Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lake Champlain Islands Icon Passes

Friday May 25th Francis Montani of South Hero passed away. Long remembered for his farmstand in Keeler Bay,which he started in 1939 after arriving in Vermont from Italy. Confined to a wheelchair in his latter years it didn't stop him from his passion for gardening and zest for life.

In his younger days Francis could be found in the fields, whether weeding by day or hoeing at night. More recently Francis could be found on his front porch selling vegetables, and talking with customers. Mr. Montani departs this world just shy of a hundred years.

Tipping The Societal Scale

One's life summed up in an obituary. It's too bad we don't all walk around with cartoon bubbles above our heads that say good person, done lots of great things, etc... Some of the greatest people have hard lives and really struggle. Its what you don't know about the people that you walk by on the street that will impress you the most.

It's too bad we don't get tax breaks for being a good person, or a good citizen. Like people who volunteer on fire/rescue departments. The affluent continue to get wealthy by investing, spending, saving and the money comes in, albeit some risk is involved. A good person gets good by doing, well, good things. Which has more benefit in this world? Which gets more respect?

Our societal scale says you're important if you have money, and if you don't you're a nobody, unimportant. Saint Peter has a different scale if you're into that religious stuff. Truth be told it's probably the only one that really matters. You bring your sins with you, not your wealth. I guess I kind of believe in a blend of faiths.

My biggest hope is that if I tread lightly and try to help others that I may be reincarnated as a forest creature. Preferably something like an owl or pileated woodpecker, or something else that doesn't have a hunting season. In American life there are three certainties; your are born, you pay taxes, you die. We need to learn to celebrate that which we have in common; our humanity.

Isle La Motte Signs Settlement Agreement

Yep that's right folks you heard about it here first. That tiny town in Vermont on a small island in Lake Champlain signed a settlement agreement with their former town clerk and treasurer. After being involved in litigation and lawsuits, and being raked over the coals by the Burlington Free Press, it looks like the town might be able to regain some sense of normalcy.

This past Wednesday the settlement was passed by the selectboard, with one abstention which we all know counts toward the majority. With the addition of some words at an executive session the night before, the lawyer for the townspeople suing the town and selectboard members, said it would appease his clients. May that poor town once again return to its sleepy existance.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tourism; Vermont A Victim Of It's Own Success

Over a half century ago the rise of ski areas and the recreational industry appeared to be a golden goose on the horizon of Vermont's future. A way to bring increased revenue to the state in the form of leases, and necessary tax dollars. So in addition to making state forests, we offered up Vermont's abandoned uphill farms as second homes for affluent out of staters.

Today it's the silver bullet that is bringing down the Green Mountain State. As more people discovered they like the seclusion, these second homes became year-round estates. Then they began to spread from uphills, to lowlands, to lakesides and riversides. It seems everyone wants a piece of Vermont's unspoiled environment. Problem was instead of developing sustainable jobs, we were content to deal with seasonal fluxes of employment. Over time this has had a devastating effect on Vermont's economy.

It's curious that land is now more valuable for developing houses than for growing crops. We've got places to put up homes, but have to import our food from all over the globe. Vermont loses its youth to other states because it's a competitive job market, one that wants experience. Something you can't get if no one hires you. We wonder why the Vermont of today is so very different from that of yesteryear.

Today very few of the kids growing up and being educated in Vermont schools can expect to live out their lives in the Green Mountains. Vermont also has an unstable age structure, with more and more of it's population aging and on fixed incomes. We have bypassed the day when we just can keep raising taxes and expect problems to work themselves out. The two things we need most now are heart and foresight in Vermont's government.

Planning for the future is no easy task, but the time is now for action. Vermonters shouldn't be punished for their families not having bought enough land in the past for future generations to settle on. It shouldn't be an us versus them with newcomers. There must be an equitable way to ensure Vermonts future, one that is fair to all those who wish to call the Green Mountain State home.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spring Gatherers Big Three

I've been spending a lot of time in northwest Vermont gathering natures bounty lately. Here the fiddleheads are pretty much past. For those that don't know fiddleheads are the little buttons that fern fronds form from. They are best harvested when the stem is only unfurled about one to two inches. This is because ferns are known to be carcinogenic, and the assumption is the smaller and newer the growth, the less bad for you. Steam or boil them like asparagus, add butter and voila. They have a wonderful nutty flavor.

I've also been into the wild leeks or ramps as their known in some parts of the country. They tend to grow in colonies and have big bladed leaves. As soon as spring is over they flower, dry up and die till next year. They have an unmistakably strong onion smell. I've been kind of working on this theory that native americans actually gardened the wild leeks, by digging them up and transplanting to start new colonies. I'm just not sure how to go about proving it.

The last of springs big three are Morels, a type of mushroom that only grows in spring. They look like a mushroom brain on a stem. They are very delicate, but also some of the best mushrooms I've ever had. I haven't seen any out yet, but look for them in old burned over areas, and abandoned apple orchards. I avoid the orchards though because of the risk of pesticides. A hundred years ago they sprayed trees with arsenic and I just don't like the idea of putting that or any other pesticide in my body.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Carleton's Prize or Arnold's Mystery?

So for those that don't know there is a very small (about an acre or two at best) island in Lake Champlain off the southern tip of the town of South Hero. It rises vertically from waters edge up sheer cliffs to a 30 foot plateau. Called Carleton's Prize, it sits between two larger islands, Stave, and Providence. Its been so named since the revolutionary war when the Governeur Generale of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton brought it to notoriety.

As local lore goes the morning after Benedict Arnold escaped from behind Valcour Island with what was left of his small fleet, it was very foggy on Lake Champlain. Not believing the Americans could have slipped by them in the dark (which they did), the British patrolled to the north and east searching. In the heavy fog they sighted a ship and summarily lined up and pounded it with their cannons. Of course once you begin firing blackpowder you can't see what you're shooting at. After a half hour to hour of not being fired back at, either a breeze came up or the fog burned off. It was then the British realized they had not been firing on a ship.

This distraction is what allowed Arnold to escape to the shores of Addison county where he then proceeded to burn his fleet to prevent capture. Local lore goes further to say that local Islanders felled logs and floated them out and were then hoisted on the small island to look like masts. I dismiss this as there is no way anyone on the islands could have been in contact with Arnold's fleet, or known their plan to escape.

The problem is only one book I've ever read about Arnold or the Revolutionary war confirms this. No less than a dozen others completely fail to mention "Carleton's Prize". They all say the British fleet sailed down the lake after Arnolds fleet. Talk about a project for Art Cohn and the others down at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. All we need to do is find a few cannonballs to confirm the story. To think, Lake Champlain has kept this mystery to herself even to this day.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Beware The Ticks, It Looks To Be A Bad Year

No, I'm not talking about Montpelier, but real ticks, the black legged kind. Deer ticks, wood ticks, the kind that carry lyme disease. Had my first one of the year on my back the other day. Got lucky and the fiance saw it when I was changing shirts. Also heard of some kids getting into some. Never known them to be a problem so early.

So here's another tidbit, the state has tested ticks around the state. Something like 26% of the ticks around Bennington tested positives for carrying disease. The hotspot is Butler island on lake champlain. Privately owned, but 49% of the ticks tested positive. I would imagine nearby areas are pretty bad too. Apparently the worst place on the island was this guys garden of lilies.

Be vigilant and check yourselves after any trip into field or forest. Your best chance is to remove the tick within 24-36 hours before the spirochete is transferred into the wound. After that the risk of contracting lyme disease goes up. Check the state health department website for more info, and your doctor. Especially if the bite area begins to look like a bullseye.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

That Damn Peterson Dam

It is a shame that the Peterson Dam issue on the Lamoille River remains unresolved. Cheap power is great, but the dam is an obsolete piece of industrialization. A left over from the days before scrutiny was applied to the environmental effects of such projects. This dam is only five and a half miles from Lake Champlain and is a barrier to fish passage. By not providing a viable alternative the Public Service Board gave itself no other choice than to continue with the Peterson Dam.

The Public Service Board has shown that it is way out of step with the interests of Vermonters. It has sided with energy over environment. By not providing the funding for removal of the Peterson Dam, it has further set back the date by which historical spawning areas can return to the Lamoille River. It will take years to bring the Lake Sturgeon population back to the point of recovery.

A healthy environment is on the minds of Vermonters these days. As economical as it may be to run the dam, the costs to fish are too tremendous. According to the Burlington Free Press 12/28/06 the dam only serves 3,000 customers. Not to mention there is another dam a mile or so upstream, so what’s at stake is a critical mile or so piece of prime spawning habitat.

The Lake Sturgeon faces a very real threat to its continued existence in Lake Champlain. The benefit it’d bring to other species like Walleye and Trout would be tremendous. We spend all kinds of money to rear these fish and release them into the lake instead of letting nature do it for free.

One has to look no further than the Winooski River to find an answer. There you have run of the water hydropower at the Champlain Mill area of Winooski, followed by a larger fish obstructing dam a mile or so upstream. The operators of the mill dams use fish baskets to lift the fish over, and get them to the spawning grounds.

Why not replace the Peterson dam with run of the water hydropower for the customers, while at the same time allowing for better fish-passage? How about constructing a fish ladder since the dam is to now be left in place? How about setting up the farmers in West Milton with anaerobic digesters to create electricity from manure to replace the electricity lost by the dam? Why not begin taking steps now to ensure decommission and eventual removal at a future date? Or are we still dragging our feet in hopes of leaving the dam in place?

To me, anything would seem a plausible alternative to doing nothing.