Sara Doncaster brings the local hills alive with music

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

“Everyone has a voice,” Sara Doncaster says.

It’s that philosophy, on every level, that has propelled the Lake Region Union High School music teacher into the spotlight as this year’s runner-up Vermont Teacher of the Year.

At the most obvious interpretation, “Dr. D,” as her students call her, means that the human voice is the one musical instrument that every person carries around all the time.

But on a more subtle level, it explains a lot about Ms. Doncaster’s teaching.

She’s all about finding the unique talents within each of her students. And that goes back to her own girlhood, when the love of music led an Irasburg farm girl to Boston University, where she double-majored in music theory and composition and piano performance. Eventually she earned a PhD from Brandeis University in theory and composition.

Ms. Doncaster comes from a family that lived and breathed music as naturally as they made hay and milked cows.

Her father, Wayne Doncaster Sr., didn’t learn to read music until his forties, when he bought a steel guitar and took his first lessons. Until then, he played by ear. He had a fine country and western voice and perfect pitch, she said.

Her mother, Elizabeth Doncaster, grew up a city girl in Newport, with piano and voice lessons.

And even though it was a financial hardship, the couple owned a piano, and all of their children played.

Elizabeth Doncaster was not only a farm wife and mother, but also a nurse. Still, she always found time for music.

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Westmore Select Board tackles public nudity

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

WESTMORE — The select board here is talking about passing a public indecency ordinance, with fines of up to $800, following complaints from people who said they were harassed at the nude beach at the south end of Lake Willoughby.

There’s no fixed timetable, but Chair Bill Perkins said he expects to see action on the proposal by the first of the year.

Mr. Perkins said he’s received complaints about harassment from several older women, who described being circled by a naked man or men at the beach in a way that made them feel threatened.

“A 93-year-old woman told me that people were prancing and preening around her,” he said.

He declined to give names. And he said that he hasn’t encouraged written complaints to the select board because the complaints would then be public record.

“People who would do that could threaten people in their homes,” he said in a phone interview on Monday.

He also described episodes where people kayaking near the cove were warned off by naked people standing knee-deep in the water, and hikers who had their way blocked by men — clothed — who lay down in front of them.

“They either have to step over the men or turn back,” he said.

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An old gardening practice acquires new life

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

Dense forests of bright green parsley. Waist-high kale, green-black and curly. Vegetables growing in profusion in soil so rich and light that a hand thrust among their roots travels downward a foot or more before reaching any impediment.

It’s the impediment, the thing that finally stops the hand, that’s the surprise — logs and branches, layered one on top of the other in a loose mass. Topped with organic waste and then soil, it’s all decomposing slowly under the surface, providing an almost endless source of nutrients for the roots above.

The practice is called hügelkultur, an old German invention that’s seeing a resurgence in popularity in this country. “Hügel” is the German word for “hill,” since the logs and brush and dirt are usually piled up to form a mound.

On Saturday afternoon, two of the area’s garden experts, Rebecca Beidler and Jeff Ellis of Peace of Earth Farm in Albany, held a workshop to teach one variation on the hügelkultur idea — hügel terracing.

The couple farms a steep hillside, so terraces are a logical adaptation.

Their soil is sand with some gravel mixed in, left by a major road washout 50-some-odd years ago.

“On its own, it barely grows grass,” Mr. Ellis said.

But thanks to hügelkultur and other practices collectively known as permaculture, the couple has turned wasteland into a thriving small farm.

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Barton Senior Center closes abruptly

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copyright the Chronicle October 4, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — The Barton Senior Center served its last meal on September 27.

On Tuesday night, about 30 people, including two Barton Village Trustees and two representatives from the Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging, met in the Barton Municipal Building to talk about starting up a new program to provide meals and activities to seniors in the area.

“This is too important to shut down,” said 82-year-old Beverley Winslow before the meeting started. “I have a lot of my life ahead of me, and I really enjoy going somewhere, playing cards, being around other people. I need this place.”

When the new senior center opens its doors, she will be the first one through them, she said.

By the end of the evening, the trustees had collected a pile of surveys that they hope will point a new senior center in the right direction. And six or seven people had volunteered to sit on a new board, which the trustees hope will eventually number at least 11.

But many questions remain unanswered.

Former senior center Director Brenda Lowther gave the village only about a week’s notice of the closing, said Trustee Cathy Swain.

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Predicting the future of milk and maple

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copyright the Chronicle September 27, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

CRAFTSBURY — The future is not looking good for Vermont sugarmakers 50 years down the road. But opportunities will open up for dairy farmers — if they can stay in business until then.

That was the takeaway from a gathering last week at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center that took a hard look at what climate change is going to mean for the milk and maple industries in northern Vermont.

Travis Reynolds teaches environmental policy at Colby College in Maine. His parents, John and Carol Reynolds, raise organic beef and tap 7,000 maple trees in Stannard.

He called his talk on the future of sugaring “Looking ahead and learning from the past.”

“The forecast is not an optimistic one,” he said. “It’s entirely possible that my son will see the end of maple syrup production in Vermont.”

First, the climate change piece.

Compared to 50 years ago, Mr. Reynolds said, the sugaring season is already three days shorter than it was. Sugaring now begins about seven days earlier and ends ten days earlier. If that trend continues, there will be years by 2067 when there is no regular sugaring season.

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Swastikas, racist slogans sprayed on local roads and buildings

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copyright the Chronicle September 13, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

GLOVER — Swastikas, racist epithets, and crudely drawn penises were spray painted on road surfaces, mailboxes, and the side of a farm building in Glover sometime during the night of September 7.

The incident prompted a GoFundMe campaign, which was started on Monday by Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm. It raised $4,535 in less than 24 hours toward a reward to help catch the perpetrators.

Jasper Hill is one of the owners of Andersonville Farm in West Glover. A building there was defaced with “get out” and “nigger” along with a hashtag, a swastika, and a Nazi SS symbol.

About ten feet of pavement on the Shadow Lake Road was co-opted for a swastika and the message “I kill niggers.” Sexual drawings and slogans were painted in the oncoming lane.

A swastika was painted on a stop sign at the intersection of Shadow Lake Road and Mud Island Road. A mailbox in that area was defaced with swastikas on one side and the word “nig” on the other. Another mailbox had swastikas, the twin lightning-bolt SS symbol, and a sexual reference.

Law enforcement is handling the incident as unlawful mischief.

A joint press release from the Vermont State Police and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department says, “Sometime after dark on September 7, 2017, the offender(s) spray painted on the side of a barn, the roadway, mailboxes and posts.”

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Hemp is hot new agricultural venture

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copyright the Chronicle September 13, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

EAST BURKE — “Welcome to history,” said Eli Harrington, one of the organizers of Vermont Hemp Fest 2017, held over the weekend at the Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center. He’s also co-founder and editor of Heady Vermont, an online magazine and podcast for fans of the hemp plant — cannabis — in all its forms.

It was standing room only at Hemp Fest, a get together mostly for people interested in producing and marketing agricultural hemp. There were speakers from all over the country, evening “hempy hours” and entertainment, and a chance to try and buy hemp-based products ranging from clothing to food and supplements.

Mr. Harrington believes the three-day gathering over the weekend just might be the first time that a cannabis event has occurred at a ski resort.

Speakers took care to clarify that they were there to talk about growing hemp for food, fiber, and medicine.

People traveled from all over and paid admission to get the latest information on growing, refining, and marketing legal hemp products.

“What we’re looking for is a Vermont product with a national market,” Mr. Harrington said.

But many also expressed hope that, after marijuana and hemp are both fully legalized, the tent will be big enough to welcome the full spectrum of cannabis products.

Outside the building, it was obvious from the wafting smoke that some of the pre-conference write-ups about “ganjapreneurship” and “free Maryjane” had drawn their own audience.

Hemp and marijuana are pretty much the same plant. But marijuana gets its kick from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound that also boasts a variety of medical uses.

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E-bikes a big draw at Craftsbury electric vehicle event

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copyright the Chronicle September 6, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — “It’s like the hand of God reaches down and pushes you along,” Larry Gilbert said.

Mr. Gilbert’s playful description of what it’s like to ride an electric bicycle was pretty much spot on.

In the beginning, the electric bike feels heavy and awkward. It weighs about twice as much as an ordinary bicycle, and it has big, fat, heavily ribbed tires that don’t exactly turn on a dime.

But halfway around the first turn of the pedals, the battery assist kicked in and the bike leapt forward as though pushed from behind by an unseen hand.

It was a little unnerving at first.

Mr. Gilbert, the owner of ZoomBikes in Montpelier, was offering electric bicycle rides at the Craftsbury Farmers Market on Saturday morning.

E-bikes have a battery powered assist that makes them move along with far less effort on the part of the rider than an ordinary bike.

That makes e-bikes an option for people with bad knees or other physical challenges.   And it makes them great for shopping or commuting, especially when hills are involved.

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The social side of death

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copyright the Chronicle September 6, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — “We’re only guaranteed two things,” Anne-Marie Keppel told the small crowd that turned out for a Death Café at the library on August 31. “The fact that we are alive right now in this instant — and that we’re going to die.”

Talking openly about death is pretty much taboo in our society. Even people who want to talk about it may likely find that friends and family don’t want to hear.

So Death Cafés were created to give people a safe place to talk about life’s greatest certainty, usually with a group of strangers.

Last week’s group ran the gamut from nine Sterling College students at the younger end, to an elderly man there with his 20-something companion and caregiver.

Some had been to other Death Cafés. Others were new to the experience.

But everyone had come to talk about death — or at least to listen to other people talking about death.

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Demo derby drivers crash for cash

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copyright the Chronicle August 23, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — “Protect your front end and a lot of luck,” said Heidi Taylor of West Glover when asked about the strategy that carried her to a third-place finish in the four-cylinder division of the Demolition Derby on Sunday night.

After finishing in the top three in the afternoon qualifying heat, Ms. Taylor and her battered Dodge Neon faced a field of 24 in the final four-cylinder feature.

Nimbly dodging a constant barrage of rear-facing attackers, the Lake Region Union High School graduate’s pink and silver helmet with its full face mask lent an air of almost zen-like calm as she methodically shifted gears and churned through the mud, seeming to weigh the prospective damage to her own car before hurtling backwards into another.

Unlike many of the flashier drivers, who inflicted as much damage on themselves as they did on others, she survived until nearly the end of each of her races.

And at the final horn, blonde hair flying, she jumped off the hood of her car and headed for the stage to claim her trophy.

For those who think of cars as mysterious and delicate things, the annual Demolition Derby is a humbling reminder that, in the right hands, a car can take an unbelievable amount of abuse and simply refuse to die.

Demolition Derby cars just keep going with radiators steaming, wheels turning at improbable angles, and trunks compacted into the space where the back seat was.

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