Tom Slayton


Tom Slayton is editor-emeritus of Vermont Life Magazine.

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.

Slayton: Hub Vogelman

Oct 21, 2013

Hubert “Hub” Vogelmann, who died recently, was one of Vermont’s true environmental pioneers.

Hub was a scientist, a botanist to be specific, and was head of the University of Vermont’s Botany Department for many years.

He was also a really nice man, a scholar who never seemed scholarly, with a winning smile that could disarm any opponent, a gentle sense of humor, and a wealth of factual scientific information that he used skillfully to protect Vermont’s environment.

In the faces of Vermonters themselves, photographer Peter Miller has chronicled the profound changes that have come to Vermont in the last half-century. Those faces – and those changes – are the subject of his most recent book of photographs and essays, entitled A Lifetime of Vermont People.

This is no ordinary coffee-table book. Miller’s black-and-white photographs are gritty, often stark. They go beyond simple prettiness to probe the souls of the people who have lived through Vermont’s changes, and, in the process, the soul of Vermont itself.

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch a performance of the current play about the poet Robert Frost, Entitled, “This Verse Business” it’s a one-man portrayal of the poet that is now touring Vermont. It ran for two weeks at Lost Nation Theatre in Montpelier and is scheduled at Dorset, St. Johnsbury, Burlington, and Marlboro.

For State Archaeologist Giovanna Peebles, archaeology is everywhere. It’s contemporary as well as ancient, and can be appreciated wherever you are.

Slayton: Sue Morse

Aug 16, 2013

It’s hard to describe wildlife expert Susan Morse in a few words, because she’s done so much. She is, in fact, a nationally recognized expert on a wide variety of wildlife, ranging from moose and bear in Vermont to mountain lions in the far west.