Mary McCallum

Commentator

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

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.

It began with slight rustlings over the winter. I ignored them until I found evidence of a mouse in a bureau drawer. Out came a snap trap and the next day the unlucky intruder was dispatched to the great cheese shop in the sky. The walls remained quiet for months until one early spring morning.

McCallum: Cleaning Up

Mar 17, 2016

A friend recently called while I was working outside and asked me what I was up to. “Picking up sticks,” I said. He knew instantly what I meant since he’d been doing the same.

Vermont State Parks

The Stone Hut on Mt. Mansfield was a rustic cottage built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 as a shelter for crews working on Vermont’s highest mountain during the Great Depression. There were no ski lifts, and ascending the peak to build trails or ski down meant trudging steadily upward first. But when the hut went up in flames this winter, local firefighters used a quad ski lift to haul equipment to the summit to fight the inferno that nevertheless gutted the building and devastated a Vermont landmark.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first radio FM broadcasting system was unveiled in January, in the dead of winter, when life turns inward, isolated by cold and dark.

Thirty years ago I left my university career and moved to Vermont - for love. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I thought, as I ditched suburbia for life in a drafty farmhouse and embraced it all: wood stacking, gardening, canning, mowing. And chickens.

This fall’s been one of the warmest in years, with weeks of blue skies and bright sunshine inviting us to indulge in lots of hikes and leaf raking. But I had other plans. I was among the thousands of people in the U.S. who opted for an arthroscopic partial meniscectomy after one routine step up my stairs created a tear in the protective disc of cartilage between the femur and tibia, called the meniscus. It felt like being stuck in the knee with a pitchfork.

McCallum: The Porch

Sep 22, 2015

It’s been a challenging season. Western wildfires, desperate refugees massing at European borders, weather calamities and disturbing terrorist activity worldwide have driven me, not to my wit’s end, but to my back porch.

While biking at sunset recently, I stopped for an impromptu visit with a neighbor, relaxing in a lawn chair overlooking her sweeping green meadow - a glass of red wine glowing in her hand.

At the end of a summer Sunday afternoon, while walking toward the Dartmouth Green in Hanover, N.H., I heard the plaintive call of a trumpet. Across the busy intersection, a young woman blew her instrument toward the center of the green.

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