How Barton’s founder became a war hero

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kidnapping the enemy webcopyright the Chronicle March 5, 2014

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

Reviewed by Tena Starr

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

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

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

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

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Editorial: Fight tar sands oil — for the right reasons

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

Next week at Town Meeting four Orleans County towns will vote on a resolution that basically says they don’t want tar sands oil to be shipped through the Portland Pipeline’s Northeast Kingdom oil lines.  They are Albany, Glover, Westmore, and Charleston.

Unfortunately, none of those towns are host to the pipeline and would not be directly affected by any such plan.

For years now, Vermont environmentalists have warned about the possibility of the flow of the lines being reversed and Canadian tar sands oil being shipped south and west through them from Alberta to Maine.  For two years, 350 Vermont has attempted to show opposition by persuading towns to adopt resolutions at Town Meeting.

Although their efforts were a bit more organized this year, they still seem to be inept at best.  One of the towns that would be most severely affected by any oil spill is Barton, yet that town will not be voting this year on a tar sands resolution.

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Just how rare is thundersnow?

copyright the Chronicle February 9, 2011

by Tena Starr

It’s hard to say exactly how rare Saturday’s night’s winter thunderstorm was, says Chris Bouchard, a meteorologist at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury.

“I don’t have any numbers on its frequency,” he said.  “But lightning as frequent as Saturday’s is something I’ve never experienced with snow falling.”

The official term for a thunderstorm with snow is “thundersnow.”

Thunder and lightning might occur once or twice a winter in the state, Mr. Bouchard said.  But generally it’s very localized.

“There might be one flash over one town. This last event was pretty unusual because there were hundreds of lightning strikes on Saturday night, in lots of towns.  I’ve seen snowstorms with a flash here and there, but nothing with frequent lightning like that.”

One reason thunderstorms don’t often occur in winter is because warm air is usually behind their development, and there just isn’t much warm air around in winter.

Thunderstorms are caused by rapidly rising air currents, which form very tall clouds, sometimes billowing up over 40,000 feet in height.

Inside the thunderstorm, charge separations occur.  “No one is exactly sure how that happens,” Mr. Bouchard said.  “A leading theory is that the different types of precipitation particles found within thunderstorms force a charge separation when they collide.”

Every thunderstorm produces both snow and graupel (also known as soft hail), even during the summer months.  Normally, warm air near the surface forces these to melt into rain before they reach the ground.  Updraft speeds vary from the inner core to the outer edges of the storm.  That means that in some parts of the cloud, snow rises at the same time that heavier graupel is falling past it.  That leads to a lot of mini-collisions.

“We know the snowflakes are traveling upward with a positive charge,” Mr. Bouchard said.  “Snowflakes go up because they’re light and fluffy.”

The lower portion takes on a negative charge as graupel falls through it.  Once the charge difference builds to a high enough level, it can overcome the resistance of the air, and you get a big static discharge, Mr. Bouchard said.  “That’s lightning.

“The best way to get updraft speeds sufficient to produce lightning is with warm air, and we don’t often have warm air around in the winter,” he said.

Saturday night there was warm air rising into thunderstorm updrafts however, as air originating over the Atlantic moved in.

“There was a lot of rising motion, and that led to the charge separation that caused the thunder and lightning.

“It’s pretty unusual to see snow with thunderstorms in Vermont.  It usually happens with Nor’easters.  But typically with Nor’easters lightning is very sporadic and unpredictable.”

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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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Chris Braithwaite will be in NENPA Hall of Fame

chris hall fame web

Chris Braithwaite, hard at work at the Chronicle office working on this week’s newspaper, in Barton Tuesday. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 1-15-2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — Chronicle founder and publisher Chris Braithwaite will be inducted into the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) Hall of Fame in February.

Mr. Braithwaite and five other newspaper professionals will be honored at the NENPA winter convention and annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 7. Continue reading

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Researchers extract sap from maple saplings

Smaller maple trees could be used to produce syrup with a new system being researched in Vermont. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Smaller maple trees could be used to produce syrup with a new system being researched in Vermont. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle 11-27-2013

Researchers at the Proctor Maple Research Center have stumbled onto a new way of sugaring that could revolutionize the most rapidly growing agricultural industry in Vermont.

Instead of getting 100 taps per acre, it would be possible to get 5,000 or more.  Instead of getting roughly 40 gallons of maple syrup per acre, it would be possible to get as much as 400 gallons per acre.

It would be possible, in other words, to have a prosperous sugaring operation on a single acre of farmland.

The idea is that saplings could be “tapped,” either in a regenerating sugarbush, or in a densely planted field.

Four years ago, Tim Perkins and Abby van den Berg at the Proctor Maple Research Center set out to study how sap flows in maple trees when a vacuum system is employed.  Vacuum sucks sap out of a tree rather than letting it flow at its natural, and much less predictable, rate.

Normally, in a thaw, sap flows downward through the tree.

“But if you’re on vacuum, you continue to get sap out of a tree after that process stops,” Mr. Perkins said.  “The only logical conclusion was that we were pulling sap up out of the ground.”

If that’s the case, then the top of the tree isn’t necessary to get a sap run, Mr. Perkins noted.  So, to test the theory, he and Ms. van den Berg lopped the top off a sapling, attached a plastic bag with a piece of tubing to the top of the stump, and sucked the sap out with vacuum.

It worked.  It worked so well, in fact, that, after four years of research, Mr. Perkins has concluded they discovered a whole new way of making syrup — one that could protect the industry from climate change and Asian longhorned beetles, allow new sugarmakers to get into the business despite prohibitively high land prices, and permit existing operations to expand.

A new sugarmaker could plant a closely spaced plantation of maple saplings.  A sugarmaker already in business could end up “tapping” the saplings that have grown up in his woods instead of clearing them out.

“There’s no question it works,” Mr. Perkins said.  “We generally don’t like to talk about things unless we know they’re going to work.  We spent four years looking at this before we began talking.  You can certainly make considerably more syrup per acre than with the standard method of sugaring.”

The only problem is it’s not yet possible to sugar such a plantation.  That’s because the device needed to get sap out of a sapling doesn’t exist — at least not on a large scale.

Mr. Perkins said the researchers made the equipment they used by hand, but no one would want to make enough for an entire plantation.  “It’s the same as if you had to whittle your own spouts,” he said.  “You wouldn’t want to make 5,000 or 6,000 of them.”

The device that’s missing is the plastic bag with the piece of tubing that would connect to the rest of the system.  “You need to get that sap out of the bag,” Mr. Perkins said.  “You can’t do it now because the devices to pull out the sap aren’t available commercially.”

Manufacturers have been approached and expressed interest, but at the moment no one is producing the piece needed for such a sugaring operation, Mr. Perkins said.

“We’ve spoken to manufacturers very briefly,” he said.  “Our next step is to start meeting with each manufacturer, describing it in more detail, and seeing if they want to start working with us.”

Among longtime sugarmakers, the procedure has generated good-natured cautiousness.

“When I saw it my immediate opinion was that’s crazy,” said Bucky Shelton of Glover, who has sugared for 35 years and is a sales and service man for Lapierre USA in Orleans.  “But if you put your mind into the future then it’s probably an interesting way to do this.  I’ll say one thing, you don’t have to worry about the wind blowing them down.  “It’s more secure as far as environmental problems go.”

Wind is a major threat to sugarmakers, and storms have been increasing, Mr. Shelton said.  He’s still cleaning up his own sugarbush, which was hit by a windstorm in May.

Jacques Couture, chairman of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers Association, also a longtime sugarmaker, agrees that plantation sugaring could be a defense against increasing threats.  For instance, the hurricane of 1938 wiped out many mature sugarbushes, setting the business back years, he said.

“Some of the older sugarmakers talked about that.  All these beautiful sugarbushes got completely mowed down.”

“I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon, but it’s interesting,” Mr. Couture said.  “If we had some kind of major disaster, a lot of people would look at this seriously.”

That’s one of Mr. Perkins’ points.  Vermont’s sugaring industry, thriving right now, is whim to weather and pests, as is any agricultural venture.

The Asian longhorned beetle isn’t yet in Vermont, but it’s been found in neighboring states, and currently there are infestations in Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.  It’s a serious threat to maples and other hardwood species, but it doesn’t like little trees, Mr. Perkins said.  They’re big beetles, and they like big trees to bore into, he said.  Saplings just don’t appeal to them.

And, 50 years down the road, as the temperature warms, smaller maples will be more likely to produce syrup.  Being smaller, they freeze and thaw quicker, allowing for more sap runs.

“In the projected environment we’re going to have 50 years from now, smaller trees will probably be better suited for sugaring,” Mr. Perkins said.

The ideal maple for plantation sugaring would actually look more like a bush than a stately 100-year-old maple.  Two-inch stems are optimum, Mr. Perkins said.  A single stem works fine — for a while.

The first year the top would be cut off to get the sap run.  Each year another six to 12 inches would be cut off the top of the stem to get the sap running.  But with a single stem, “eventually, you’re going to get to ground,” Mr. Perkins said.  A sapling with multiple stems, on the other hand, could last a very long time.

At the moment, the cost of production, for a variety of reasons, works out about the same as for a traditional sugarbush, Mr. Perkins said.

“Where this new method starts to get better is if you can plant saplings that have the genetics to be sweet trees,” he said.

And work has been done on developing particularly sweet varieties of maples, Mr. Perkins said.  Individual trees vary in sugar content, he said, and researchers were breeding for sweetness.  That work came to an end when reverse osmosis was introduced, he said.  Reverse osmosis removes some of the water from sap before it’s boiled, thus “sweetening” it and reducing boiling time.

“If we can increase the sugar content of sap to 3 percent, you’d go from 400 gallons an acre to 600 gallons,” Mr. Perkins said.

A plantation of particularly sweet trees would significantly cut the cost of production.  “If we could breed sweet trees and grow them fairly quickly,” the economics would be quite different, Mr. Perkins said.

The cost, and availability, of land is also a factor in sugaring today, he said.  “In Vermont right now about 50 percent of the optimal land for sugarbushes is being used for sugarbushes,” he said.  “The rest of it is mostly tied up.  There’s still land available, but it may not have the highest density, or people don’t want sugaring there.  This provides another option for people to continue to grow their operation.”

The idea of plantation sugaring, turning what is currently a semi-wild crop into a farm crop, causes some sugarmakers to raise an eyebrow — and laugh a little.

“It’s not too romantic,” Mr. Shelton said.  “One of my first thoughts was, boy, this is pretty far from tradition.”

“It does change the image if it becomes a cornfield type of thing, or sugarcane type of thing,” Mr. Couture said.

No, cutting the tops off saplings is not a traditional notion of sugaring, Mr. Perkins said.  “But, unfortunately, the traditional image doesn’t represent the reality of what’s out there.  We don’t have people walking around with horses anymore.”

He said he doesn’t see the new way of sugaring replacing the traditional methods anytime soon, although it could augment some operations and buffer the entire industry against disaster.

So far, the reaction from sugarmakers has been generally positive, Mr. Perkins said.

“I’m definitely open to seeing how it works,” Mr. Shelton said.  “They’re thinking out of the box, and I think we need to think out of the box for the future.  Everything old school is just getting uprooted.  It’s important to be thinking in these terms.”

Steve Wheeler at Jed’s Maple in Derby, which produces organic syrup and maple products, said he had not yet even heard about sugaring maple saplings.  “We’re set up so traditionally here that it’s kind of a shock,” he said.

He said he hasn’t formed an opinion, but sees no reason why sugaring in a whole new way wouldn’t work.  “I don’t see why you can’t approach it like traditional farming.”

Mr. Wheeler said he has great respect for the UVM researchers.  “Proctor has some really neat ideas,” he said.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com.  For more free stories like this one, see our editor’s pick category on this site.  We hope these will interest you enough to make you want to subscribe to our online or print editions.

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Editorial: Adults should set better examples about bullying

Recently, a videotape of schoolchildren from Orleans Elementary fighting was posted on Facebook.  Upon investigation, the school’s principal concluded that it wasn’t so much a case of targeted bullying, as some had suspected, as it was an argument, mostly amongst middle school kids.

However, the incident served to highlight the role social media plays in the lives of young people these days — and how adults can exacerbate a situation.

It also illustrated the increasing complexity of a world where media so thoroughly infiltrates the lives of young people that it’s hard to draw the line between what happens in school and what happens outside of it.  An incident that occurs outside of school but is publicly posted and viewed by schoolchildren — what territory does that lie in?

The issue is so complex and troubling that it would take more than the space we have on this page to delve into every aspect of it.  But there are two things we’d particularly like to mention here.

One doesn’t have to look far these days to see plenty of uncivil behavior.  “Watch TV, listen to talk shows, talk radio…people seem to be so much less civil,” said Andre Messier, principal of Lake Region Union High School.

We agree with him.

The federal government is certainly no example of civil discourse or respectful behavior.  Political and ideological differences turn into personal, often nasty and intimidating attacks.  News programs don’t deliver information in a calm or neutral fashion; many of them are little more than shouting matches.  Scorn, condescension, and polarity are far more prevalent than empathy, compassion, and respect.

In the age of You Tube, iPhones, iPads, Facebook, and vines, nearly anyone can put anything up for public view — tasteful or not, worth watching or not.  Shock value seems to be a goal, the ultimate goal being attention, we suppose.

And we don’t need the National Security Agency’s help with violating our privacy.  We seem to be pretty good at doing it ourselves.

One would think that, in such an atmosphere — which children are heavily exposed to — adults would set out to temper matters.  Instead, as in the Orleans incident, the opposite can happen.

“Basically, all of the adults turned into bullies themselves in the comments,” said Kristin Atwood, an Orleans School Board member who saw the boy’s video after a Facebook friend passed it on to her.  “The sharing of the video was really kind of incendiary, and the adults’ comments were often promoting violence against the student who’s accused of bullying,” Ms. Atwood said.

If a questionable video involving schoolchildren appears on Facebook, it seems to us that the appropriate course would be to bring the matter to the attention of school officials and leave it there.  “Sharing” the video and posting incendiary comments (behaving, in other words, like a bully) does not strike us as an ideal method for dealing with an online video posted by a kid about kids.

Posting something online rather than talking to a teacher or administrator can inflame a situation, but it won’t remedy it.  Kids may not know better; adults should.

So grownups:  Either get off Facebook, or limit your own behavior to the best of what you would expect from children.   If you deplore uncivil discourse and disrespectful behavior in children, don’t do such a good job of showing them how it’s done. — T.S.

For the Chronicle‘s story on bullying, click here.

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Hungry Vermonters face cuts in aid

hunger web

Joe Patrissi at the NEKCA food shelf. Mr. Patrissi said it was fully stocked on Monday morning, but demand is great, and a few hours later several of its shelves were bare. Photo by Tena Starr

Years ago, Kim Arel found herself in a tough spot.  She had two young children to feed, and for a brief time the only way to swing that was to visit a food shelf.  “I was surprised to see other people there that I didn’t think I would,” she said in a recent interview.

Later, when she was in a better place, Ms. Arel decided to pay it forward, and became a donor to food shelves herself.  And for the past 12 years or so, she’s been running the food shelf in Jay, which serves five towns.

Last week, she said, many of her clientele were talking about the latest round of cuts to 3SquaresVT, the program that helps poor Vermonters put food on the table.  “They don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Those cuts, which will take effect on November 1, are due to the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, which passed in 2009 and included a temporary increase for help with food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The temporary boost increased the monthly SNAP benefit by 14 percent. Continue reading

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After IROC: White strives to continue outdoor events

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage.  Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games.  Photo by Tena Starr

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage. Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.

Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom.  Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes.   Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim.  Others will be new.

“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog.  He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered.  It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.

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Students seek answers about mysterious black doll

Stella Halpern of Island Pond bought this handmade doll at a house auction in East Burke in 2003.  It’s very old, and she wonders if it might have been owned at one time by a runaway slave child on her way to freedom.  The doll has been donated to the Old Stone House Museum, and students at the East Burke School are researching the house and the doll.  Photo by Tena Starr

Stella Halpern of Island Pond bought this handmade doll at a house auction in East Burke in 2003. It’s very old, and she wonders if it might have been owned at one time by a runaway slave child on her way to freedom. The doll has been donated to the Old Stone House Museum, and students at the East Burke School are researching the house and the doll. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle, October 9, 2013

by Tena Starr

Stella Halpern is hoping someone will solve a mystery for her.  What was a very old, battered, handmade black doll doing in the rafters of a house in East Burke?

Mrs. Halpern bought the doll in 2003 at an auction of the home’s contents.  She has since donated it, along with the rest of her collection of homemade black dolls, to the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington.

“I love old auctions,” said the 92-year-old Mrs. Halpern.  “We were sitting there, and they were down to practically nothing, and the auctioneer sent for a complete thorough search.  They had found this little black doll hidden in the rafters in the attic.”

Mrs. Halpern bought it for $5.

“I didn’t buy it because of the price,” she said.  “I bought it because my curiosity was aroused.  It’s a handmade sock doll, made from black socks.  It was in an old house in white Vermont and has to have historical implications.”

It’s not very likely that a white child of the time would own a black doll, Old Stone House Museum Director Peggy Day Gibson noted.  Also, she said that when the owner of the house was remodeling he found a penny dated 1851 in the walls.  Sometimes, in older homes, a coin was put in the walls to date the time of construction.

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Editorial: A closer look at the obesity epidemic

The statistics presented by the district health department Saturday are alarming.  Seventy-five percent of the people in Orleans and northern Essex counties are overweight or obese, they say.

What might be even more alarming is the assertion made by the film Weight of the Nation that it’s not entirely an accident.  If you believe the documentary, done by HBO with the Institute of Medicine among others, the two-thirds of Americans who are now overweight or obese have had a lot of help putting on the pounds.

For one thing, federal farm policy encourages monoculture farming and subsidizes soy and corn, ingredients commonly used in snack and processed food.

For another, the U.S. food industry — since it’s in the business of making money — most heavily markets its most profitable products, which tend to be foods made with artificially inexpensive, government subsidized ingredients.  Those so-called foods are full of calories rather than nutrition, but they’re cheap, quick, and generally appealing, to young people in particular.

When was the last time you saw a television commercial pushing string beans?  The profit on string beans is about 10 percent.  The profit on soda is 90 percent, according to Weight of the Nation.

Any parent knows that grocery shopping these days with a young child is a nightmare.  The collection of junk foods aimed at children is daunting.

As a parent, I’ve long resented the food industry and how it’s made my life more difficult.  The snack cracker aisle alone is like running a gauntlet.

No, we are not getting Sponge Bob crackers.  No, we are not getting Lunchables; I don’t care if Johnny has Lunchables.  No, we are not getting this substance that pretends it’s related to yogurt….

At some point, grocery shopping with a child turned into a battle against marketers who want my kid to want things that are bad for him.

It wasn’t this way even 20 years ago.  When my daughter was young the battle was over SpaghettiOs, which I refused to buy.  That’s laughable now.  SpagettiOs have come to seem pretty benign in the face of the explosion of other, far worse and voluminous, possibilities.

Twenty years ago, avoiding sedentary screen time was also easy enough:  I disconnected the TV.  Today, it doesn’t even matter that the satellite dish is disconnected six months a year.  There’s the computer, Netflix, Hulu, iPads, iPhones, Wii, Xbox, so many ways for kids to engage with a screen rather than the great outdoors.

Yes, there are lots of reasons for being overweight, and lifestyle choices are among them.  But it’s not likely that about 30 years ago two-thirds of Americans got up in the morning and decided they’d get fat.

Nationally, there are good reasons why people add pounds:  No close place to buy good food, no safe place to exercise.

Those reasons don’t hold true here.  It is true, however, that obesity is linked to poverty, and we are poor.  It takes time and money to come up with lean and nutritious meals, and a poor population may not have much of either.

To understand what some call an obesity epidemic, we should look at the cheap and time saving choices people are offered today.  Many fast food restaurants have a dollar menu.  Salads aren’t on it.  Yes, it’s good that fast food places offer healthier choices, but let’s be real here.  No one is going to McDonald’s to get a great salad.

Frozen fruits and vegetables don’t take up much room in the grocery store freezers.  They’re more likely to be filled with pizzas and highly processed microwavable meals.

The cereal section is no place to look for healthy breakfast food.  Chocolate, marshmallow, and frosting are among the choices.

A time and money stressed family may have enough trouble buying and cooking healthy food without also battling a food industry that’s making the job harder.

Weight of the Nation notes there was a time when people thought it was impossible to take on the powerful tobacco industry.  That turned out to be untrue.

The food industry can also be successfully taken on, the film suggests.  It’s possible, at least, to cease marketing bad food to kids, as cigarettes are no longer advertised on TV.

Parents have to step up, as well.  But it would help if the playing field were level.  As it is, a meal of fresh fish and vegetables costs considerably more than a pound of burger and a box of Hamburger Helper, which contains soybean oil and, surprise, corn syrup, that most ubiquitous U.S. ingredient.

You can’t blame a farmer for wanting to make a living.  You can blame a farm policy that uses our own tax dollars to encourage overproduction of the cheap, unhealthy food that’s helped make two-thirds of us fat. – T.S.

To read the Chronicle’s full story on this subject, click here.

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