When we first moved back to Vermont from Massachusetts eleven years ago, we rejoiced in the small schools our sons would be attending. We envisioned individual attention in idyllic, purposeful classrooms. Instead, we encountered unchecked bullying, in classes so small and ingrown that just one new student could threaten their stability.
For more than 15 years, Vermont high schools have offered Virtual High School to students who want to take classes their schools can’t provide. These courses are taught by teachers from all over the country, using a variety of curricula. Costs are covered by the high school in a combination of teacher hours and fees in exchange for student slots.
The VHS catalogue lists 250 courses, ranging from animal behavior and zoology to entrepreneurship.
Ben Franklin was a great fan of the American turkey, admiring their courage and wiliness in particular. He even suggested that they be substituted for the bald eagle (which he called “a bird of bad moral character”) on our national seal.
I used to find Franklin’s respect a little hard to fathom. On back roads, I often come upon a flock of turkeys trotting in headlong panic, back and forth in front of the car, acting like not very bright poultry. I often wondered how they ever managed to thrive, so I decided to investigate.
According to the 2013 America’s Health Rankings Report, Vermont is the second healthiest state in the country, after Hawaii. And since we’re also one of the oldest states, with a median age of 41.5, I was curious to look further into these statistics.
Well, for starters, we have the highest high school graduation rate in the country – and worldwide, education is a well documented indicator of improved health outcomes. We also have among the highest rates of people with health insurance, at 92%.
Sonny Brown has been sugaring for 75 years. He recalls going into the woods with his family when he was five, using a team of horses to gather sap. His father used wooden buckets back then, which in Sonny’s opinion, yields superior syrup.
Sap gathering has changed over the years.
Wooden buckets gave way to metal. Then came tubing in the 1980s, strung between tapped trees in a sugar lot, then run to a gathering tank. Now some large sugaring operations use sap pumps - like milking machines - to collect sap even more efficiently.
I know I’m tired when I start to envy hibernating animals. The woodchuck who decimates my spring crops is now snoozing away, resting up for this year’s gorge. Meanwhile I trudge through my to-do lists at all hours, every day. Something’s wrong. Weekends and holidays have become fair game for anyone who wants to schedule a meeting, a game, or a practice. And the encroachers have gotten very bold.
Johnny Caldwell only took up cross country skiing in his junior year at Putney School, now famous for its cross country ski program, but he liked it. At Dartmouth, he joined the ski team and participated in four events: downhill, ski jump, slalom and cross-country.
When Caldwell graduated in 1950, he stopped by the placement office, for advice on trying out for the Olympic ski team. The counselor advised him to, “Get a real job.” So Caldwell ended up teaching and coaching at Lyndon Institute.
Everyone says cockroaches and rats, both known for their astonishing adaptability and resilience to human attempts to wipe them out, could survive any eco-disaster. But there are some animals out there whose ability to adapt could put them to shame.
Tromping to the top of our wooded hill one winter day, I noticed hundreds of little specks on the otherwise pristine snow. I bent down and examined them more closely, very grateful for the excuse to stop and gasp for breath. The specks were not ash or dirt. They were alive and they were hopping. They looked like fleas.
When we celebrate Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, it commemorates when the Wise Men actually made it to the manger to marvel at the Christ child. It’s a holiday that celebrates miraculous change, and great claps of insight. James Joyce wrote about it a lot. And as an English major, so did I, throwing around the word “epiphany”, every time a character underwent even the most minor transformation.
The history of child rearing is littered with carrots and sticks. I used to think the idea of putting coal in someone’s stocking must have come from our fun loving Germanic forebears, but I was wrong.
Its origin is Sicilian, from the legend of La Befana, an old lady who, seeing the bright star in the sky, sets out to find the baby Jesus with some toys as gifts. Because she goes down chimneys looking for the Christ child, she’s covered in soot. She never does find Jesus, but wanders the world looking, bestowing little presents and coal en route.