Willem Lange


Willem Lange is a retired remodeling contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in East Montpelier, Vermont.

Not many realized how inauspicious the timing of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor had been. It was a classic example of military leaders still fighting old wars. The harbor was full of battleships securely moored. But this war would rely heavily on aircraft carriers, and on December 7th our carrier fleet was at sea. The attack did less to wound than make us really angry. Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, said, “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Lange: Nature Deficit

Aug 19, 2016

My first conscious encounter with nature was during the Thirties, in Washington Park in Albany. Walking by the edge of a sloping beach, I spotted a dozen little fish finning around in three inches of water. They were used to grabbing bits of popcorn, and watched me expectantly. I didn’t know what they were, but I desired them acutely.

Starting in mid-February, the morning sun finally rises high enough in the sky to clear the rooftops on the south side of State Street in Montpelier and flood the front windows of the coffee shop on the north side. The clearest days are also the coldest, so we trot out the old New England aphorism, “February sun is hard won,” and turn our faces toward it with our eyes closed.

But by March, we know that, just under our feet, that sun is creating a calamity – one we have to endure, all the while hoping it won’t be too bad this year.

Lange: Ice Dancing

Mar 10, 2016

Some years ago my buddy Dudley and I were waiting for a flight at the Montreal Airport, near the gates reserved for regional turboprops headed north. There were quite a few Inuit in the terminal, and I noticed that when they walked, they kind of shuffled across the smooth terrazzo floor.

The year 2015 has slid away with the turning of a calendar page. Its leaving has sparked a spate of reviews, events, and predictions – as if any of them would make us wiser in this coming year. An editor has emailed me to ask how 2015 has changed us. I presume "us" means the United States.

Lange: Hope

Dec 23, 2015

Mother and I were married in October over half a century ago. That first winter, I worked in the woods near Lake Placid for the New York State Conservation Department. I loved the work; but I was only in my twenties, and I noticed one day that most of the other men, who were two or three times older and, like me, up to their thighs in the snow, didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I was. I had an attack of insight that day that moved me to pack up my family and return to college to finish my degree.

Lange: Hunter Orange

Oct 1, 2015

Sixty years ago, when I first went into deer camp, we all hunted in our regular cold-weather work clothes – green- or red-checked wool jackets, gray wool pants, and whatever hats kept our ears warm on cold days.

Lange: Vermont Rivers

Aug 10, 2015

When my family and I moved to the Connecticut River Valley in 1968, I took kayak-rolling lessons at the Ledyard Canoe Club in Hanover. After a few dunkings, my eyes burned; and before getting dressed, I had to take a shower. I found out later the burning was caused by fecal pollution.

In the fall of 1955 I was quarrying stone in the Adirondacks, and feeling pretty tough. One evening, a buddy and I stopped at the Redfield Inn for a couple of beers. I was talking colorfully about how quarry work built muscle, when I noticed two important things: It was a loggers’ bar, and I had collected an audience – a hostile one, too.

Vermonters love it when the Canadian dollar is down; they flock north to Montreal. I love the trip for the fascinating geology: evidence of volcanoes, plate movements, glaciers, erosion. We’re surrounded by it all the way.

The act of thanksgiving must be as old as human activity.  Neanderthals in their day must have felt thankful for successful hunts or for escaping maiming by wounded mastodons.  We Americans often think of it as an event started in 1621 by the surviving Plimoth Colony Puritans – half had died in the past year – in celebration of a successful Indian corn harvest.  The native Wampanoags had generously showed these surprising arrivals how to survive in the woods of the New World.  The pilgrims’ celebration was reenacted for almost 250 years afterward and on different dates in various parts of

Lange: Proper English

Sep 19, 2014

My first month in secondary school was an English language boot camp. The drill instructor was Thomas Donovan; we still call him TD. He assigned essays due each Monday morning at eight when he entered the classroom.

Lange: September 1814

Sep 9, 2014

I'd hate to think that with all the attention we're paying this year to Civil War battles of 150 years ago – Cold Harbor, the Wilderness, Atlanta – we might find ourselves giving short shrift to one that took place right around here 200 years ago, pushing Vermont into a strangely ambivalent position.

Lange: River Trail

Aug 28, 2014

The silver maple likes to get its feet wet. It grows in groves along silty river banks, hanging over the water. When it dies, or is undermined by the river, it often falls into the water. During floods, the river flows through its groves, easing the pressure on the valley below; and when the floods subside, they leave fresh layers of silt behind.

Lange: The Tamarack

Aug 4, 2014

In midsummer, Vermont is as green as it’s possible to be. But when I turn into my driveway, a softer, lighter green always stokes old memories for me.

Larix laricina, commonly known as American larch, is native to Canada, from Yukon east to Newfoundland, and south into the northeastern United States.

In the middle of a July heat wave, some friends and I picked our way through Devils Gulch in the Town of Eden, Vermont. The deer flies were fierce, and there was a fresh moose skeleton lying in the trickle of water flowing through the middle of the gulch.

Lange: Getting Away

Jun 25, 2014

Mark Twain is said to have written, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Long ago, when I was a new teacher, my principal, a retired Navy officer, waxed avuncular one day. “If you’re going to teach,” he said, “you’ll never make a lot of money; so you’ve gotta decide whether to spend it on things or on experiences. You can’t have both.”

John Dillon

I glanced out my office window at seven this morning. A dozen large wild turkeys were lined up on the far side of the yard, feathers all fluffed up in the cold, looking right at me. They were just starting their daily scavenge of the neighborhood.

Those of us who were once involved in winter sports – skiing, skating, bobsledding – might easily dismiss the spectacle of the Olympics. The starting line of a cross-country race, for example, represents sometimes lonely years of weight lifting, hill running, wind sprints, waxing, and thousands of miles of looking at the words Fischer, Rossignol, or Karhu shooting ahead of you in the snow.

Lange: Cryptobiosis

Jan 6, 2014

Some years ago I wrote an article for Yankee Magazine about termites and carpenter ants, and came across a word I’d never seen before – cryptobiotic.