Tom Slayton

Commentator

Tom Slayton is editor-emeritus of Vermont Life Magazine.

Holiday dinners are not what they used to be for my family. They’re smaller and quieter. Parents and grandparents on both sides of the family are long gone, and Liz and I are now the senior generation.

Summers when I was a boy, we’d sometimes go to visit my uncle, who had a small farm on the shores of Lake Champlain. Occasionally we’d take his old rowboat and row ourselves out to a drop-off, where the water suddenly went to more than 10 feet deep. There, you could peer down and see weeds and sand on the lake bottom. It was that clear.

As you turn off busy Route 7 in Ferrisburgh and pull into Rokeby, the historic home of the Rowland Robinson family, you might think that you’re entering a different world

But you’re not.

Slayton: Chimney Point

Oct 6, 2017

History lies in thousand-year-old layers at Chimney Point in West Addison, a place where the eastern and western shores of Lake Champlain come close together. It’s one of the two most strategically important points on the lake.

Old houses have stories to tell. And none is a more eloquent storyteller than the homestead of Justin Smith Morrill in Strafford.

Vermont Division for Historic Preservation

Our heroic Revolutionary War heritage sleeps quietly at Mount Independence. But the Mount, a point that thrusts north into Lake Champlain opposite Fort Ticonderoga, has important, dramatic stories to tell.

There could hardly be any prettier place to die than the hilltop field on which the Battle of Hubbardton took place. The flowers of midsummer — red clover, and Queen Anne’s lace — were blooming there the day I visited, as they might have been the day of the battle. The rocky cliffs of Mount Zion rose a mile or so to the southwest, and farther off to the southeast, the blue Taconic Range shouldered into the summer sky.

Vermont Division for Historic Preservation

It’s obvious that Calvin Coolidge loved his hometown, the tiny village of Plymouth Notch. Even after he was President, he returned there whenever he could, went fishing as any country lad might, and did farm chores wearing his grandfather’s coarse homespun farmer’s smock.

Vermont Division for Historic Preservation

The drive took me about ten miles west of St. Albans, through the pastoral countryside of Fairfield, surrounded by rolling fields of corn, lush pastureland, red barns and distant mountains.

The Fleming Museum’s new Asian Art gallery invites the viewer to explore not one Far Eastern culture, but several. Wandering among ancient Chinese funerary sculptures, 18th century Japanese samurai armor, Thai and Burmese Buddhist statuary, Indian paintings and more, the incredible richness of Asian art is powerfully evident. And one realizes that Asian art is no more monolithic than western art.

Former state naturalist and author Charles Johnson, and Bruce Post, a longtime Congressional aide, now retired, have written and posted online a statement they call “The Mountain Manifesto” in which they declare: “We have created this Mountain Manifesto because we feel the mountains are now under siege… this time for the seemingly insatiable human craving for energy.”

Sharp-eyed observers might have noticed that the golden dome of Vermont’s State House has begun to look a bit shabby. Its lustrous gold leaf finish now looks slightly worn and patchy. And there are flaws and cracks in the white-painted cylindrical “drum” that supports the gold cap.

The snow is melting, redwings and waterfowl are showing up here and there, and some sugar makers have already boiled sap. An early spring seems to be underway, even as our concerns rise for the health, perhaps the survival of American democracy. It’s town meeting time once again.

In the recent sour exchange between President Trump and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the President actually said that Lewis was “all talk and no action.” And I had to laugh because the life of John Lewis has been all about action.

Slayton: Missing Mose

Jan 3, 2017

In the year just past, we lost some wonderful, talented musicians and singers: Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Leon Russell and several others. But the one closest to my heart was Mose Allison, who died last November 16 at age 89.

About 50 years ago, Vermont began to change. And much of what Vermont is known for today — progressive politics, organic farms, food co-ops, and an easy-going, freewheeling approach to life — originated with the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s.

A new exhibit at the Vermont History Center in Barre and a recently published book both focus directly on that time, when hundreds of young idealists left the conventional attitudes of their parents behind and set off in search of what they saw as a more meaningful way of life.

Recently I attended an event where I encountered a truly revolutionary idea for revitalizing a struggling economy. But it wasn’t at a political rally and the idea isn’t even new. It was tried about 80 years ago, and it worked — that is, it helped end the Great Depression by having the federal government pay artists to create art.

The presence of Calvin Coolidge still hovers over White Pine Camp like the morning mist rising off nearby Osgood Pond. There are several photos of him scattered around the camp complex, and the largest two cottages are named for Coolidge and his wife, Grace. But why is his frowning, taciturn ghost here, deep in the northern Adirondack forest?

History’s repeating itself up in northern Maine in a way that’s irritated some interests, but that should please every lover of wild lands and deep woods.

Slayton: New Chapters

Aug 15, 2016

Retirement, associated as it is with aging and diminishment, can feel like a time of loss. But in his latest book, Picking Up the Flute, writer John Elder suggests it can also be a season of deepening and enrichment.

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