Tom Slayton

Commentator

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.

Slayton: Two Trails

Jun 16, 2015
Tom Slayton

Last Friday, a dream more than 100 years old was realized when the Green Mountain Club officially opened the Long Trail’s newest link – a suspension bridge for hikers across the Winooski River.

Charlotte Albright / VPR

All this week, we're discussing Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. It's this year's pick for the Vermont Humanities Council's Vermont Reads state-wide reading program.

Twelve-year-old Haroun has traveled to a magical land where all the world's stories are created. And it's up to him to stop a villain who controls a shadowy cult of silence from poisoning the Ocean that serves as the birthplace of the Sea of Stories.

Here's a passage from the moment when Haroun finally confronts the nemesis of storytelling, Khattum-Shud:

Lately, I’ve been reading poems written by a man who obviously loves the things many of us treasure about Vermont – the beauty of mountains and rivers, the simple pleasures of a quiet life close to nature and far from the rattle and frenzy of cities.

Slayton: Green Up Day

Apr 27, 2015

Greenup Day, as just about every Vermonter knows, is a Saturday in May dedicated to a statewide cleanup effort. What you may not know, however, is just how widespread this effort has become.

It was started in 1970 by Gov. Deane C. Davis. By the 1990s, 7,000 Vermonters in towns across the state were involved. And today, more than 20,000 individuals in every single town in Vermont arm themselves with rakes and trash bags and head out to do battle with a winter’s worth of trash.

For the past week, newspapers, websites, and the airwaves have had remembrances of a man unfamiliar to many contemporary Vermonters – even many of today’s journalists.

Used by permission of the Fleming Museum and courtesy of the artist

What makes a painting “great?”

It’s easy to assume that a great piece of art is the result of a great artist expressing his or her innate genius – sheer brilliance, manifesting itself.

The other morning, it was 10 below outside, and, as I gradually awoke, I realized it was getting cold inside as well. I looked at my bedside thermometer: 49 degrees. Uh-oh... Something must be wrong.

Reforming Vermont’s snarled, almost Byzantine system of organizing and financing public education seems likely to be the Gordian Knot of the current Legislature.

The earliest Christmas I can remember, I was maybe seven or eight. We had a Christmas tree decorated with red glass balls and a string of colored lights.

If you turned off any one bulb of those lights, the whole string would go dark. My brother and I devised a game in which one of us would go out of the room and the other would turn one of the colored light bulbs just barely enough so that all the bulbs would go out. Then the other would come back into the room and try to guess which bulb, when turned, would light up the whole string.

Just about every Vermonter knows the name Ethan Allen. But according to two prominent Vermont historians, much of what we think we know is probably false.
 

H. Nicholas Muller and John Duffy agree that Ethan was the conqueror of Ticonderoga. He was an off-and-on leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a stirring speaker, and a prolific writer.

Earlier this month about 40 Vermonters got together in a candlelit barn in Fayston to celebrate the 80th birthday of a Kentuckian who did not attend, the writer and farmer Wendell Berry.

Berry’s poems, essays and novels are part of the intellectual foundation of the American environmental movement. He has written that we humans must learn to live in closer harmony with nature, and that small-scale farming and locally grown food are a key part of any coherent environmental ethic.

Summer flowers line the roadsides of Fairfield – daisies, purple vetch, red clover. This is farming country and at every turn in the road, the scent of curing hay mingles with the smell of freshly spread manure. I’m looking for the home of one of my ancestors, the man for whom I am named, Captain Thomas Kennedy, who fought in the Civil War.

Slayton: Blossom Time

Jun 9, 2014

“Blossom time,” that very early spring season when trout lilies, coltsfoot, and trilliums, red, white and showy are blooming in the woods, when recently-arrived spring warblers are flitting through the trees and vernal pools are burgeoning with new life, is my favorite time of the year.

It’s just a pity that this delicate, fragile, entirely beautiful time is so brief.

People tell stories – and so do buildings. All you have to do is go to other places in this country where proliferating highways, shopping malls and strip development have leached away the local flavor to realize how important our historic buildings, villages, and downtowns really are – how much they contribute to Vermont’s unique sense of place, and how much they tell us.

Two weeks ago, when the long winter was still holding onto Vermont with its icy fingers, I wondered if there’d be much of a maple sugaring season at all this year. But now that we’ve had several days of thawing weather and spring seems like something more than an abstract possibility, I’ve started to see steam issuing from sugarhouses across central Vermont, and that’s a good sign!
 

Slayton: Snowy Owls

Feb 17, 2014

Sometimes the most amazing aspects of the natural world go largely unnoticed as we humans trudge through our daily lives, ignorant of the larger, subtler dramas being played out around us.

For instance, how many people outside the birding community are aware that Vermont – in fact, most of the northeastern and north-central United States – has been quietly invaded this winter, by a host of silent, white, golden-eyed predators?

Slayton: Kick And Glide

Jan 23, 2014

Vermont history is more than the heroic exploits of the Green Mountain Boys, more than changing modes of farming or the transformation of our political landscape.

It’s also about how we play – and, as “Kick and Glide,” the latest exhibit at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum makes clear, changing styles of skiing are a part of our history as well as a part of our present.

Slayton: Twelfth Night

Jan 3, 2014

There are several apple trees scattered about my Montpelier neighborhood. Not just ornamental crabapples, but real, full-sized apple trees that offer real fruit every year, and plenty of it. This past fall, every tree in the neighborhood bore a bumper crop.

Just up the street, I have neighbors who pick the fruit and mill the resulting harvest into cider – it’s good cider, too. They let some of their cider ferment and turn into hard cider, and some of that, they freeze and tap off the liquid alcohol for applejack. That’s not bad either!

The Vermont Movie is a sprawling, epic, quirky, and ultimately fascinating journey through more than 250 years of Green Mountain history. It has just completed premier showings throughout the state.

Now that the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare, we can see the contours of the physical landscape more clearly. And if we look carefully enough, we can see the cultural contours of the land as well.

That’s because the Vermont landscape, which we think of as a work of nature, is also the work of human beings. In fact, the Vermont countryside is deeply layered with history. No matter where you look, it has stories to tell.

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