Vermont Almanac: This Rural Life
The problem with writing a review of the Vermont Almanac: Stories From and For the Land (Volume IV, just published) is that at some point you have to actually—and oh so reluctantly—set it aside and turn to this screen to say a few words. The book is a series of essays, articles and photos about life in and love for Vermont: its land, its history, its architecture, its customs and its people. Reading it from cover to cover is a near-complete education on the subject of the state; my preference is to riffle through the pages to randomly select a few entries for reading at a single sitting. And to know that there is enough to come back to the following evening, or more likely, evenings.
Laura Hardie’s “Global Food, Vermont Flavor” is a visit with the Upper Valley’s Mel and Damaris Hall, charting the history of their business, Global Village Foods. They started small enough that I remember once sitting in their living room in downtown White River Junction awaiting my take-out order. Mel and Damaris fed many people throughout the area during pandemic days and have grown. They now sell their African cuisine at many Upper Valley outlets, the University of Vermont dining halls, and Whole Foods throughout the Northeast.
Notre Dame. Paris, France. The most surprising article in the book is “A Vermonter in Paris.” Will Wallace-Gusakov of Goosewing Timberworks in Lincoln, Vermont is helping to rebuild the roof frame of Notre Dame Cathedral after its disastrous fire of four years ago.
“After the fire, a narrative was being promulgated by those who wanted to modernize Notre Dame that it wasn’t possible to rebuild the timber frame as it had been because supposedly there weren’t enough big oak trees in French forests, and supposedly there were no longer carpenters with the skills to do it. Both of these ideas were patently false. So a group that I belong to called Charpentiers Sans Frontières (Carpenters Without Borders) which does hand–tool restoration work on historic buildings around the world started a public campaign to help educate the public and the decision-makers that, in fact, both the material and the know-how were available.”
The self-taught Wallace-Gusakov spent six months in Paris rebuilding parts of the roof, working with period-appropriate hand tools. He was featured in a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America. Click here to view. He’s now itching to build something called a “tithe barn.”
We can’t all be talented enough for such historic, international pursuits, but there’s poetry in the mundane task of cleaning a wood stove. In “Stove Pipe Blues,” Philip R. Jordan gives his best advice on a chore that frequently involves “muffled curses.”
All the grub work is best done outside, after carefully lugging the clinking, clanging collection of cantankerous pipes outdoors in garbage bags. There, you can get dirtied-up to your heart’s content, marvel at the fall colors (if you didn’t wait until December), and even enjoy a Vermont craft beer while you toil.—from “Stove Pipe Blues”
There’s food. Recipes for a pea shoot salad, frittatas, and Golden Chanterelle Mushrooms in a Pesto Cream Sauce with Chicken, Tomatoes, and Artichoke Hearts over Fettuccine. Stories of corn and cannabis. A look at Kingdom Creamery in East Hardwick, the 2023 Vermont Maple Season Review: always hiccups, but Vermont did okay, remaining the largest maple syrup producer in the US. Lighter grade syrups are in demand and on the rise. Another article gives instructions on how to tap a tree.
What’s Vermont without its barns? And can you name them: cupola barns, high drives, and rounds? Explanations are given along with beautiful illustrations, followed by an essay by Patrick White about restoring and repurposing these iconic structures.
Finally, a word about this year’s Great Flood. Bryan Pfeiffer contemplates the aftermath for the people and businesses in Montpelier. Acknowledging the loss of its “venerable creaky floor,” Pfeiffer writes:
But in the weeks after the flood, nothing was more hopeful and affirming than the return of our independent bookstore, Bear Pond Books. Its reopening was more than a triumph over the brown water and mud and despair, more than a testament to the volunteers and donors who helped Bear Pond’s owners recover. It was a celebration of community, intelligence, and ideas expressed in the force of the written word.
If you find yourself hopelessly in love with Kathleen Kolb’s cover art, $20 will get you a ticket for a raffle of a framed print. (Here, but hurry, the drawing is on December 8.) Vermont Almanac is available for purchase online and at local bookstores.
(Cover photo, top, courtesy of Vermont Almanac)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.