvested on Island Pond and the etiquette of old logging camps.  You will even learn a thing or two about the Civil War.

And you will hear some funny stories.  Perhaps my favorite has to do with a chimney fire that erupts at the ramshackle house of one of the author’s drinking buddies just as they’re about to leave for a night at the bar.  “The fire will either burn out or the place will burn down,” his friend says.  “We’ll find out later.”  So off they go.

The result of Lefebvre’s use of lore and laughter is that we experience none of the claustrophobia that we’d expect from a book informed by a terminal illness.  (Nor, I’m relieved to say, is Lefebvre the type of eulogist who uses humor in an attempt to make mortality sound cute.)  Much of this expansiveness is achieved through the deft characterization of Paulson herself.  She is never less than a lively presence.  The writer Dorothy Parker’s famous retort to the news that Calvin Coolidge had died — “How can they tell?” — could never apply to Elin Paulson.

I never knew her, by the way, and except for reading some of Lefebvre’s columns and buying fresh fish from him in Newport many years ago (only lately did I realize that the wordsmith and the fishmonger were the same guy), I don’t know him either.  But his account of their life together reminds me of men and women I met when I first arrived in the Kingdom — too late, I’m afraid, and too conventional to know their world well, but impressed by it from a distance and, more lately, saddened by a sense of  its passing.  For Lefebvre that sense is even stronger.

“[H]ome for the past year was beginning to resemble more and more a place where my friends were dying.  More and more a place I feared I no longer knew.  The Kingdom I knew was shrinking.  Land on both sides of the road to my house had been posted against trespassing.  A chain had been strung and locked across the road to hunting camp.”  It’s much to the author’s credit that he is able to convey a profound sense of loss even as he restores our awareness of what hasn’t yet and needn’t ever be lost completely.

The artwork accompanying Lefebvre’s text lends a hand in this.  The striking cover image of  Elizabeth Nelson’s painting of a rutted Kingdom road in early spring opens onto a gallery of color photographs, some of Lefebvre’s and Paulson’s family and friends, many of her magical paintings and picture poems (reminiscent of Kenneth Patchen and Paul Klee), a closing shot of her decorated grave.  Stained glass by Paulson’s father, Carl, and portraits of her by the painter Peter Miles (along with a photo of Miles himself) make for a fitting artist’s memorial.  This is not a coffee table book by any stretch, but for a while after I’d finished reading it, I kept it close to where I drink my coffee, because I liked waking up with the pictures.

Needless to say (at least for anyone who knows Lefebvre or his previous writings), Crossing Jack Brook is not a how-to manual about surviving grief.  When I called it useful before, I didn’t mean that it aimed to be.  It aims to be true, nothing less or more, and we trust it because the truth it discovers is complicated.  At one point during his bereavement, the gregarious Lefebvre exhorts himself to greater self-reliance:

“Usually I go to town on Sunday mornings, get coffee and a doughnut, pick up a paper, and begin a round of visiting friends.  Some Sundays we take rides through the woods or to camp or sometimes we do nothing at all except sit around, drink beer and talk.  It is nearly always enjoyable and it fills in the time.  But this morning I pulled up short.  Look to yourself for a change, I said.  Stop running away.”

Yet, in looking to himself “for a change,” he also finds a deeper sense of human solidarity and purpose, including the courage to call wisdom by its rightful name.

“Thankfully, not all wisdom comes with great loss — who could endure it if it were so? — yet there is a wisdom that death demands as its own.  And while grief may fling us into loneliness, it seems equally true that it welds us to a common lot.  Time is short, I tell myself.  Honor the dead by the life you lead.”

In Lefebvre’s case, “the life you lead” includes the words you write.  In a column he wrote in 2007, and includes near the end of Crossing Jack Brook, he says, “For the first few months, I carried Rocky’s death with me at nearly every step.  Anything short of that raised the fear I might lose her.  Now nearly 18 months later, I know she will never be lost to me.  I know where she resides.”

Thanks to Lefebvre’s stirring tribute, she also resides a little in us, and the odds of our forgetting her are close to none.

Garret Keizer’s most recent book is Privacy (2012).

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Hunters skeptical of state deer count

deer picby Paul Lefebvre

LYNDON — A deer hearing at Lyndon State College last week may have been lightly attended, but it still attracted hunters willing to cross knives with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“I think the deer herd has plummeted since the department took over the herd,” said Rodney Elmer from Northfield.

He said the Vermont herd, estimated at 130,000, would do better if biologists relied more on Mother Nature.

A hunter from St. Johnsbury aired his disbelief over estimates from department biologists that indicate the deer herd is healthy and growing.

“I seriously question where those statistics are coming from,” he said, adding that he has been seeing fewer deer.

He said he hunted every day of rifle season last year and saw 17 doe and only one buck.

Perhaps he would have enjoyed more success if he had hunted in Orleans County.

Recently, the department published its deer harvest report for 2012, showing that Orleans County was the hottest of spots among the three counties in the Northeast Kingdom.

Hunters there last year took a total of 1,151 deer over the course of four seasons involving archery, black powder, rifle and the special youth weekend hunt.  That total far exceeded the 819 deer harvested in Caledonia County or the 231 that were taken in Essex County.

Statewide, the largest harvest of 2012 occurred in Franklin County, where just under 2,000 deer were taken.

The department’s deer project leader, Adam Murkowski, told only a dozen or so hunters last Wednesday night that the deer herd constitutes a robust population.  He attributed the herd’s growth to back-to-back mild winters and a management plan intent on keeping the numbers of Vermont deer in balance with the habitat that supports them.

He said Vermont’s deer population has a fluctuating history, with numbers soaring when the winters are mild and plummeting when they are severe.  Using a PowerPoint presentation of graphs and statistics, he showed how the harvest of bucks has stabilized since 2006.

Antlerless permits given out on the basis of deer density in any given zone, and the youth deer season weekend, were among the management tools he credited with bringing about that desired end.

Still unknown are the effects global warming will have on the herd.  Warmer winters suggest that the herd’s population is likely to grow.  But if the herd gets larger, will the state have the habitat to support it?

The ten-year West Mountain Wildlife Management plan is coming up for its renewal.  Public hearings will be held on June 11 in Brighton and June 13 in Lyndon to review how the state has been managing the 22,000 acres that were acquired, mainly through the Champion Lands deal of 1991.

Mark Scott, the department’s director of wildlife, told hunters last week the department is counting on public involvement to both preserve and improve wildlife habitat.

The habitat statewide is changing, and Mr. Murkowski noted the pressure is on to keep harvest levels stable while maintaining a healthy herd.

Among the hunters present, Mr. Elmer expressed fears that the big deeryards that were crucial to the herd’s survival are disappearing.  He attributed part of the decline to the way the forest is being managed, opining that hardwood is pushing out the cedar and spruce stands that deer need to survive.

“We want what’s right for the land and what’s right for the deer,” he said.  “If we try to grow a bigger herd in the Northeast Kingdom and the land won’t support it, that’s a bad move.”

The hearing last week was the fourth in a series held by the department on the status of the Vermont deer herd.  The fifth and final one will be held on June 5 in Manchester.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Senate passes weakened wind power bill

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Wind towers at Lowell Mountain, as seen from Irish Hill Road.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Wind towers at Lowell Mountain, as seen from Irish Hill Road. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle  3-27-13

by Paul Lefebvre

MONTPELIER — A legislative push to give towns and regional planning commissions more say in the siting of industrial wind towers appears to be dead, following a preliminary vote here Tuesday in the Senate.

The vote came after a marathon, contentious and at times personal debate that started at the fall of the morning gavel and lasted past the noon hour.  The result is expected to hold when the Senate takes up the bill for the third and final time later this week.

Little remains of a bill that started out as a call for a three-year moratorium on wind and morphed into legislation to reform the permitting process by adding Act 250 criteria and by putting wind development on hold for roughly eight months of study.

What’s left in the measure passed by the Senate Tuesday is a $75,000 appropriation for the creation of a Joint Energy Committee that will evaluate recommendations due out next month from the Governor’s siting commission.

Presumably, the role of towns and the regional commissions in the siting process will be revisited when the committee meets.

The vote was seen as a defeat by the two senators representing Essex and Orleans counties, whose ridgelines are prized by wind developers.

“They stripped the meat out of it,” said Senator John Rodgers, a member of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources that created the bill.

“They took the soup and left the broth,” said Senator Bobby Starr, who during the debate defended the bill as a “commonsense, down-to-earth proposal.

“All it’s asking for is for people to be heard,” he said.

After the debate was over and the vote was in, the region’s senior senator put his best spin on the results by saying a half a loaf was better than none.

A straight up and down vote on the bill was avoided when Senator David Zuckerman prevailed with an amendment that stripped out its key provisions.  It took the unusual route of being voted on twice.  Defeated the first time when Lieutenant Governor Phil Scot broke a tie by voting against it, the amendment was rekindled when Bennington Senator Dick Sears asked if he could change his vote.  His request led to a second vote by the full Senate.

During the debate, Senator Sears had spoken out against the bill and the intent to add Act 250 criteria to the siting process.  That would be an intrusion into the present permitting process, he said.  It would have the effect of “opening up a can of worms that doesn’t need to be open.”

And with his support the Zuckerman amendment passed by two votes, 16 to 14.

In a brief interview outside the Senate Chamber, Senator Zuckerman said he offered the amendment in the belief the bill was sending a “false hope message” to towns.  He said the veto power the bill gave them and the regional commissions could be taken away after eight months had passed and the legislation had sunset.

On the floor he said the bill was duplicating the work of the Governor’s siting commission, and raised the specter of global warming.

“We have a climate crisis on our hands,” he warned.

Stripped of what many believed to be its essential components, the amended bill passed easily.  If the outcome disappointed Senator Joe Benning, the legislator who a year ago spearheaded the call for a three-year moratorium, he didn’t show it during a brief interview after the vote.

He said that with a stronger vote to back it up, the bill would stand a better chance of getting a fair hearing before the House.

“It’s keeping the discussion alive and that is the most important thing of what this last month has been about,” he said.

If words could draw blood, the Senate floor might have become slippery.  Senator Dick McCormack could have been speaking about the debate when he called the issues surrounding the bill “a clash of non-negotiables.”

At different points along the way, the debate pitted one core value against another:  the public good versus local control; global warming versus protecting the environment; rural Vermont versus urban; and the urgency to develop renewable energy versus planning and evaluation.

Senators from the Northeast Kingdom led the way in charging that the most rural corner of the state was being picked on.

Early in the debate Senator Rodgers said Chittenden County didn’t want the Northeast Kingdom to stop the development of renewable energy.  With two wind farms already in place and a landfill taking a large share of the state’s waste, he argued it was time for some other region to step up to the plate.

“A nice landfill in Burlington could conserve diesel fuel and cut down on carbon emissions,” he said at one point.

The freshman Glover senator applauded the bill for giving small towns a voice and financial aid so they might be able “to compete with the deep pockets of developers.”

Senator Starr continued along that line when he characterized big wind as a runaway development that had pushed its way through his district like a bulldozer.

His constituents were complaining, he said, that they “are not being given a chance to be heard.”

Senator Diane Snelling of Chittenden County introduced the bill as a planning mechanism.  She said she “took to heart the concerns over global warming,” and defended the bill as being “very pro renewable energy.”  All the bill was asking for, she said, was a better way to site renewables.

One of the uncertainties arising from the debate was how much weight neighboring towns would have in the permitting process.  Senator Snelling said there was nothing in the bill that would allow a neighboring town to kill a project.

But others suspected the bill would give towns a veto power.  Senator McCormack was among the senators who argued that local control should not override the public good.

“It’s a question of state sovereignty,” he said, pointing out that local control is a power granted to towns by the state.

While Senator Snelling argued that the bill was “a workable proposal to get the best siting for energy,” others argued there was no need for it.

Senator Jeanette White of Windham argued that the bill was redundant and unnecessary.  She noted there were no projects waiting in the wings, and said she was uncomfortable with the bill because she believed it discriminated against wind.

Senator Benning became an advocate for changing the permitting process after he climbed Lowell Mountain and viewed how construction had transformed the mountaintop in preparation for the placement of 21 turbines.  When he came off the mountain, he decided, “We had a problem that wasn’t being addressed by our government.”

As part of his presentation Tuesday, he passed out a parcel of photographs that documented the destruction on Lowell Mountain.  And proceeded to argue that wind developers had gone to the Northeast Kingdom because of its rural isolation and lack of population.

He compared Newark’s town plan with a set of ordinances drawn up by the city of Burlington and pointed out their striking similarities.  Each, he said, wanted to preserve their landscape, natural beauty, and views.

Burlington and the surrounding communities within a ten-mile radius account for one-third of the state’s population.  But Newark, he said, had a population of 581.

Small towns like Newark, he implied, need protection because wind developers go where they won’t get a push back.  Or where resistance is least and likely less affordable.

Senator Mark MacDonald of Orange County said the Kingdom was like the leopard that wanted to change its spots.  He said among supporters of the bill were people from the Northeast Kingdom who had brought “cell towers to mountaintops, and Act 250 be damned.”

No great harm would come, he promised, if the bill were defeated.

Each side in the debate claimed to champion action to slow global warming.  Senator Richard Westman of Lamoille called it “the most important issue facing us.”

He supported the bill because he said it was making lawmakers struggle with the consequences of what has already been done.  And although he was not real happy with the bill, he called the debate surrounding it vital.

For Senator McCormack, the choice hinged on global warming.  The planet was in danger, he said, and push had come to shove.

“The very idea I would vote against a bill to regulate a troubling development — something I never thought I would do,” he said.

“I’m going to vote against this bill and break my heart.”

A final vote by the Senate could come as early as Thursday morning.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Publisher’s trespassing case dismissed

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The Lowell Mountain wind towers as seen from Irish Hill. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 12-12-2012

NEWPORT — A utility wind developer company that tried to do the right thing by the press appears to have shot itself in the foot when it allowed the arrest of a reporter and then failed to step forward and rectify an action contrary to company policy.

The Orleans County state’s attorney’s office last week dismissed a criminal charge of unlawful trespass brought against Chris Braithwaite, a reporter for and publisher of the Chronicle in Barton.

Mr. Braithwaite, who had been spearheading his paper’s coverage of the wind project on Lowell Mountain and the controversy it triggered, went to the site on December 5, 2011, to cover a demonstration that protesters had scheduled for the morning.

Police intervened and arrested six protesters, who became known as the Lowell Six.  A jury found each of them guilty of unlawful trespass this summer.  Mr. Braithwaite also was arrested despite his claims he only had gone to the site to cover the demonstration as a reporter.

When news of his case’s dismissal was announced last week, Mr. Braithwaite, 68, of West Glover, released the following statement:

“On the day after my arraignment on a charge of unlawful trespass, I wrote that I believed my conduct on Lowell Mountain on December 5, 2011, satisfied the dictates of common sense and the ethics of journalism.  What remained was the daunting task of demonstrating that it was also within the law.  That task came to a successful conclusion today.”

Dismissal came as the case was preparing to go to trial and after defense attorney Phil White subpoenaed internal e-mails that passed back and forth among officials of Green Mountain Power Company (GMP.)

The documents show that GMP intended to give Mr. Braithwaite and other reporters access to its Lowell Mountain site, where protesters were demonstrating against the construction of a 21-turbine wind project.

“Does anyone know what happened,” asked Robert Dostis, a GMP official who works with communities and who was responding to colleagues about an editorial against the arrest.

To GMP’s site manager at Lowell Mountain, he went on express surprise that an arrest had occurred.

“Frankly, I don’t understand why Chris was arrested since you gave exact instructions that he not be,” he wrote in an e-mail dated December 10.

A day later, a second official struck a similar note.

“I think now we have to put an end to the notion we tried to stop the media, when we simply did not,” wrote a GMP consultant Stephen Terry in an internal e-mail sent six days after the arrest.

He then repeated a question asked earlier by the company’s public relations officer:  “Did the leadership instruction not to arrest CB just not get relayed fast enough Monday morning?”

While release of the e-mails helped to end the criminal charge, they may have opened a new chapter in the case.

Attorney White said Monday he had asked for an apology from GMP as well as compensation for expenses and legal fees that came to $22,330.

“Had Green Mountain Power disclosed this information to the State Attorney’s Office promptly, Chris never would have had to undergo a year facing criminal charges,” wrote Mr. White in an e-mail.

“Instead, GMP sat on its hands and did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Mr. White said he hoped that GMP would “do the right thing” by apologizing and paying Mr. Braithwaite.

But that appeared unlikely Tuesday.

GMP Public Relations Officer Dorothy Schnure said that it was Mr. Braithwaite’s refusal to leave the site that caused him to be arrested.  And once an arrest occurred, it was out of GMP’s hands.

“It’s not our case, it’s the state’s,” she said, adding later:  “While we had hoped he wouldn’t be arrested, that’s what played out.”

She declined to comment Tuesday if the company had received Mr. White’s request of GMP to pay for his client’s legal fees and expenses.

In an e-mail later in the day Ms. Schnure stated:

“Frankly, the proposition that David Coriell acted inappropriately and that it gives grounds for a legal claim by Chris Braithwaite is frankly frivolous.”

On Monday Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, who presided over the case, released some of the documents, which had been sealed under an agreement between the defense and prosecution.

The judge noted they had been submitted in support of the defense motion to dismiss with prejudice and were now part of the public record.

He also said he would not rule on the motion to dismiss the case with prejudice until the state had a chance to respond.  If a case is dismissed without prejudice, the state can bring it again.  He set a deadline of December 26 for the prosecution to respond.

Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker said in an interview Tuesday she would file a response opposing the motion because there is still evidence available that would enable the state to win the case.

She said her motion would also explain why the state dismissed the charge, adding that her office did not want to inconvenience a witness and former employee of GMP who has since moved from Vermont.  Ms. Baker also said there were documents in the file that had not been unsealed and that would help the state prove its case, in the event it was brought back.

The documents that came to light this week indicated that the state’s dismissal may have hinged on the failure of a GMP employee at the scene on the day of the arrest to correctly inform police officers of the company’s policy toward arresting Mr. Braithwaite and any other journalists covering the protest.

As GMP officials scrambled to learn what had happened, David Coriell, its representative at the site during the protest, tried to explain to his bosses in two e-mails why the arrest had occurred.

The first e-mail sent on the day of the arrest stated: “Braithwaite and another woman stopped at the edge of the construction site and started taking pictures.  Phil Brooks, the Orleans Co. Chief Deputy, asked Braithwaite and the woman to get back another 50 feet to the Nelson property.  The woman complied.  Braithwaite chose to stay.  Brooks approached Braithwaite and after a short conversation he asked him to leave or come back and stand with those willing to be arrested.  Braithwaite walked back and stood with those being arrested.”

In the second e-mail, dated December 11, Mr. Coriell told his bosses that the no-arrest instructions “didn’t get relayed to all the officers involved.

“That said, I know the Sheriff had no intention of arresting Chris.  Chris actually arrested himself by physically walking back to the middle of the crane path.”

He went on to say that Mr. Braithwaite called the officer an expletive.  The officer charged that the reporter had stepped “over a professional line.”

Ms. Schnure said Tuesday the scene that day at the site was confusing, with cell phones losing signal and people milling around.  She called the arrest Tuesday “a breakdown in communications.”

Concerned that another protest at the mountain was coming, GMP officials huddled and considered what they should do about access and the press, and what instructions to give the police.  An e-mail from Ms. Schnure to GMP managers on December 11 laid out a possible course of action.

“Dave confirm that sheriff will be there early if at all possible.  Ensure sheriff knows media has permission to be there.  Tell Sheriff we really don’t want any reporters arrested.”

Mr. Terry, the consultant, agreed, calling the proposed instructions “a good way to pre-empt another journalism arrest which was never our intent or purpose here.”

While it is still unclear how far the documents went in convincing the state to dismiss the charge, they did provide a picture of GMP managers working to ensure similar arrests of reporters would not occur at future demonstrations.

“We have to minimize the public and political fallout of decisions made on the mountain,” wrote Mr. Dostis in a December 10 e-mail.

“Arresting reporters will do more harm than good.”

Ms. Schnure said repeatedly Tuesday that it was Mr. Braithwaite’s actions that caused his arrest.  And that he was not owed an apology by GMP.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@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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Lowell Six wind turbine protesters convicted of trespassing

Eric Gillard, the brother of one of the Lowell Six, holds a sign in front of the courthouse. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 8-22-2012

NEWPORT — It took a jury of nine women and three men four hours to find wind opponents known as the Lowell Six guilty of unlawful trespass, following a one-day trial here in Superior Court.

The verdict appeared to reflect a trial in which a straight law and order issue trumped a disputed property boundary.

Conflicting testimony over the dispute may have confused the jurors as about an hour or so into their deliberation, they sent a note to the judge.

They wanted to know if there could be a legal owner when a property is in dispute.  And if the dispute was still current.

Trial Judge Martin Maley complimented the quality of the questions, but ruled each irrelevant.

“Do the best you can based on the evidence you heard,” he instructed them.

Disputed property boundaries were the key to the defense case:  If the state could not prove that the protesters were standing on property that was in the lawful possession of Green Mountain Power (GMP), then the defendants could not be convicted of unlawful trespass.

The prosecution argued that GMP was in lawful possession of the property, and that the protesters had broken the law when they refused to leave the land that had been posted by the company.

The trial was the first to be held involving protesters against the Lowell wind project that is being constructed by GMP.

Each of the six were arrested on December 5, 2011, when they refused police orders to leave posted property on Lowell Mountain while blocking the path of heavy construction vehicles.

Although the six presented their case as a group, the jury found each guilty as individuals.

Six more protesters are scheduled to be arraigned next month for a similar confrontation on the same mountain earlier this month.

Held Wednesday of last week, August 15, the trial was surprisingly silent on the underlying and highly charged issue that caused the defendants to break the law.  Before the jury entered the courtroom, Judge Maley warned he would only allow limited testimony on why the defendants were on the land.  And nothing, per se, on wind itself.

The jury, he said, knew what the case was about.  “It’s not a secret to them.”

So wind remained the elephant in the room:  the one everyone knew was there and agreed not to see.

Surprisingly, the only one to raise it as an issue was prosecutor Sarah Baker, when she sought to challenge the intent of the defense’s star witness, surveyor Paul Hannan of Calais, formerly of Holland and at one time a Kingdom legislator who served in the House.

Placed on the stand as an expert witness by defense attorney Kristina Michelsen, Mr. Hannan was prepared to provide the rock-bottom kind of testimony the defense needed to support its case.

Mr. Hannan testified that he had 31 years of experience as a surveyor and the credentials to qualify as an expert.  The rules of evidence, however, say that either side can challenge an expert’s witness.  And when her turn came, Ms. Baker proceeded vigorously.

First she asked Mr. Hannan about his association with Sterling College, and learned that during the years 1990 and 1991, he was one of the faculty members who accompanied students on three-to-four-day expeditions on Lowell Mountain.

The prosecutor pressed on.  Did he have any prior knowledge of Don Nelson — who allowed the students to use his property and who also is in a property dispute with GMP concerning the boundary line between his land on the mountain and the adjourning site where the utility is constructing its wind project.

No, said Mr. Hannan.

Ms. Baker may have thought she had found a chink in the defense’s armor when she abruptly asked the witness if he had any association with any anti-wind group.

Instead, the question brought a prompt objection from attorney Michelsen, along with a few hisses and murmurs from the 35 or so spectators in the gallery, a largely anti-wind crowd.

Judge Maley sustained the objection and Ms. Baker sat down, taking with her any references that the industrial wind project on Lowell Mountain had anything to do with the case.

There was a stirring in the closing moments of the trial when one of the defendants, Dr. Ronald Holland, took the stand.  The doctor’s name had surfaced earlier in the trial when Deputy Sheriff Phil Brooks testified for the state.

Of the ten protesters on the mountain that day, the deputy said he only knew Dr. Holland from previous personal and professional encounters.  He went on to testify that about two weeks prior to the December 5 confrontation, he received a call at home from Dr. Holland.  The doctor, according to the testimony, told the deputy he was going to the mountain that day to protest and wanted the deputy to arrest him.

“I informed him I was off duty and it wasn’t going to be me,” Deputy Brooks testified, adding that he passed what he characterized an “odd request” on to the State Police, who didn’t do anything either.

That testimony was before the jury when Dr. Holland took the stand late in the day.  The 67-year-old resident of Irasburg told jurors that days prior to the confrontation with police, he had gone onto the site and measured with twine the distance where he believed Mr. Nelson’s property ended.

And on the day of the confrontation, he testified he went to the limit of that measured distance.

But in a question that had nearly everyone in the courtroom leaning forward on the edge of their seats, Ms. Michelsen asked the emergency room doctor why he had climbed to the top of Lowell Mountain on December 5, 2011.

He paused and bowed his head a moment before answering that he had gone there to “protest the taking of Don Nelson’s property.”

Defendant David Rodgers, 69, of Craftsbury followed Dr. Holland to the stand and testified that he too believed he was on the Nelson property when police moved in to arrest him.

He testified that Dr. Holland had tied a block of wood to the end of a string as a means of measuring the property’s boundary.  And that he was “very careful not to” trespass on the land GMP is leasing to erect its 21-turbine wind plant.

The procession to the stand might have continued had not the prosecution agreed to stipulate that the remaining four defendants had followed the doctor’s lead.

But if the defense thought a protest over property rights could overturn the confrontation that followed, the jury saw it differently.  Nor did any witness refute or challenge the deputy’s testimony over what happened that day.

Deputy Brooks testified he received a call around nine that morning from GMP, informing him that protesters were on the mountain blocking heavy equipment from working on the wind project.  Police arrived roughly two hours later, and observed that the group was blocking cranes and big trucks.

“They were stopped on either side of where the defendants were,” he testified.

Deputy Brooks testified that prior to December 5, GMP had shown him a map of the project and its property boundaries.  And when confronting the protesters, he said he gave everyone the opportunity to step back behind the property line between GMP and the Nelson farm.

Of the ten protesters, three complied with a police order to step aside.  Six refused and were placed under what sounded like a gentleman’s arrest.  The deputy said he chatted cordially with the defendants and discussed everything but the project going on around them.

“I limited myself to that,” said Deputy Brooks.

The biggest problem police encountered that day, the deputy added, was finding a way to transport their prisoners off the mountain.

Police also arrested a seventh individual, Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite, who is challenging his arrest on grounds he was there doing his job as a reporter.

GMP’s intent to keep people off the site and the property it has under lease was deliberate and thorough, according to its project manager Charles Pughe, who also oversaw the posting.

“We cleaned out several stores,” he said, speaking of the no trespassing signs the company purchased.  “We had to have so many of them.”

Mr. Pughe testified that the land was initially posted for safety and to keep hikers out of harm’s way.  But he also noted that problems with people at the site began appearing sometime in October, as campers began to gather on the neighboring Nelson land.

Terms of the lease gave GMP authority to exclude or allow access to anyone the company chose, he said.

Mr. Pughe was off site the day the protesters were arrested.  But under cross-examination by Ms. Michelsen, he said, he could tell from photographic evidence — including photographs taken by the arrested journalist — that the protesters were on GMP’s leased property at the time of their arrest.

He estimated the face of the turbine would be about 200 feet away from the Nelson boundary line.

From the moment he took the stand it was evident that Don Nelson was not going to be a friendly witness.

He gave mostly monosyllabic responses to the prosecutor’s questions, and when asked to read a document, he shrugged and said he didn’t have his glasses.  That brought a query from the bench

“Need your glasses, Mr. Nelson?” asked Judge Maley.

“Don’t have them with me,” replied Mr. Nelson.

The prosecutor decided to try a different tack by asking the witness if he had given Dr. Holland permission to go on his property.

“My land is open.  People come and go,” he replied.  “I don’t invite or not invite.  We don’t post it.”

When Ms. Michelsen’s turn came to ask the questions, Mr. Nelson said that Dr. Holland had come to see him about the boundary dispute, and that he had provided him with the coordinates that were in disagreement.  According to his testimony, the dispute began years ago with the landowner who leased the land to GMP.  At the time, the witness testified, there was a difference of roughly 420 feet.

For its final witness, the state put on the surveyor who recently bought out a surveying business in Derby Line that surveyed the Nelson property several years ago in hopes of resolving the boundary dispute.

Andrew Nadeau testified that the previous owner had surveyed the property in dispute in 2007, and that he had spent in excess of two weeks surveying it as well.  But the surveyor who spent the longest time on the stand turned out to be the expert for the defense, Mr. Hannan.

Throughout his testimony, Mr. Hannan repeatedly testified there were fundamental mistakes in the 2007 survey — that affected the boundaries of lots leased by GMP.

He told jurors that in surveying the same ground, he found that markers had been inappropriately defined.  He said there must be corroborating evidence to define a marker or monument that had been used in the past when the land was first surveyed.  And such markers, he added, could be used to determine boundaries.

“When is a stone pile a stone pile or a monument?” he asked at one point.

Jurors already had heard from Mr. Nelson that surveying is not an exact science, and depends in part on the quality of surveys done in the past.  Mr. Nelson noted that he and his neighbor had tried to settle survey discrepancies on their abutting lands through an agreement.  Their boundary dispute was rekindled, however, when the agreement came unraveled.

Mr. Hannan testified that in surveying the land for the Nelsons, he found almost no markers on the ground that were left when the land was first surveyed in 1790.  And he told the jurors that the monuments defined by the 2007 survey were inaccurate.

Closing arguments were short, lasting about five minutes apiece.  Each attorney offered similar arguments to those they had made in their opening statements.

The verdict clearly took the defense and its supporters by surprise.  After asking the judge to poll each juror for a verdict, Ms. Michelsen said she would be filing post trial motions.  The court gave her ten days to submit them.

Prosecutor Baker said she would be requesting a restitution hearing, which means the state will try to convince the court to order the defendants to pay compensation to GMP.

The late hour verdict led the defendants to call off a press conference they had planned to hold at the conclusion of the trial.

In a press release Monday, Dr. Holland was quoted as saying:

“We are obviously disappointed with the verdict but respect the jury’s efforts. This is, and will continue to be, a complex case that rejects the simple and disingenuous offerings of Green Mountain Power.  We will continue to educate Vermonters on the science and math of ridgeline wind-generated electricity.”

As Mr. Pughe was walking away from the courthouse, he said he hoped the verdict would make his job easier.

The remaining four defendants of the Lowell Six are:  Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield; Suzanna Jones, 50, of East Hardwick; Ann Morse, 48, of Craftsbury; and Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of West Woodbury.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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