Mary McCallum


Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.

McCallum: Squirrels

Sep 25, 2018
A grey squirrel in the grass.
Dgwildlife / iStock

Lately it seems like everyone’s got a squirrel story. Newspapers, radio and the internet have been buzzing about the exploding population of Sciurus carolinensis, the Eastern gray squirrel.

Mary McCallum

One recent pristine summer afternoon, two people drowned on a popular southern Vermont lake. From a festive plastic float, they’d waved hello to others passing by on kayaks, paddle boards and canoes, including me.

Lately, the critters in and around my house remind me of an old movie title about the good, the bad and the ugly.

Richard Svec / Cavendish Historical Society

This spring, the Vermont General Assembly passed a resolution commemorating the 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth.

Associated Press

President Calvin Coolidge, a Plymouth, Vermont native who adored his white collie Rob Roy, once stated in his plain spoken way that “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House” – a sentiment with which I firmly agree.

It’s happened again. This week massive ice jams and flooding set in motion by warm weather, rain and rising waters put people and property in danger.

Sadly, last week’s shooting at a rural Kentucky high school that left two dead and eighteen injured didn’t seem to hold our attention for very long.

In the ‘80s, after footloose travel and a stint living in Greece, I decided to get a career and enrolled in a masters program in library science. In my final semester I took a class that introduced us to the latest trend in libraries - computers! When the guy sitting next to me said hello, I felt I’d seen him before.

I’ve joined the growing ranks of Americans who’ve undergone a total knee replacement.

Never mind that the snows had melted and the first green spears of new growth had pushed up to announce spring’s arrival. For weeks the entire state of Vermont had been held in the messy grip of an extended cold and rainy season.

In the darkened theater we followed an Afghan woman as she escaped her burning village with nine children, carrying a fifty-pound sack of flour on her head while trudging through deep mountain snows.

The use of online communication to advance social causes has created some clever new words, like clicktivsm – the signing of online petitions to feel part of social change.

I’ve done my share of protesting in life. In 1969, I joined a half million protesters in Washington, D.C. in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam - and was sprayed with tear gas. At a similar rally in New York City’s Bryant Park I saw fellow demonstrators clubbed by police and witnessed its rapid transformation from peaceful protest to street violence.

I recently sat on the edge of my seat in a packed house listening to two icons of resistance speak about the state of politics, environment and the media. Vermont’s own Bill McKibben, who jump started what’s now a global movement to fight climate change, shared the stage of Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts with advocacy journalist and investigative reporter Amy Goodman.

While awaiting the inauguration of a new president who admits he’s never read a presidential biography and hasn’t the time or interest to read anything more complex than popular magazines, I’ve been feeling anxious about what this might signal about the future of reading - historically one of America’s favorite pastimes.

McCallum: Cold Turkey

Nov 28, 2016

If I say I’ve gone cold turkey, you might assume I’m talking about Thanksgiving leftovers. But no: going cold turkey was all about putting myself on a media diet right after the presidential election.

A popular catch phrase that gets bandied about a lot is “the myth of Vermont exceptionalism.” We in the Green Mountain State like to believe that we do health, education and quality of life better than most. And I can personally vouch for the fact that we really are pretty exceptional when it comes to voting. Behind bars, that is.

You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the issues and deep divisions surrounding this presidential race. And many voters are dissatisfied with both major candidates, but I consider voting a civic responsibility, so this election season, I was compelled to take action.

I see them all the time: electronic traffic signs warning drivers of safety hazards, road work and weather conditions. With orange letters against a black background they’re so familiar that many of us don’t pay them much attention as we speed along, intent on time and destination. But one with the number of traffic fatalities this year on Vermont roads sticks with me.

This spring my brother in another state became seriously ill and required end-of-life care in a nursing home. As his health care proxy, I responded to daily calls and emails from caseworkers, nurses and physicians.