What makes Vermont special?

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web vermont special2copyright the Chronicle August 20, 2014 

What Makes Vermont Special, by Greg Carpenter. Published by Shires Press. 134 pages. Paperback. $24.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr

Greg Carpenter, a teacher in Swanton who summers on Echo Lake in Charleston, says the idea for his recent book, What Makes Vermont Special, came from a student. He worked on it for three years, traveling around Vermont taking the photographs himself, and doing the research.

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Vermont leads nation in sugarmaking again

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Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle July 16, 2014 

by Natalie Hormilla

Vermont again led the nation in maple syrup production in 2014, according to a report by the United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Vermont’s total production for this year was 1,320,000 gallons, about 42 percent of the total U.S. production of 3,167,000.

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Welcome to the era of Big Sugar

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Adam Parke stands at the collection point that pumps sap from steep hills to the east and west of the Hinman Road in Glover. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

 copyright 3-13-2013

BARTON — When Adam Parke and Todd Scelza “sweetened the pans” and drew off their first 165 gallons of maple syrup Monday night, it was the culmination of ten months’ work and an investment of a quarter of a million dollars.

It was also a demonstration of what has happened to one of this area’s oldest and most traditional enterprises.  Welcome to the era of Big Sugar.

Starting from scratch in May last year, Mr. Scelza and Mr. Parke have installed 11,700 taps over hundreds of acres of forest they’ve leased in Glover from Nick Ecker-Racz.

If all goes well, they’re looking forward to expanding to 15,000, perhaps 20,000 taps in future seasons.

That won’t make them the biggest operators in the business.  Mark Colburn in West Glover has 21,000 taps this year.  And when Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza needed some very large tanks to handle their sap, they got them used from a sugarmaker in Franklin County.  With about 100,000 taps, the seller found that his 4,500-gallon sap tanks were just too small.

All of the time and money the partners have put into their operation since last May is culminating this week in a productive machine with a great many moving parts.

Most of the taps yield their sap to a collection point that sits in a low, swampy area just off the old Hinman Road.  The sap is drawn to two big tanks by a vacuum pump that reaches deep into the forest to the east and west through two-inch dry lines.  The sap actually flows through a parallel set of wet lines, connected at strategic points to the dry line.

Mr. Ecker-Racz collects that sap in a tank on a trailer behind his tractor and hauls it south on the Hinman Road, across a ford over a small creek, and a short distance west on the Shadow Lake Road to a big insulated shipping container that houses a shiny new reverse osmosis (RO) machine.  Another big tank receives the sap, along with sap pumped directly from taps in another section of the operation, on the south side of Shadow Lake Road.

A smaller tank sits beside the sap tank in the barn the partners have built, collecting a gush of concentrated sap from the RO machine.

That concentrate gets pumped up into a tank in the back of a veteran dump truck and hauled through Glover and Barton to Mr. Parke’s farm, high at the end of May Pond Road.

There it is boiled down into syrup in a six-by-16-foot evaporator fired by two oil burners.

The whole exercise is a fascinating mix of old and new.  In Mr. Parke’s sugarhouse the back pan is 30 years old.  He bought it from the defunct American Maple Company in Newport, and it was patched up under the supervision of Bucky Shelton at the new sugaring supply business in Orleans, Lapierre USA.

But the front pans are gleaming new stainless steel.  There are three of them taking up the space of the traditional front pan, and a fourth to serve as a spare.  The point, the sugarmakers explained, is that one pan can be lifted out of place and replaced while it is being cleaned.  Frequent cleaning comes with the RO-enriched concentrate that arrives from Glover.  It drops a lot of niter as it boils, and that can’t be allowed to coat the bottom of the pan.

“With RO sap, you’re kind of right on the edge of disaster all the time,” said Tim Perkins, who directs UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill.

He’s seeing a steady growth in the maple industry.  Exact numbers are hard to come by, Mr. Perkins said, but his estimate is that “the maple industry has been growing quite rapidly over the last five years, on the order of 4 to 5 percent a year.”

New technology has been key to the industry’s growth, Mr. Perkins said.

“Anybody of a reasonably decent size is going to have a very efficient operation with a modern tubing system, vacuum lines, RO, and very efficient evaporators.”

A vacuum system like the one Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza laid out with the help of a consultant from New York State can double the yield per tap.

The ratio of taps to syrup, Mr. Perkins said, “used to be a quart per tap in a good year on buckets.  Now, tapping forest trees, you can get half a gallon per tap year after year, if you’re doing everything right.”

“If you don’t have vacuum,” Mr. Shelton said flatly, “it’s like having a ski area without snow making.”

To handle all that sap most large sugarmakers have turned to reverse osmosis.

David Marvin of Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville recalled starting out 40 years ago with 4,000 taps.  “That was a pretty big deal,” he said.  His operation currently has 16,000 taps.

“The real key has been reverse osmosis,” Mr. Marvin said.  Without it, sugarmakers were burning between four and four and a half gallons of oil to make a gallon of syrup.  With RO, Mr. Marvin said, it takes two quarts of oil to make a gallon of syrup.

Without RO, Mr. Marvin said, “we wouldn’t have this expansion in the industry.  The consumer wouldn’t be able to afford the energy we’d have to use to make the product.”

Though most large-scale sugarmakers burn oil, Mr. Perkins at the research center noted that the technology of wood-fired rigs continues to advance.  While wood-fired rigs have long relied on a supply of forced air at the bottom of the fire pit, the new models add a flow of air over the top of the fire to burn gasses that would otherwise go up the stack.

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Bucky Shelton stands beside the Hurricane at Lapierre USA in Orleans. The rig applies new technology to the time-honored practice of burning wood. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

Mr. Shelton has one such rig on display at the Lapierre store in Orleans.  It’s a three-tiered beauty in stainless steel called the Hurricane, and it carries a price tag of $36,212.  Its top unit, called a piggyback, concentrates the sap on its way down to the evaporator.

For Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza, finding a very large, untapped hardwood forest rich in maple was key to their enterprise.  Mr. Ecker-Racz bought his land at the end of the Perron Hill Road in 1968 and moved onto it in 1970.  Since then the trained forester has cultivated it much the way others might care for a garden.

He’s culled for firewood, harvested the softwood several times, but left the best hardwood standing for saw logs — or for sugaring.

He scorns the idea of clearcutting, or even selectively cutting everything over a certain size.  Though they are rare these days, he said, “you will find a few old-time Vermonters who understand the genetics of wood.  It’s just like a dairy herd.  You don’t milk your culls and beef your best cows.”

Mr. Parke is clearly delighted to have found such a stand of maples.  “Nick is an exceptional forester,” he said of Mr. Ecker-Racz.

Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza demonstrated a lot of ingenuity in getting set up for sugaring.  The barn on the Shadow Lake Road is a reconstruction of one Mr. Parke tore down in Orwell.  Years ago Mr. Parke picked up a couple of shipping containers and buried them at his farm as root cellars.  He dug them up and used one to house the RO machine, the other for the pumps and generator at the collection point in the swamp, where there is no power.

That military surplus generator proved too small for the job, so while he waits for a new one Mr. Parke is using a borrowed generator powered by his tractor.  As one neighbor noted, that requires 2 a.m. runs on his ATV to keep the tractor fueled.

When Mr. Ecker-Racz first broke out the Hinman Road with his tractor at the end of February, its front end fell off as it dropped into the open ford.

But he had it fixed in time to deliver the first loads of sap.  And on Tuesday morning with the RO machine sending a gush of concentrated sap into the tank, the two partners were clearly delighted to see their enterprise finally in production.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Apple crop is skimpy this year

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

by Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle 9-5-2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Death by Tartar Sauce tackles the gooey subject of travel writing

Cover design by Anastasia Shepherd

Death by Tartar Sauce:  A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise, & True Love;  by Jules Older, published by Older Unlimited, 146 pages (estimated); e-book available at Amazon.com for a Kindle for $3.47, or directly from the author at http://julesolder.com

Reviewed by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle, September 12, 2012

Finally, it’s here:  the travel writing book all writers have been waiting to read.

Death by Tartar Sauce is a collection of funny stories of things gone wrong, the kind of stories no travel writer is supposed to ever publish.  Either Jules Older has decided he’s established enough as a travel writer that his potential clients won’t mind this book, or he himself just doesn’t care and just had to do it.

Whatever his motivation, I will tell you right now it’s worth the $3.47 that you will need to spend to download it to your Kindle.  If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get it electronically from some other website (maybe your favorite local book store) or contact Mr. Older directly through his site.  This book is not available on paper, unless you want to supply the paper yourself.

Many of you already know Mr. Older.  He lived in Albany for a long time and married an Albany farmer’s daughter.  Their daughters, Willow and Amber, grew up here.  He and his wife, Effin, have traveled the world writing about cool places to go for travel magazines, airlines, and so on.  Often these gigs get you fancy accommodations and free trips, with the understanding that you will write something good that will make other people want to travel to Scotland for skiing, for example.

I don’t know what Mr. Older wrote for a magazine immediately after his trip skiing in Scotland, but the real story is in this book, and it’s one of the best chapters.  It’s just plain hilarious.

The first hint of what skiing in Scotland is like comes in the brochure:

“If the centre has to close due to adverse weather conditions, a siren will sound and the lifts will stop.  Please return to your cars and await instructions from the police…”

This is no ordinary wind.  In the book he mentions 85-knot winds, which are 98 miles an hour.  These winds make the biting winds on a winter day on the Flyer at Jay Peak (we all fondly call it the Freezer) sound downright balmy.

Sometimes Vermont conditions can be a little icy compared to the western U.S. powder.  Still we usually have snow of some sort in the winter.  Scotland does not necessarily have any snow.  Yet people still go there to ski, or attempt to ski.  The ski areas build snow fences in an attempt to catch the small amount of snow that is blowing around so it will pile up on the one trail that might be open.

Undaunted, Mr. Older travels from ski area to ski area in Scotland trying to find one that actually has some snow and where the winds are less than 98 miles per hour.  Along the way he meets with lovely PR ladies, all of whom are headed out for vacation to ski in Switzerland.

He finds one ski area where the only way to reach the trail is by dangling in the air in a gondola.  He asks the PR lady why that is set up that way, since high winds are often a problem, and she explains that heavy rains can be a worse problem and you need the gondola to get up above the flooded ground.

Despite the horrible conditions, he needs to at least try to ski, so he joins the locals who have decided they are so determined to get up to the T-bar lift (closer to the ground, less vulnerable to wind) that they are basically climbing up there on foot:

I joined several hundred Scottish skiers executing Plan B — climbing to the T-bar.  The Great Climb began with a slog through mud so deep and black as to put Vermont’s mud season to shame.  Then, as the wind increased, the mud gave way to heather-covered arctic tundra. Pushing on through a gale now laced with driving rain and dense fog, we met a covey of instructors skiing down the vegetation. I turned to Colin, a young Scot who had been trudging along beside me. “What do you call that?” I panted.

“Heather hopping.”

 He remarks to one of the Scots that it seems pretty crazy to ski in these conditions, and the fellow grins and says hey it builds character.  Plus, he points out, Mr. Older came from Vermont in order to do this, and he’s calling THEM crazy?  (Good point.)

Other chapters include one about Mr. Older’s penchant to kill off airlines.  It seems to be a common occurrence that he sells a story to an airline magazine right before that airline goes belly up.

The Older have explored caves in Puerto Rico, kayaked with whales, enjoyed the Tennessee Williams festival in New Orleans and a “gloriously musical Winter Festival in Newfoundland.”  They have met fascinating people, including a Tokyo woman who makes her entire living curling eyelashes.

Mr. Older has eaten all kinds of horrible food and came to the conclusion that basic American foods are really pretty good, including a pot roast if it’s not overdone, or even breakfast at McDonalds.

Mr. Older is a food writer — these days based in San Francisco — who hates trendy food.  He has discovered some Vermont restaurants following some of these trends and wishes they would not:

Raspberries — whole, sliced or in vinaigrette — are among the gastronomic clichés of our time.  Just as llamas are yuppie Holsteins, raspberries are yuppie ketchup.  No New Age dinner is complete without raspberry in some form or other making an appearance before dessert.

So I say, Chefs of Vermont, lighten up.  Climb down.  Re-enter.  Take deep breaths of Earth’s atmosphere.  You needn’t go back to overdone pot roast, but at least have the decency not to mix it with arugula, radicchio and raspberry-balsam vinaigrette.

Mr. Older enjoys travel writing partly because he gets to meet some really interesting people.  But it must be said (in this book at least, if not everywhere) that sometimes you run into some real plain old jerks.

The Olders met one such lady on a bicycle trip in Vermont:

On this tour, Effin and I — good ol’ country folk — are surrounded by a group of citified pedalers, the most citified of whom is a medical specialist from New York.  Were this a movie, the very words “medical specialist from New York” would guarantee that in Scene Two, Three at the latest, said medical specialist would fall face-first into a prominently placed water trough.  Especially if she is forever saying things like, “Oh, he seems so smart for a Vermonter” and “This is just such an adorable state” and “What do you do for friends up here?  Isn’t everyone kind of, you know, boring?”

Anyway, our 30-something, female, citified cyclist is riding up Route 100 when a little bitty Datsun pickup drives past with a big sign behind the cab.  The sign, which is surrounded with flashing lights, contains a three-word message:  DANGER.  WIDE LOAD.

“Isn’t that cute?” she says.  “That tiny truck with the big sign — did you see that, Jules and Effin?  Jules?  Effin?  Where are you?”

We did, indeed, see the sign.  That’s why we did, indeed, race our bikes  off the roadway — way off the roadway — and are now cowering behind a very large maple tree.  We would have advised our city mouse to follow suit, except for the fact that:

A. She was a little too far ahead of us.

B. Neither of us liked that “adorable” remark, and

C. She is, after all, a medical specialist from New York.

Thirty seconds later, a mega tow truck hauling a triple-wide trailer comes roaring by, the exhaust spewing from its vertical exhaust stacks creating whirlwinds of leaves and dust and road schmutz.  As this Monster-Truck-In-Training passes the city doctor, the driver blows its gas-fired, nuclear-powered, mega-strength air-horn, leaving her gasping for breath and weaving around Route 100 like she’s in a bicycle ballet.

Still short of breath, she somehow manages to bring her bike to a wobbly stop.

Peggy, our tour leader, sees how shaken our city mouse is by this unexpected event and calls for an instant rest stop.  We pull up beside a pasture in which stand the dual symbols of all that is peaceful, serene and bucolic — a mare and her foal.  Once our New Yorker stops gasping and resumes normal breathing, she takes in the sight.

Now recovered, she says the customary, “Awwwww,” pulls a bunch of long grass and offers it to the foal.  As she does, she reaches out to steady herself on the fence.

The wire fence.

The electrified wire fence.

What should we do?  On the one hand, it seems downright cruel to let her grab something that experience has long ago taught us is about to administer an unasked-for lesson in the power of watts, amps and volts.  On the other, well, it would add some excitement to our, uh, boring bucolic lives.

And we are just country bumpkins.

Aw, the heck with it.  “I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” I advise her.

“And why not?” she sneers, still reaching for the wire.  “Do you think that just because I’m from New York, I’m afraid of a horse?”

I smile and give her the country answer. “Nope.”

Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite gets a mention in a chapter called “Catamounted,” about skiing part of the Catamount Trail, which goes the length of Vermont.  Not quite as extreme as Scotland, but still quite difficult mountaintop cross-country skiing to say the least.  Mr. Older gets a call from Rolf asking him why doesn’t he join them:

Why don’t I come? Because I’m afraid, that’s why.  Because Chris Braithwaite, editor of the Barton Chronicle, wrote of his Catamount experience, “It was all I could do to get out of bed the next day.  I was lucky (if not exactly grateful) to be alive.”

With that in mind, I said, “Look, Rolf, I’d love to come, but —”

 “Great. See you Sunday.  Bye.”

Lucky for us readers, Mr. Older survives the experience with just a few impressive spills.  The next morning — you guessed it — it was all he could do to get out of bed.  He felt lucky, if not exactly grateful, to be alive.

The Olders live in California these days.  Mr. Older writes medical articles, kids books, travel and humor stores and about San Francisco restaurants and life in New Zealand.  His videos can be seen on www.YouTube.com/julesolder.

Jules Older, formerly of Albany, lives in California these days.

 

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Anna Baker was a brilliant artist with a comic touch

copyright the Chronicle, August 8, 2012

World of Fantasy, The Life and Art of Anna P. Baker, by Beryl Hutchinson and Roz Hermant.  Self-published.  185 pages in paperback.  $59.95.

Reviewed by Chris Braithwaite

I need to begin this review by confessing my bias.  Anna P. Baker, the subject of this richly illustrated work, was both a close friend and an important contributor in the Chronicle’s early years, when it remained to be seen whether it would sink or swim as a community newspaper.

That it swam, I believe, was due in large measure to one of the most unlikely duos to ever put ink to paper.  Loudon Young was a dairy farmer all his life, and his role in my life as friend, neighbor and mentor in the ways of rural Vermont predated the first Chronicle by four years.  When I asked him if he thought a weekly newspaper in Barton would have a chance of survival he said he didn’t think so.  Given his preference for color in language, he more likely said that such an enterprise would have a snowball’s chance in hell.

So it was a considerable surprise when he volunteered a column for the first issue, and a greater surprise to discover that this highly accomplished talker could also write, and that his writing was very funny, indeed.  His back-page column immediately became a weekly feature in the paper.

We didn’t make Anna Baker’s acquaintance until we were moving the office from a farmhouse in East Albany to an old barbershop on Barton’s Upper Main Street, and she wandered in to find out what the devil her new next-door neighbors were up to.

She found us amusing.  But then Anna found most things in life amusing.  That knack, along with the most exquisite good manners I have encountered in another human being, were pretty much what got Anna through an otherwise challenging life.

Anna told us she was an artist.  But I don’t think she mentioned that she was also a cartoonist.  She was a good enough cartoonist that, as a 16-year-old art student at a London, Ontario, technical school, she was interviewed for a possible career in animation with the Disney Studios.

I didn’t know that last detail until I read this book.  At any rate, it wasn’t long before Anna brought in a cartoon she thought we might like to publish.  Her chosen subject?  None other than the above-mentioned Loudon Young.  Loudon’s profile — a sharp chin often decorated with a bit of a beard, a sharp and substantial nose — was a cartoonist’s dream.  But it was Loudon’s humor that captured Anna, because his ear for what was funny about the most ordinary, everyday situations so exactly matched her eye.

Both of them thought there was something fundamentally funny about the common cow.  Loudon wrote about them constantly.  In her book, Beryl Hutchinson reproduces the first Baker painting she acquired.  Called Pent House Farm, it was executed at that same technical school, which Anna attended in 1944-45.  It’s a whimsical, wonderfully busy urban landscape with people farming on the rooftops of a couple of apartment buildings.  Ms. Hutchinson is careful to point out that it includes, atop one roof, Anna Baker’s first cow, a Holstein.

Anna’s renderings of Loudon and his cows appeared in many Chronicles over the years that followed.  They accompanied the best of Loudon’s columns in the Chronicle’s first book, Off Main Street, West Glover, Vermont, and the dairyman and his Holsteins were featured in a series of calendars she drew for the paper.

A generous selection of these cartoons is included in World of Fantasy.  But there are also many of her “serious” works — whimsical, intensely detailed, richly colored paintings that will delight the fans who have an Anna Baker hanging on the living room wall, and surprise those who know her work only through the Chronicle.

As we grew to know Anna, it became obvious that we were in the presence of an artist of great talent and considerable reputation.  Her works caught the eye of critics and connoisseurs wherever they were displayed.  That her reputation didn’t reach further was to some degree her own fault.  She volunteered once that a friend, a sophisticate in the business of art, had told her she couldn’t find success as an artist if she insisted on living in a backwater like Barton, Vermont.  She needed to be in New York City.  Anna acknowledged the advice as sound, and chose not to take it.  Whatever glue held her to the Northeast Kingdom, we are all the richer for it.

Beryl Hutchinson enjoyed a friendship with Anna Baker that went back to high school.  Her book includes a photo of a schoolgirl softball team named the Eagles with Anna in the front row, Beryl in the back.

Thus Ms. Hutchinson was the ideal person to stitch together this fully illustrated biography of the artist.  She opens with a surprising revelation about Anna’s origins — a surprise best left to her readers — and takes us through the artist’s school days, her formal education at the Art Institute of Chicago, which she entered in 1951, and the early teaching career that led to her friendship with Bunny Hastings, daughter of a prominent Barton physician.  That friendship brought Anna to Barton, and lasted the rest of Bunny’s life.

Anna beat cancer once, but lost the second round and died in 1985, at just 56.

To all of those who still miss her kindness, her wit, and her great talent, this book will serve as long-awaited consolation.

To buy World of Fantasy, go to “contacts” at  www.annabaker.net, or see www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3334768.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Starr, Rodgers, Johnson prevail in Primary election

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 8-29-2012

State Senate candidates Bob Starr and John Rodgers and Representative Bill Johnson came out on top in local Primary elections Tuesday.

Mr. Starr and Mr. Rodgers survived a three-way contest for two nominations on the Democratic ballot with James Guyette of Derby Line.  Mr. Starr, of North Troy, is the one incumbent.  Mr. Rodgers of Glover has served in the House but not in the Senate before.

Mr. Johnson of Canaan, the incumbent, defeated challenger Maurice Connary of Brighton to claim the single Republican nomination in his Essex-Caledonia-Orleans District.  There were no Democratic or Progressive candidates on the ballot in the district.

Voter turnout for Orleans and parts of Essex counties was extremely low, about 9 to 10 percent.

Every vote counted.  In fact, in Bloomfield, Mr. Johnson got one vote, and his opponent had none.

With all towns in the Essex-Caledonia-Orleans district reporting except Lemington, the votes were 72 for Mr. Johnson and 25 for Mr. Connary.

“I’ve always thought it’s been an honor to serve my constituents,” said Mr. Johnson.  He has recently retired from dairy farming and has served in the House for 17 years.

He said he looks forward to going back to the Legislature, especially if he is reappointed to the Ways and Means Committee which handles taxes.

“One of the things that the Legislature has got to figure out is how to pay for the new health care,” he said.

“It’s going to take all of the resources that we can muster,” he said, mentioning that health care is one-fifth of Vermont’s total economy.  “It will probably be a payroll tax.”

Mr. Johnson said he had been afraid voter turnout would be very low.  In his home town of Canaan, he and his wife voted two hours after the polls had opened and were the first to vote.

The state Senate

 Not all the towns reported in as of press time Tuesday evening, but with all but a handful of results, it seemed clear that Mr. Starr and Mr. Rodgers would prevail.  Mr. Starr, who has 33 years of experience serving the voters in Montpelier, was top vote-getter with 947, and Mr. Rodgers had 816 to Mr. Guyette’s 476.

“If I win I’d just like to thank my supporters,” said Mr. Rodgers.  He said he looks forward to debates and forums and any chance he can get to get out there and make sure the voters know who he is.

Mr. Starr and Mr. Rodgers, the Democrats, will square off against Republicans Bob Lewis of Derby, who stepped down a representative for Orleans-1 in order to run for Senate, and Jay Dudley of Barton.

In the tightest statewide race of the day, at press time with 95 percent of precincts reporting, the incumbent attorney general, William Sorrell, was ahead with 20,614 votes compared to 20,000 votes for his challenger, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, according to WCAX’s website.

In Orleans County and nine Essex County towns, Mr. Sorrell had 612 votes and Mr. Donovan had 523.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at:  bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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

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Dunbar was uniquely qualified to write Kingdom’s Bounty

Reviewed by David K. Rodgers

Kingdom’s Bounty “A sustainable, eclectic, edible guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom,” by Bethany Dunbar, published by Umbrage Editions 2012, soft cover, 128 pages. $25.

Bethany Dunbar of West Glover is uniquely qualified in many significant ways to have written and illustrated her new book, Kingdom’s Bounty, “A sustainable, eclectic, edible guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.”  She was raised and went to school in Craftsbury, graduated from Lyndon State College, worked with her ex- husband as a dairy farmer for 11 years, was a reported for the Hardwick Gazette, and then for the last 25 years has been a reporter and co-editor at the Barton Chronicle.  In addition she gives a weekly radio interview about local news stories on WDEV, is a regular contributor to New England Country Folks and is past president of Vermont Press Association, still serving on its board of directors.  A fine photographer, she knows the Northeast Kingdom in great depth and has her finger on the pulse of new trends there, especially those involving food.

Kingdom’s Bounty, just published by Umbrage Editions, goes beyond a simple factual guide to being a real celebration of the people, community and landscapes of the area.  As one of the people profiled in this book (Mrs. Everts of Too Little Far,), susintly summed it up about locally grown food, “It has a story and a name behind it.  It has a person.  It has a place.”  Ms. Dunbar uses her journalistic skills to bring out  the human aide of numerous hardworking entrepreneurs and artisans who are fulfilling their personal vision of a better life and an excellent product, all of whom have put the Northeast Kingdom on the national map as being in the forefront of the local, organic, healthy food movement.  These are people who really care about what they do, who are solidly connected to the land and the cycles of the animal and plant life around them, living in a more biological rhythm as opposed to the omnipresent mechanical (and now electronic) rhythms of our culture.

This guide is generously illustrated and very attractively printed, predominately with Ms. Dunbar’s own well composed evocative photographs, which are always empathetic to the subjects.  The text has 32 profiles and over 200 listings, carefully organized alphabetically by the name of the enterprise and the town where they are located, with helpful cross references, suggested tours, and a good map.  What makes this guide special is that it combines a lot of useful information with an engaging personal narrative.  It is comprehensive in that it includes more than the edible, with entries on museums, inns, bookstores, county fairs and other activities as well as interesting side features on types of cows, barns, and not to mention the history and geology of the region.

Altogether Kingdom’s Bounty is a labor of love for the beauty of the Northeast Kingdom and the richness of its people.  We should carry a copy of it in our car to encourage exploring this amazing place we call home.

Bethany M. Dunbar will share a booth at the Orleans County Fair in Barton with the Chronicle.  The fair is August 15 through 19.  To order a copy of Kingdom’s Bounty at a special discount for Chronicle readers ($20 plus $9 shipping and handling), click here. Kingdom’s Bounty is also available for $25 plus tax at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, the Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, the gift shop at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, the MAC Center for the Arts in Newport, Barnes and Noble in Burlington, Hudson News at the Burlington International Airport, and the Craftsbury General Store.

 

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