Bill Mares


Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."

Carefully, I cast the big lavender colored streamer fly into the current of the Connecticut River, and watched it swing out in a gentle bow

"Take it!" I hissed to the unseen trout or salmon and repeated the angler's prayer, "Oh, Lord, suffer me to catch a fish so large that even I, when talking of it afterwards, will have no need to exaggerate!"

The fly in this case was the "Governor Aiken Bucktail Streamer" - as of May, the Vermont State Fly Fishing Fly.

The first time I saw the Alamo was on a school field trip. I was ten-years-old, and the Alamo mission seemed as big as a fortress.

At the end of a recent 1800-mile road trip fifty years later, seeing this Texas temple got me thinking again about what history IS exactly.
Thomas Carlyle called it a "distillation of rumor." Henry Ford said it was "more or less bunk.”

"You don't take a trip so much as a trip takes you!" wrote John Steinbeck. And that was certainly true on the 1800-mile road trip I took this summer with my buddy Eric Hanson. In five days, we drove from Bismarck, North Dakota to Laredo, Texas on two-lane U.S. Rt. 83 through six states and six geographical regions.

The ideal trip has a destination, of course, but also allows for impulse and surprise.

"History does not repeat itself, "said Mark Twain, "but it does rhyme." And as bloody events in Ukraine and Gaza have competed for the world's attention, I’ve been reminded of two similar confrontations in the Sinai, Eastern Europe and the United Nations, fifty-eight years ago.

Bill Mares

In researching a book about war memorials and monuments, I was both pleased and gratified to meet Frank Gaylord, the 89-year-old sculptor of the figures in the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. It was an honor to shake the hand that had carved those ghostly soldiers, and many more noteworthy statues besides.

Judge Patricia Whalen

On June 29, 1914 - one hundred years ago this Sunday - a three-column story in the Burlington Free Press reported "Austro-Hungarian Royal Heir and wife shot dead" in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a conquered province of Austria-Hungary. The account was remarkably accurate about the events of that world-changing day. It told of the first failed bombing attempt and then the successful attack on the royal pair by a 19-year old Serbian student, Gavrilo Princip, who was arrested soon afterwards. It went on to list many other tragedies that had befallen the Austro-Hungarian royal family.

Mares: Hand Writing

Jun 11, 2014

At last I have some justification for my wretched penmanship. Well,"justification" may be too strong a word. "Excuse" might be more to the point.

A recent article in the NYT described research documenting increased brain activity when small children learned to write letters by hand, rather than by tracing or typing them. It also reported that when kids composed text by hand, they not only produced more text than on a keyboard, but they also expressed more ideas.

Mares: Year Zero

May 23, 2014

I thought I knew a lot about history, but I’ve been surprised by a new book called Year Zero, by Ian Buruma, a Dutch journalist. He takes the reader on a whirlwind and heart-wrenching tour of the world in 1945 – and the pent-up emotions of people and governments alike in that year.

Mares: Armed Stand-offs

May 1, 2014

Although Ukraine and Nevada are 6500 miles apart, intriguingly similar rebellions are underway in the two places. For starters, both are beset by armed gangs, aided and abetted by people from away, who want to weaken or destroy the central government.

So far, these groups have behaved like bullies everywhere: attack first, retreat to claim victim status later.

Almost 180 years ago, the French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville remarked upon the American social tension between the needs of the community and the wants of the individual.

Mares: Democracy

Mar 19, 2014

Winston Churchill famously said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." And 20 years ago, democracy was thought to be on the march around the globe. But a recent article in the Economist magazine asks "What's gone wrong with Democracy? And they consider several answers.

The financial crisis of 2008 and 9 - and resulting recession - caused many to lose faith in political systems that bailed out bankers with taxpayer money and ignored growing wealth inequality.

Mares: At The Oasis

Feb 25, 2014

During the past week, praise has been expressed by many for Stratty Lines, the long-time owner of the Oasis Diner in downtown Burlington, who died last week at the age of 84. It came from Madeleine Kunin, Pat Leahy, Bernie Sanders, Howard Dean, Bill Sorrell, Phil Hoff, and a host of lesser knowns and un-knowns.

Mares: War As Spectacle

Feb 11, 2014

Recently I've viewed two artistic panoramas, one of heroic triumph and one of unmitigated tragedy. The first is the 150-foot-long, 120-year-old Civil War painting by Berkshire born scenic painter Charles Andrus - currently on display at the Vermont Historical Center in Barre. The panorama shows 10 scenes from the Civil War, including bright depictions of the naval duel between ironclads Monitor and Merrimac, the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, and the surrender at Appomattox.

500 Years ago, an out-of-work Florentine diplomat wrote a short essay on politics dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici in hopes that he would unite the much fractured Italian state. The book was titled "The Prince" and the author was Niccolo Machiavelli.

Mares: Just Looking

Jan 7, 2014

The late John Updike was a literary polymath who wrote novels, short stories, poetry - even children’s books. Over the holidays, I read his book about painting. In JUST LOOKING, Updike, a self-described "well-informed dabbler" takes the reader through various museums - his favorite being Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Mares: New Ag Institute

Dec 6, 2013

Well, I may not have been a fly on the wall, but I was a figurative bee at the table, representing the Vermont Beekeepers Association. It was a round-table at Vermont Technical College to discuss their new Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems - built upon a $3.4 million federal grant from the U.S. Labor Department to improve job opportunities in rural areas.

Mares: Social Anesthesia

Nov 22, 2013

Perhaps the most famous quote of Karl Marx after “Workers of the world, unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains” is that religion, "is the opiate of the people."

Marx thought religion provided a kind of false happiness, a social stupor; that it dulled the spirit of rebellion and contributed to oppression. The sheer numbers of religious adherents worldwide today might seem to belie Marx’s observation – but in large swaths of the U.S. and Europe, religion has become passé.

Two current films deal with cargo ship hijackings by Somali pirates. One is a fictional tale made in Denmark and the other is that special oxymoron, a documentary made in Hollywood.
Both are based on the deadly business of holding commercial shipping crews for ransom.
Both contrast the vastness of the ocean with the claustrophobia of impromptu prison cells or rank hide-outs.
Both demonstrate grudging respect for the desperate, jobless teen-aged fishermen turned gangsters in the failed state of Somalia.

Here in Vermont we’re spoiled by our profuse and various landscapes with a mixture of open and cultivated land. It’s eye candy for the painter, hiker and driver alike.

Mares: Warrior Walk

Sep 18, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I joined 500 people in a Vermont Remembers memorial walk, hike, and run to benefit the Vermont National Guard’s Fallen Warrior Foundation. The guard had just built a new monument at Camp Johnson in Colchester, and I signed up to walk seven miles with 40 pounds on my back. It was just enough weight to remind me of how hard real soldiers have it. And that got me thinking about wars, both past and future, since the likelihood of attacking Syria seemed very real that day.