A look at Vermont’s environmental movement

GrenningVTCoverGreening Vermont, The Search for a Sustainable State, by Elizabeth Courtney and Eric Zencey.  Paperback. 173 pages.  Published by Thistle Hill Publications, North Pomfret, Vermont, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Montpelier, Vermont.  $35.00

Reviewed by Tena Starr

A book whose main characters are, arguably, Act 250 and I91 might not strike a potential reader as having much promise in the way of being riveting, but Greening Vermont is actually a highly readable book with much insight into what makes Vermont be Vermont.  It’s the story of environmentalism in the Green Mountain State — its successes, its failures, its current goals, its conflicts, and its evolution in the face of shifting challenges.

It’s also, almost accidentally, a modern history of the state, evidence of just how thoroughly Vermont’s character has become entwined with, and often defined by, how its farms, forests and waterways are used and how its towns and cities look and function.

In order to understand environmentalism in Vermont, it’s necessary to go back 150 years to a boy named George Perkins Marsh, who grew up on a farm outside Woodstock and, through his father, began to grasp the relationship between man and nature.  Among other things, he learned about natural watersheds and soil erosion, about their effects as well as their causes.

So says Tom Slayton, former editor of Vermont Life magazine, and author of the forward to Greening Vermont.  Mr. Slayton says that Mr. Marsh went on to be the first to argue that human actions could seriously damage natural systems, and in 1864 he wrote Man and Nature, a tome that warned about the havoc humans could wreak on nature.

Jump ahead to 1958.  It was a chilly Saturday morning in November and a few hundred citizens and officials gathered near Guilford on the Vermont-Massachusetts border.  In the book, grainy black and white photos show a collection of people in overcoats, men in fedoras, waiting to cut the white ribbon stretched across the new, and at the time remarkable, highway.  It’s a scene from another era, in so many ways.

“They were there to mark an important moment in the state’s environmental history — though it’s doubtful that any of the participants would have described what they were doing in those terms,” Ms. Courtney and Mr. Zencey write.  “They had gathered to listen to speeches, witness a bit of ceremony, and then climb in their cars to take an inaugural drive on Vermont’s first stretch of Interstate highway.”

It took just minutes to travel that first small stretch of Interstate.  However, Ms. Courtney and Mr. Zencey suggest the new road was the catalyst that led to rapid change in Vermont, and the need for environmental regulations to protect what isolated Vermonters had come to treasure, if also take for granted.

“The opening of those first few miles of modern roadway signaled the opening, also, of an era of rapid and far-reaching change for the state of Vermont, which had been until then a lightly populated, rural mountain fastness,” the authors say.  “Many of the hallmarks of modern life — television, telephones, even electricity — were not yet fully present in the state.  The engines of twentieth-century progress had largely passed the state by.  It was too remote, its population too sparse, its towns and villages too small to draw much attention.  With the arrival of the Interstate that was about to change very quickly, for the world that held Vermont in a remote and distant corner had suddenly become much smaller.  As one state official put it years later, the highway ‘took us out of the sticks and put us within a day’s drive of eight million people.”

In 1960 Vermont’s population was 389,881 with nearly 77 percent born in the state.  There were 9,400 farms and 258,000 cows.  About 2,624,370 acres were being farmed.  That was the first year that people outnumbered cows in Vermont.

Twenty years later, by 1980, the population was 511,456, with 64 percent born in Vermont.  The number of farms had dropped by nearly half, to 5,890 with 1,537,751 acres in farming.  There were 186,000 cows.

When that first stretch of Interstate was built, “growth and expansion — the easily foreseeable result of the Interstate — were widely embraced,” Ms. Courtney and Mr. Zencey write.  “If change meant jobs, a path out of rural poverty, and lives like those whose images had begun to flicker in (some) Vermont homes through the wonder of television, then change was good.  What wasn’t so easily foreseen was how thoroughly those changes would shape the state, testing its ability to preserve its landscape, its communities, and its character.”

Not everyone welcomed change then, as not everyone does today.  Former Associated Press reporter Chris Graff has told the story of an Ascutney farmer who refused to leave his land to make way for the Interstate.

“Eventually a sheriff arrived with a court order and a cohort of deputies, who set to work dispossessing the old man from the family farm,” Ms. Courtney and Mr. Zencey write, recounting the story.  “They moved tools and harnesses from the outbuildings, working until sunset, intending to return the next morning to finish.  They never got the chance.  That night Tenney’s house and buildings burned to the ground, with him inside.”

Romaine Tenney had said, “I was born here and I’ll die here.”  He was a man of his word.

And then came skiing.

With the introduction of rope tows and lifts in the 1930s, skiing was no longer limited to the hardiest of mountain climbers.  Once skiers had a ride uphill, the sport’s popularity was immense, and the owners of ski areas ceased to be content with what existed.  They used heavy equipment and dynamite to create new trails and reshape mountain slopes to make them more attractive to devotees of this newly mainstream sport.

Opponents of industrial wind on Vermont’s ridgelines will relate to this scenario.  Blasting mountaintops is not so much new as a revisitation of what happened 60 years ago on an even larger scale.   Then, as now, there was debate — roughly framed in the terms of conservationist versus preservationist.

It’s a conversation that would be familiar to anyone who has participated — either pro or con — in the controversy over commercial wind power.  At the time, as today, the mountaintop debate split environmentalists, with conservationists operating under the belief that using resources for the greatest good for the greatest number over the greatest period of time was the wisest use.  That view was at odds with “preservationism,” which held that nature should simply be left to its own devices for all to enjoy.

Ski areas created jobs but also pulled in a flood of newcomers, increasing property values, advanced commercialism, and burdened municipal services.  And at the time, there was no means to deal with the influx, with the billboards, the development, the seasonal homeowners — and the cultural, as well as environmental, changes that resulted.  Vermont went from a “handshake” culture to one that was forced to rely more on law and formally structured exchanges, the book asserts.

“The social cost of that change is difficult to calculate, but a direct measure of its scale can be made in dollars,” the authors write.  “In the late 1940s, skiers spent about five million annually in the state.  By the early 1960s, that figure had risen to well over thirty million, a sixfold increase in a decade and a half.”

Thomas Watson Jr., an avid skier himself, decided in 1957 to locate IBM in Chittenden County to be near his beloved ski areas.  IBM remains the state’s biggest employer.

Vermont’s organized environmental movement was likely established at Goddard College in Plainfield in 1963 where a two-day conference called Natural Resources in Transition was held and the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) was formed, an all volunteer organization at the time with the goal of shaping public policy through education and “to promote wise use and preservation of natural resources to the benefit of Vermont citizens….”

It was not VNRC, however, that waged war against Vermont’s billboards.  It was a character named Ted Riehle.  This book is populated by many characters Vermonters will admire for their courage, their quirkiness, their bullheadedness, or their idealism.

Mr. Riehle is one of them.  “A lifelong Republican, a fan of both Barry Goldwater and the Grateful Dead, he was a well-connected politico who much preferred the solitude he got as the owner-operator-designer of an off-the-grid sheep farm on an island in Lake Champlain,” the book says.  His son called him “Jimmy Stewart meets John Wayne.”

In 1968, Mr. Riehle somehow convinced his fellow Republicans to support a total ban on roadside commercial advertising.  He also managed to persuade business owners that the ban would be in their long-term best interests — that individual self-interest would bring about loss for all.

That ban is one of Vermont’s hallmarks, as is Act 250, the environmental law that set out to regulate how the state would be developed — not haphazardly, not simply for short-term profit, but with a vision in mind of what Vermont would like to be and look like.

Act 250 has been a heavy lifter toward that end, but nearly 40 years later, even it remains subject to criticism and steady calls for alteration.

It’s 2013 now, and many battles have been fought, Vermont has, for the most part, resisted rampant sprawl.  But challenges continue, in many forms.

“Vermont is not now a sustainable state, but in the effort to achieve that goal, it has a head start,” the authors of this book write.  “How this came to be is the story we have aimed to tell in this book.”

It’s a story they’ve told well, a bit idealistically perhaps, but it’s one that acknowledges many factions in the great and ongoing debate about what Vermont is and will be.

“And what exactly is a sustainable state?” the authors write.  “As with any longed-for object, distance and anticipation shape our expectation, making the destination seem a completely marvelous place.  We’ll recognize the sustainable state as a place where economic and environmental interests are identical, because we’ve shaped the economy to the limits that the planet gives to us and learned our hard lessons about what is and isn’t possible.”

The old challenges are not conquered, and new ones have arisen — climate change, for instance, and commercial wind.  There is no final solution, only a continuing and ever shifting challenge.

This book tells the story of how we got to where we are today, where we’d like to be tomorrow, and offers a bit of advice on how to get there.  Along the way, it recounts conversations with some of the people who have been instrumental in many of those endeavors, tells a remarkable history, and provides some vision for the future.

Elizabeth Courtney served on Vermont’s Environmental Board for a decade, and she was executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council for 14 years.  She was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University and is now an environmental consultant.

Eric Zencey is a Fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller-Bellagio Foundations.  He writes regularly for the Daly News, a publication of the Center for the Advancement of the steady State Economy.  He is the author of three previous books.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com


Abenaki buy forest and farmland in Barton


by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle 12-19-2012

BARTON — For the first time in two centuries, an Abenaki tribe in Vermont can claim tribal forestland.  As of Monday, the roughly 1,000-member Nulhegan Abenaki own 65 acres in Barton on the May Farm Road.  Title is held by Abenaki Helping Abenaki, a nonprofit created several years ago to preserve the culture of the Nulhegan Abenaki.

The tribe, which the state of Vermont officially recognized in 2011, has been working on the purchase for more than a year.  The Vermont Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property to make sure it remains undeveloped.

Tribe members will continue, and ultimately expand, an existing sugaring operation on the land.  It will also be used for a tribal community garden, said Luke Willard of Brownington, former tribe chief and a current trustee who was pivotal in organizing the purchase.

“All Nulhegan Abenaki land has been gone for a long, long time,” Mr. Willard said. “This is the first community-owned piece of land for the tribe in literally over 200 years.  We’ve got a lot of celebrating to do.  This is a really big thing for the leadership and the citizens of the tribe.

“It’s also a big thing for the town of Barton and surrounding communities,” Mr. Willard added.  “The way we’ve set it up the land will be conserved forever.  We’re allowing public access.  We’re not allowing motor vehicles, but foot travel, horseback riding, cross country skiing, bird watching, hiking within reason.  We’re willing to share the woods with folks.”

The land was paid for largely through fund-raising and grants.  Prior owner Eric Lanou sold the development rights to the Vermont Land Trust.

“We worked hard to raise this money,” Mr. Willard said.   “But everybody loved this project.  People wanted this to happen.”

Tribe members plan to sugar on the land this spring, gradually increasing the size of the operation as time goes on, Mr. Willard said.  They’ll do it the old-fashioned way, with buckets rather than tubing.

Eventually, the Nulhegan hope to tap as many as 3,000 or 4,000 trees and to develop their own brand of syrup — not just pure Vermont syrup, which has its own fame, but the first brand of Vermont Abenaki-made syrup.  “This is going to be the first maple syrup produced by an Abenaki tribe in centuries,” Mr. Willard  said.

The sugaring operation will be labor intensive.  “Our intention is to take folks who are unemployed or underemployed and put them to work for the season,” Mr. Willard said.  “It’s going to be done fairly old school.”

Also, he said the tribe will invite schoolchildren to come see how sugaring is done the old-fashioned way.

“And we want to have a small exhibit where folks can actually see how maple sugar was produced prior to Colonialism,” he said.  “It’s very laborious compared to contemporary sugaring.”

Money from the sugaring operation will go to support the tribe’s programs, such as Nulheganaki Youth Outreach, which does presentations about Abenaki history and culture.  When that program first started audiences were tiny, sometimes no more than a half dozen people, Mr. Willard said.  These days presentations are made to much bigger groups of 50 or more people.

“It’s grown incredibly with zero funding,” he said.  “So can you imagine what they could accomplish in that program with $4,000 or $5,000 in revenue generated from sugaring?”

The Nulhegan also operate a program called The Seventh Harvest, which is basically a community garden.

Mr. Willard said it started years ago, largely as a typical food shelf to help the needy.  “We realized we were helping people who were down and out, but we weren’t really empowering them to help themselves,” he said.

By coincidence, a Johnson State College professor took an interest in the Abenaki gardening practices, which were still being used by some.

“He was under the impression that these practices were pretty much extinct,” Mr. Willard said.  “When we realized that was the common belief, we worked with JSC and got a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to study these agricultural technologies.  It became apparent to us that these ancient practices could be extinct in as little as a generation.”

The study, combined with a desire to provide healthier food, led to a community garden at Mr. Willard’s home in Brownington.

That garden will move to a clearing on the Barton land.  It could provide food for 15 or 20 families.

The rules for its use are that growers must learn traditional Abenaki growing practices, if they don’t already know them, and they must agree to pass that knowledge on to someone else in order to keep traditions alive.

The little clearing with its rich soil was one of the reasons the Barton land was so appealing, Mr. Willard said.  “I looked at it, and I saw mound gardens.”

Although the land has practical uses, it also has more symbolic ones as well.

A tribe is not an organization; it’s a body politic, just like a town, Mr. Willard said.  But the Nulhegan have not had a communal meeting place.

“There are Abenakis who own their own land,” he said.  “But we didn’t have a community place to meet like towns do.  We were always borrowing places to meet.  It’s difficult to maintain a government when you don’t have a central place.”

The tribe will use the land to hold meetings, events and celebrations.

“Part of our creation story is that the creator wanted us to be the stewards of the land,” said current chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki, Don Stevens, who takes a more spiritual view of the acquisition.  “After the land was taken from our ancestors, we were no longer able to be the stewards we were asked to be.  Our hearts are heavy with that burden.  With our own forest, we can pick up the soil, feel it, smell it, and know that our ancestors walked on this land and it is ours to protect.  For this land, we’re able to fulfill our promise.”

Gaining official recognition for the tribe, as well as others in Vermont, was a long and contentious process.  Mr. Willard said that was, at least in part, because some believed the tribes would make land claims or try to establish casinos.

Nothing could be further from the truth, he said.  The tribe paid for the Barton property, which it intends to share with everyone.  “Our intentions were always positive.”

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

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Border Patrol Agents nab two on Derby Road


U.S. Border Patrol agents and Newport police apprehended two New Hampshire men on the Derby Road in Derby Monday. New Hampshire police sought both men in connection with a shooting in Nashua which it is believed they witnessed. The two were arrested, however, on federal charges unrelated to that shooting, New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said. Photo by Cindy Sanville

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle 12-5-2012

DERBY — U.S. Border Patrol agents and local police arrested two men on the Derby Road here Monday who were wanted in New Hampshire in connection with a shooting in Nashua.

Tuesday night, New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said both men have been arrested on federal charges, one of them regarding charges in Vermont.

He said he is not involved in that prosecution and could not say what the charges are.

As far as the New Hampshire shooting goes, the two men were sought only in connection with their possible role as witnesses, he said.

An adult male, whose name was still being withheld as of Tuesday pending notification of all family members, was shot in Nashua Sunday night, according to a press release from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.  The press release says little more about either the incident, or the victim, who is hospitalized.

“Our agents received a lookout from the Nashua PD,” said Melissa Isaquirre at Vermont Border Patrol headquarters in Swanton Tuesday.

She said that, while on patrol, agents saw a vehicle that matched the description they had received — a 1995 Toyota Avalon — and stopped it.  The two men are Daniel DeGrace, 31, and Benjamin Mayberry, 30.

Mr. Hinckley said both men are being held in Vermont.

Cindy Sanville, a real estate agent with Century 21 Farm and Forest Realty, noticed the growing collection of law enforcement officers outside her work office Monday and went out to snap pictures.  She said that, by the time she arrived, Border Patrol agents, who were carrying guns, had both men on the ground.

“Before I realized what was going on there were six vehicles lined up,” she said referring to law enforcement cars.  She said Border Patrol agents were circling her office building.

Newport Police helped apprehend the men.

contact Tena Starr at tena@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.



Orleans County post offices stand to have hours cut

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle  July 11, 2012

More than a dozen post offices in Orleans County could have their hours cut under a new U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plan to save money.

The Postal Service, which is not taxpayer supported but must make ends meet through the sale of its goods and services, is projecting a loss this year of $14-billion, said spokesman Tom Rizzo.

An earlier plan to bridge deficits like that called for closing over 3,600 postal facilities across the country.  “But when we had community meetings we heard loud and clear that was not going to be a popular move,” Mr. Rizzo said.

The new strategy would leave rural post offices open and retain zip codes, but would slash their hours, many times in half.  It would be implemented over two years, and by the time it was finalized, in September of 2014, it is expected to save a half billion dollars a year, the USPS website says.

In Orleans County, the following post offices would be open four hours a day instead of eight:  Albany, Beebe Plain, Coventry, Craftsbury Common, East Charleston, West Charleston, Greensboro Bend, and Lowell.  The following would be open six hours instead of eight:  Craftsbury, Greensboro, Irasburg, Morgan, Newport Center, and Troy.

The list is preliminary and will likely be reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Starting in the fall, community meetings will be held in order to get customer comment, Mr. Rizzo said.

“These are, generally speaking, very small rural post offices,” he said.  “They simply do not have the foot traffic to support them being open as long as they are.”

There are 32,000 post offices in the U.S., Mr. Rizzo said.  Of those, 26,000 don’t meet their expenses, he said.

“When that comes against the fact that the Postal Service is not taxpayer supported, it’s a prescription for disaster, and we’re seeing it this year.  Clearly this is not something we can sustain.”

People are using post offices less and less as they turn to technological methods of paying their bills or communicating, Mr. Rizzo said.

“The public is not using post offices like they used to.  The main thing we’re losing is first-class letters.  That has taken a tremendous hit from technology.  We’re struggling to adapt to a new world.  It’s just a fact of life.”

Unfortunately, the Postal Service is banned by current law from taking some steps it would like to take to save itself from financial ruin, Mr. Rizzo said.

“We would like to be able to go to five-day delivery instead of six-day, but the law says we have to stay open and maintain delivery six days a week.”

A five-day delivery system would also be a more realistic reflection of the use of the mail, he said.

Also, the USPS, unlike any other governmental agency, must set aside $5.5-billion a year for future retirees’ health benefits.  That’s a mandate the USPS would love to be rid of, Mr. Rizzo said.

Until those requirements change, however, the Postal Service must do what it can to cut costs in the face of declining use and burgeoning budget deficits, he said.

Affected communities might opt to have what’s called a “village post office,” basically a retailer who sells stamps, prepaid mailing envelopes, and other goods one might buy at a post office.

“They could do that and not have a post office at all,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Communities will also have a say in what hours they prefer to see their post office remain open, he said.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com


Horse psychic visits Orleans County

Amelia Kinkade in Newport. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle July 5, 2012

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — It was a sultry Monday afternoon and a thunderstorm was blowing in at Kory Scott’s Bluffside Farm on the Scott Farm Road here.  But Amelia Kinkade had her mind on other things that afternoon, specifically Raine and Louis, two of the horses that board at the farm.

Ms. Kinkade claims to have the ability to communicate with animals, and to teach others how to do the same.  She’s also an actress, a dancer, and the author of two books:  Straight From the Horse’s Mouth:  How to Talk to Animals and Get Answers and The Legacy of Miracles:  A Celebrated Psychic Teaches You to Talk to Animals.

By Monday, she had been in Orleans County for several days at the invitation of Holly Richardson of Derby, who coordinated a two-day workshop for people interested in learning Ms. Kinkade’s methods and communicating with animals themselves.  Ms. Kinkade also worked privately with local animal owners.

She was at Mr. Scott’s farm Monday to work with five horses and their owners.  Her workshop students also attended the session.

Dawn Brainard of Holland owns Raine, a ten-year-old registered paint gelding.  She led the horse to an outside ring where participants sat around in a semi-circle in the grass.

“We are going to ask him if he is in love with another horse,” Ms. Kinkade said.

But first she instructed the group on how to get in the proper frame of mind, the very key to “hearing” what an animal has to say.

“Your mind goes quiet,” she said.  “Be aware of what parts of your body connect to gravity, connect to the Earth.  Feel that anchor of light from your spinal column moving all the way up your body.  There is no thought, no emotion.  No tension.”

Speaking slowly, she urged the group to reach out to the universe in prayer.  “Allow me to be your instrument if the idea of generating that feeling of love is foreign to you.  Think about that animal you love.

“Now you are going to cease to function as a particle and function as a wave.

“Ask this horse, can you show me what you think, what you feel, what you want, what you need?  There’s nothing in your mind except this horse.  No past, no future, nothing but you and this horse.  We are asking this horse, will you please be generous and be our teacher?  Allow your mind to go blank and take the first picture you see.”

Ms. Kinkade, who is originally from Fort Worth, Texas, was not born clairvoyant.  She says on her website that she did not develop the ability to communicate with animals until she was in her twenties.  Since she herself learned from scratch, she says she’s able to pass on the skill to her students.

Her early career bears no resemblance to her current fame as an animal “psychic.”  She graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan with a degree in modern dance and went on to be a professional jazz dancer and choreographer, performing with Smoky Robinson, Ray Charles, the Four Tops, and other Motown stars in the TV series the Motown Review.

She has also worked as an actress, best known for playing the villain Angela Franklin in the horror movie series Night of the Demons.

In recent years, however, she has traveled around the world giving workshops and talks on how to communicate with animals.  She often speaks in Europe and was invited, in 2002, to work with Queen Elizabeth’s household cavalry and Prince Charles’ hunting horses.

The most critical element of her practice, she said, is silence, which can lead to the kind of nonverbal communication that allows people to intuit the animal’s message.

“Learning to quiet your mind and enter the silence is the foundation of every skill I can present to you,” she says on her website.  “Only an empty cup can be filled.  When we think a thought, it’s our natural tendency to manufacture our next thought with no time in between.  We rarely — if ever — listen.  Only when our mind is at rest can we receive intuitive impressions from outside.”

On Monday, with the group’s minds presumably at rest, Ms. Kinkade asked several people what they were feeling from Raine.

“Raine, show them your favorite other horse,” Ms. Kinkade said.

“Imagine what would this other horse look like,” she said to the human participants.  “I want to see details.  What does he like about this horse and is there anything wrong with this horse?”

Some saw a red horse, some a black, and some a white horse.  Several mentioned that the horse had a physical problem.

In the end, Ms. Kinkade said her reading was that Raine was anxious about his friend, whose owner was not as kind to him as she thought she was.  “He’s worried about how his friend is treated,” she said.  “He said this woman hurts his friend.”

The group went on to discuss Raine’s relationship with his owner.  The general consensus was that she is sometimes distracted and inconsistent and perhaps did not trust Raine as much as she ought.

“I think he doesn’t like being told what to do and has a mind of his own,” one participant said.  Some people laughed.

Ms. Kinkade, however, wasn’t amused.

“I don’t think that’s funny,” she said.  “He is a sentient being.  If he does what she wants, it’s the biggest compliment in the world.  I like animals that have tempers, I like dangerous.  I honor his wildness.  He’s a man.  He might be in a horse barn, but he’s still a man.”

Ms. Brainard wondered if she’s doing something that really bothers her horse.

“What would he like?” Ms. Kinkade said.  “What would make this a happier horse and a happier relationship?”

Several people in the group urged Ms. Brainard to strive for consistency but also to relax and have more fun with her horse.

Later, Ms. Brainard said the group and Ms. Kinkade validated what she already thought — that with a busy life she is sometimes distracted and inconsistent with her horse, and she needs to take time, relax, and have fun with the paint gelding.

Louis, a huge, black Percheron-quarterhorse cross owned by Melissa Pettersson, was next to amble into the ring.

“Imagine if he could tell you about his life,” Ms. Kinkade said.  “Imagine if he could talk to you about his life, his history.  What does he love?  What is he proud of?  Does he have a job?”

One woman said she got the strong feeling that Louis felt underestimated.

“Thank you,” Ms. Kinkade said.  She said “underestimated” was the first word that came to her from Louis, who was telling her that he’d had one hell of a career and might be getting on in years but isn’t ready to be a grandpa.  “He said they don’t understand how incredible I am.  He claims he was a winner.  He’s a role model and a therapist for the other horses.  He’s an extraordinary person, an amazing man.

“You go way back,” Ms. Kinkade said to Ms. Pettersson.  “You love each other very much.  You even look alike.”

Ms. Pettersson said she got Louis when he was six months old.  He’s now ten and has spent all his life with her.

“He’s a happy guy, this guy,” Ms. Kinkade said.  “He’s just bored.  He wants to take you for a crazy ride in the woods.”

Ms. Kinkade says on her website that her true passion is helping animal rescue organizations in Africa create safe havens for white lions, elephants, cheetah, great white sharks, and penguins.  She also troubleshoots in sanctuaries that rescue tigers, primates, elephants and other breeds of exotic animals in Thailand and around the world.

She makes no bones about being an advocate for animal rights, and says animals experience the full spectrum of human emotion, perhaps to an even greater extent than people do.  “In fact, it has been my experience that their scope is sometimes larger than that of humans… in terms of their spontaneity, loyalty, ferocity, grace, and unprecedented powers of forgiveness….

“What a travesty that we in the twenty-first century have yet to recognize our fellow sentient beings for what they are — thinking, feeling, rational beings whose sanity, sovereignty, and safety is every bit as valuable as ours.”

Ms. Richardson said that people from several states as well as Canada came to Derby to attend Ms. Kinkade’s workshop.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com


Keizer takes on the ever-changing subject of privacy

Privacy, by Garret Keizer.  183 pages. Published by Picador, New York, New York.  $15.

copyright the Chronicle June 13, 2012

Reviewed by Tena Starr

In his latest book, Garrett Keizer of Sutton has taken on the complex and ever-changing subject of privacy.  Well, perhaps the fundamental nature of the subject hasn’t changed much, but the potential for its violation certainly has and likely will continue at an accelerating rate.  In the world of Facebook, Google, and, of course, the Patriot Act, privacy is increasingly rare — both by choice and by force.

“Government agencies and private corporations vie with each other to know the most about us — and sometimes join hands out of mutual interest, as Yahoo and Google have done in both the United States and China,” Mr. Keizer writes.  “Verizon alone receives 90,000 demands from law enforcement agencies every year.”

We all know about airport security, strip searches, racial profiling, and the increasingly sophisticated ways that corporate America uses to track our every interest for marketing purposes.  Mr. Keizer digs much deeper than that well plowed ground.

He asserts that privacy is both necessary to human dignity and to democracy.  And he says that, in a society where there is a widening gap between the wealthy and the have-littles, in a society where there’s also a shrinking amount of privacy, he sees a connection between the two.

“We tend to think of our right to privacy as a value that came about with the historical growth of the middle class,” he writes.  “If, as current indices of income suggest, the middle class is vanishing, then it should come as no surprise if the privacy of all but a few people is vanishing with it.”

He goes on to say that privacy is important because people are important — obvious statements, he admits.  “….though if they were that obvious, or universally believed, we would not be so easily resigned to losing our privacy and to watching so many of our fellow human beings falling further and further behind in health, in education, in political power, and in privacy.”

This is a dense, thoughtful, and deeply researched (the bibliography is 11 pages) little book that covers a lot of ground, makes one think, and explores a variety of aspects of the general theme, some more easily substantiated than others.

For instance, I’m not so sure the wealthy are subject to less privacy than the poor.  Surely, no one is so intent on crashing Jane Doe’s wedding as Angela Jolie’s.  But Mr. Keizer does give a nod to the reality of living rich and famous.  The camera, as it’s advanced, has contributed to a decline in privacy even for celebrities.  Once, a person had to stand still, implying some consent, to have a photo taken.  That’s no longer true, and celebrities, while presumably enjoying their celebrity and wanting to promote it, no longer have the control of their images that they might like.  Of course, nor do the rest of us — and without the benefits that come with fame and wealth.

“….giving a thorough introduction to privacy is not the same thing as giving it an airtight definition, a project I regard as both impossible and unwise,” Mr. Keizer writes.  “That’s not to say I won’t try for a tentative definition later in the book, or that I agree with a scholar who says, ‘Perhaps the most striking thing about privacy is that nobody seems to have any very clear idea of what it is.’”

The author believes that most of us do have a clear idea — “If not clear enough to define the word, then clear enough to express the need behind it.”

Mr. Keizer himself is a private man.  Here’s his own comment:  “‘You and your men friends should form a club,’ my daughter once said to me when she was still a child.  ‘You’d have only one meeting a year and all of you would refuse to attend it.’”

In this book he says a friendship was jeopardized because a longtime friend shared some of his (Mr. Keizer’s) letters with other friends without asking permission.  He scanned the paper letters and e-mailed them.  The friend seemed more baffled by, than defensive about, Mr. Keizer’s reaction, perhaps not surprising in this age of Facebook when some people share the tedious to the most intimate with hundreds of so-called “friends,” sometimes people they do not even know.

But Mr. Keizer spends relatively little time on today’s technology and social media.  Instead, he examines privacy as a political and personal right — what it is, how various cultures (some that live in far more communal societies than America’s) assert it, and what role it plays in both society and government.

He notes that the word “privacy” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.  In fact, we were well into the twentieth century before it was articulated as a right, notably in the Fourth Amendment, which is aimed at protecting Americans from unreasonable search and seizure.

It’s not the Constitution that’s being subverted by Big Brother so much as the will to resist, without which there would not have been a constitution in the first place, Mr. Keizer says.  “Privacy can be viewed as resistance in its most primal form,” he writes.  Where pacifism is the goal of power, privacy is reduced as much as possible.

This is an important idea.  A people with no privacy are a more easily subjugated people, and stripping away privacy diminishes democracy.   “Americans speak of their system of government as one of checks and balances, but the ultimate check on government as a whole is its inability to know everything about those it governs,” Mr. Keizer says.

“We have a tendency to think of privacy too much in terms of solitude, although solitude is a part of it.  In the darkness of solitude the seeds of genius are able to germinate; we need only think of the number of religious and political movements that began with their founders in retreat, in the wilderness.”

Privacy is about freedom from interference, Mr. Keizer says.  But it’s also about the freedom to form a “collective individuality,” a political or social movement.

“Small social units and solitude continue to be important even when a body politic is fully formed, especially if its body type is democratic.  Privacy provides a zone of reflection and discussion in which gentler, less forward personalities can have some hope of making a contribution.  It gives temporary asylum to those who know themselves to be impressionable, a space to regroup and get their bearings.”

One need only think for a moment of the tone of so much of today’s media with all its frenzy, people shouting over one another, its intrusiveness, and hyper-partisanship to yearn for that zone of reflection and discussion Mr. Keizer mentions.

This is a book to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and probably more than once.  Mr. Keizer offers much to digest, although no clear remedy, except perhaps, the very concern and reflection that would lead one to read this book in the first place.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com


Former Orleans County prosecutor in jail in Arizona

Gary Karpin. Photo from Maricopa County Attorney's office video.

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle June 20, 2012


A former Orleans County prosecutor is spending 15 years in prison in Arizona for bilking clients by pretending he could help them with divorce cases.  Despite the fact that he’d been disbarred in Vermont, he presented himself as qualified to perform services that he either couldn’t, or didn’t.  He’s believed to have earned at least $1-million through fraudulent behavior and to have had hundreds of victims.

According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona, Gary Karpin exhibited a romantic interest in some of his clients and wooed them with the appearance of professionalism as well as his own personal charm.  He presented himself as a lawyer or mediator and charged absurd prices for services he often could not legally perform.

In one case, he charged a woman $87,000 for a relatively simple divorce that should have cost no more than $2,000.  The woman testified at his trial that she’d thought he was legitimately able to provide legal services and that he had her best interests at heart.

Most recently, the state has located some of Mr. Karpin’s assets, and he has been ordered to pay his victims back for their losses.

Mr. Karpin, who was an assistant state’s attorney in Orleans County under Phil White, was disbarred here for unethical behavior in the early 1990s.

According to the state’s attorney’s office in Arizona, he was found guilty in 2008 on 24 counts of theft and accepting fees and failing to perform promised legal services.  The case dragged on, largely due to his own attempts to delay it, but he was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $240,000 in restitution to 25 victims, although he apparently had many more.

“After being disbarred in Vermont, Karpin relocated to the Phoenix area in 1996 and presented himself as an attorney specializing in divorce, despite not being licensed to practice law in Arizona,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a press release last week.

“He attracted clients with ads promising ‘divorce with dignity’ at affordable rates.  Over a nine-year period, Karpin is believed to have victimized more than 300 people by charging sometimes exorbitant fees for legal services that were poorly, and frequently never, performed.”

Mr. Karpin tried to transfer all his assets to avoid paying restitution to victims, but the Asset Recovery Bureau of the Maricopa State’s Attorney’s Office found $197,000 that it plans to distribute among his victims, Mr. Montgomery’s office said.

“He did a number of things to create the impression that he was a lawyer, or licensed to provide legal services,” Jerry Cobb, public information officer for the Maricopa Attorney’s Office, said in an interview.

For instance, a number of credentials were framed and hung on the walls of his tidy office.  “He also used letterhead stationery that had a legal look and had the name of a firm,” Mr. Cobb said.  “He also used the name of a firm, or a couple, with which he was not actually associated.  He did a number of things like that.

“This was a big case here in terms of the number of victims.  There were something like 40 named victims, but we have statements from more than 300 people who claimed he defrauded them.  The news last week was that the victims are now finally receiving restitution.”

Mr. Karpin had repeatedly been told by the bar association to “cease and desist,” Mr. Cobb said.  However, there was no mechanism to actually make him.

“He’s a very personable guy, very professional in his demeanor,” Mr. Cobb said.  “He’s very good at getting people’s confidence. He was victimizing people when they were at their most vulnerable. There were at least 30 victims with whom he had some sort of romantic connection.  Either he dated them, or he made amorous advances.”

Although Mr. Karpin has not been accused of any kind of sexual abuse, he did take advantage of his female victims’ vulnerability, Mr. Cobb said.

He also took advantage of the fact that people don’t usually talk about what they’re paying for a lawyer, and many people clearly did not know that they were being charged exorbitant fees.

“He was a real nasty case,” Mr. Cobb said.  “It was a combination of his art of deception and his ability to gain people’s confidence when they were in need of help and not terribly knowledgeable.  He exploited that confidential relationship.  He took a personal interest in many of his clients, and you become more and more trusting and less and less willing to suspect someone.”

The woman who was charged $87,000 ended up getting a note from a friend who suggested she Google Mr. Karpin, saying it appeared he had been disbarred.  She did and was shocked by his history.

Mr. Cobb said that after the case became public hundreds of people called, equally shocked to learn that Mr. Karpin was not, in fact, a lawyer.  He said that, as far as his office has been able to calculate, Mr. Karpin earned “in the neighborhood of $1-million in ill gotten gains.”

The young Vermont Law School graduate launched his career in 1987, practicing in Maine, then in Vermont, where he worked briefly as an assistant prosecutor before setting up private practice.

In 1991, following a series of complaints and questionable incidents, Vermont’s Professional Conduct Board strongly recommended that he be disbarred.

“The panel is convinced that the depth and breadth of respondent’s unethical conduct is so significant and wide-ranging that he is a threat to the public, the profession, the courts, and his clients,” the three-member panel wrote in its report.  “The only factors present in mitigation are his absence of a prior disciplinary record and his inexperience in the practice of law.  Since, however, the violations span nearly the entire time he has been a member of the Vermont bar, the absence of prior violations is of little relevance.

“On the other hand, almost every aggravating factor articulated in the American Bar Association Standards is present here:  dishonest and selfish motives, a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses, submission of false evidence, refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct….”

The Vermont cases included a Jay couple who suffered damages because of a malfunctioning furnace and hot water heater.  The couple was paid by both the furnace installer and the insurance company, but Mr. Karpin told them not to worry about it because the second payment “covered a different loss.”  When the insurance company realized what had happened, Mr. Karpin tried to blame his clients for the double payment, the Professional Conduct Board’s report said.

In another case, he went ahead with a settlement with a car dealer that his client didn’t want to take after the lawyer had dragged the matter out for six months with no action.  He was also accused of lying to his client.

Mr. White complained that soon after Mr. Karpin left his office, in private practice he took on a client who he had prosecuted in his earlier role, a conflict of interest and violation of ethics rules.

It’s unclear if Mr. Karpin’s behavior in Vermont was the result of incompetence, laziness, deception, or all three.

In Arizona, however, there’s far less doubt.

He displayed framed certificates showing he’d been accepted to practice law in Vermont and Maine.  He called himself a divorce mediator who prepared legal documents and promised to resolve disputes before the couple went to court.

A weekly newspaper in Arizona, the Phoenix New Times, wrote about Mr. Karpin’s activities early on and posted an e-mail from him saying that since he’d been advertising his business with the paper in the hope of promoting it, he expected no adverse publicity.

However, he was well known to the prosecutor’s office, Mr. Cobb said.  That office made a video (posted on the Chronicle’s website www.bartonchronicle.com) about him.  In it, one of his victims testifies how she felt duped.  Also, a prosecutor says Mr. Karpin lived a fine lifestyle with a Corvette convertible as well as a $750,000 home that was nearly paid off.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com


Three seeking Illuzzi’s seat

Pictured is Vince Illuzzi at an energy meeting at Barton's municipal building in 2010. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Tena Starr

copyright the chronicle June 13, 2012

So far, at least three people are in the running for the Orleans-Essex Senate seat that Vince Illuzzi has held for 32 years.

John Rodgers of Glover, a former state representative, Bob Lewis of Derby, a current representative, and Jim Guyette of Newport said this week that they are seeking the job that Mr. Illuzzi plans to leave this year in order to run for state auditor.

Republican Tom Salmon, who is currently auditor, is not seeking re-election.
Mr. Illuzzi, also a Republican, wasn’t saying much this week about his decision to run for statewide office.

“I’m not prepared to get into it right now,” he said on Monday.  He said he will be filing his nominating petitions, and he will have a statement later in the week.

The deadline for filing petitions for office is Thursday, June 14.

Mr. Lewis said he filed his petitions for the Senate seat on Monday.  “Basically, I will be announcing my candidacy in the near future,” he said.  He said he’s planning a press conference for early next week.

Governor Jim Douglas appointed Mr. Lewis to fill out the remaining term of Loren Shaw, who voluntarily gave up his seat.  He has since been elected in his own right and has been in Montpelier since March of 2008.  He serves on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee.
Mr. Rodgers had initially planned to run for the House seat that he lost to fellow Democrat Sam Young by one vote in 2010.  In the general election, Mr. Young beat him by three votes.  That narrowed down to a single, critical vote in a recount.

Mr. Rodgers was a four-term incumbent, and the defeat came as a surprise.

He said he decided to run for the Orleans-Essex Senate seat instead when he heard that Mr. Illuzzi might not be seeking re-election.  “It’s something I’ve considered for a long time,” he said.  “I need another challenge in my life.”

He said he’d already had his paperwork done for the House seat when he shifted course and decided to run for Senate.

Mr. Rodgers said he’s been getting a lot of encouragement and many people have offered to help him.  And he’ll need all the help he can get, he said.  “It’s a huge area.”
Although Mr. Rodgers is well known in the southern part of Orleans County, he acknowledges that he’ll have a lot of work to do in the Newport and Derby area.  “And in Essex County, I’m fairly unknown,” he said.

Mr. Rodgers believes that he and the area’s other Senator, Bobby Starr of North Troy, would work well together since their political philosophies are similar.  “I’m a Democrat, but I’m a conservative minded Democrat,” he said.

He said he’s a “regular working guy” who thinks independently and does not necessarily follow the wishes of party leadership, but can work across party lines, a talent that Mr. Illuzzi was known for, and one that’s increasingly rare in partisan politics.
“I can get along with everyone,” Mr. Rodgers said.

He said that in 2010 he made a “calculated risk to not campaign,” a risk he won’t take this time.  “I’ve got a lot of ground to cover now.”

In a statement, Mr. Guyette said his reasons for running are simple:  “First, there is no economy and very few job opportunities in this area.  It seems to me the current local and state politicians have been unwilling to help improve the lives of residents when it comes to pocketbook issues.”

The area consistently has the highest unemployment, underemployment and poverty rates in the state because of bad economic policies, Mr. Guyette said.

“So how can we fix things?  To start, let’s look at new economic policies, infrastructure improvements, creating a natural gas pipeline, scrapping Act 250, changing local permit reforms, and putting a very tight legal leash on the activities of out-of-state groups who tend to have too much say in economic and job development issues.  I believe if I’m given the chance to be your senator, we can take steps to make drastic improvements in these areas.”

Mr. Illuzzi has made rumblings about running for statewide office before, but this is the first time he has actually decided to throw his hat into the ring.

At the moment, one question is whether he will run for auditor as an independent or as a Republican.

Another is whether he can continue with his job as Essex County state’s attorney.

Kathy Scheele, director of elections at the Vermont secretary of state’s office, said that’s a question with no clear answer right now.

There’s nothing in the law that prevents somebody from submitting petitions for more than one office, Ms. Scheele said.  “If they were to win, that would be a question for the General Assembly, the attorney general, or the courts to weigh in on.”

Mr. Illuzzi was first elected to the state Senate in 1980 when he was 27 years old.  In recent years, he’s run largely unopposed and has secured the Democratic nomination as well as the Republican.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com


Museum of Everyday Life opens with match stick exhibit

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

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com