More than 50 commentators provide perspective and opinion about current events, topics of interest, and often showcase the work of writers and storytellers. The VPR Commentary Series is produced by Betty Smith-Mastaler.
This spring will mark my first-ever attempt at making maple syrup – and I have no idea what I’m doing. Luckily I have two resources on my side: the Internet and Fred. The Internet is that place with Facebook and the cat videos, and Fred is my next door neighbor. The Internet is helpful because there’s no shortage of tips and tricks for hobby sugarers. And Fred is helpful because, for the last quarter century, he’s been making maple syrup in the sugarbush that straddles both our properties.
The American Dream has been the back bone of my life story. In June of 1940, my mother, brother and I took the train from Zurich, Switzerland to Genoa , Italy to board the SS Manhattan, bound for America. A little more than a week later, we waved to our first greeter — the Statue of Liberty. It was war time. My widowed mother took this brave step because she wanted what all immigrant families have wanted for their children — a better life in America. We found it. This country has been generous to us, far beyond our dreams.
I am a fan of renewable energy – but I'm also a contrarian and an inveterate tilter at the windmill of conventional Vermont thinking. And in that latter capacity I have to salute the good people of Lowell for the vote they took on Town Meeting day.
As anyone who follows energy issues in Vermont knows, Lowell is the Northeast Kingdom community that hosts the Kingdom Community Wind project – an array of 21 wind turbines, each standing more than 400 feet tall atop the Lowell Mountain Ridgeline.
We are at that point in the winter where our best-laid plans of last fall have become untidy. Orderly rows of seasoned wood, have become jumbled chaos, strewn with weather-beaten tarps and tumbling, unruly, onto the snow. In contrast, the orderly, square stacks of green wood stand tall, and because of poor planning on my part, tantalizingly close to our mudroom door.
Those stacks only hold the promise of heat however, because once inside, the joke’s on us. That green wood barely smolders, mocking our impatience and haste, as water bubbles and steams out the cut ends.
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.
The current stand-off with Russia over Ukraine is very serious and potentially very dangerous. It certainly has echoes of the Cold War, which dominated world affairs for nearly half a century. But in those days Soviet-American confrontations came with the real possibility of nuclear war. I still believe that prospect ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union - but what’s happening in Ukraine right now does have a Cold War connection.
Crimea is a troubled peninsula about the size of Vermont that juts into the Black Sea, with a population slightly larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Its history spans thousands of years. It’s been invaded or ruled by Gothic tribes, the Byzantium empire and the Mongols, among others. It’s home to many Tartars, an ethnic Muslim minority who were expelled by Stalin in World War II for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis; the Tartars now make up around 12 percent of the population.
When I heard that Maria Franziska von Trapp, the last surviving sibling of the original Trapp Family Singers, had died, I dusted off the old LPs they made for RCA Victor from 1938 to 1956 and took a fresh listen. The great choral conductor Robert Shaw, mentor of Vermont’s Robert De Cormier, once called these singers “the greatest choral group in the history of recorded sound.” And, despite surface noise like frying bacon on these old recordings, the reason why remains crystal clear.
At a recent Select Board meeting in my town of Castleton, instead of cooperation, divisiveness and vindictiveness ruled. Instead of allowing individual talents to benefit all of us, partisanship reigned. Instead of taking advantage of available resources, close-mindedness prevailed.
Some of the issues tearing the town apart will be decided at the ballot box tomorrow. But since the arguments have moved from issues to personalities, the nasty atmosphere is likely to persist.