Saturday, March 23, 2013

NHVSP Update 7

Visiting the legendary Lepine sisters...

  During this penultimate leg of our winter journey, we studied the many facets of the concept of landscape: landscape as recreation, as profit, as habitat, as aesthetic, as history, as a watershed, and many others. We studied the relationships between landscapes, habitats, and the human and geologic history that defines those connections. We studied the history of the Vermont landscape, and how human forces have influenced it, and how that landscape has, in turn, influenced art and literature.
Out of a metamorphic fissure
I spring like a fluid bullet
Down the mountain I cascade
Freed by March’s flow
From my crystal Palace
Overlooking a bountiful kingdom
As I roll down
I feed this beautiful place

In about 8500 BC, Paleo-Indians roamed a glaciated Vermont, surviving by hunting caribou. As the glacial ice receded around 5000 BC, hunter-gatherer societies began to develop, hunting, fishing, and gathering plants. Several thousand years later, between 1300 and 1000 BC, agricultural management of crops, especially corn, became critical to native societies, who used fire to clear land to cultivate.
French settlers arrived in Champlain Valley in the late 1600s AD, followed in the 1760s by economically motivated settlers from Connecticut, who traveled into Vermont via eastern New York and the Connecticut River. The construction of military roads and canals in the 1820s led to the rapid development of agricultural communities, and to the sheep boom that occurred between 1820 and 1850. In this time, Vermont’s land was largely cleared: in 1620, ninety-five percent of the state was forested, compared to only twenty-five to thirty-five percent by 1850. (In the late 1990s, approximately seventy-five to eighty percent of Vermont was forested.)
Railroads were developed in the late 1800s, and the sheep industry failed. Dairy farming took over in the early 1900s, creating the rural landscape that is the popular image of Vermont today. The creation of the interstate system in the 1960s also helped contribute to the tourism industry.

The concept of landscape as artifact is strange but makes sense when one observes the stone walls, old trees, tree plantations, or young growth as objects to learn about the past. On the ninth of March, we saw this big gnarled sugar maple standing in a relatively young growth woods. We also skied through a Norway Spruce plantation that was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal to put people back to work after World War I.

Midway through the leg, while studying the cultural history of the landscape, we met with some old-time Vermont dairy farmers, Gert and Jeanette Lepine. In 1944, the Lepine family moved to a farm in a small community named Mud City. The three sisters — Gert, Jeanette, and Theresa — ran the farm with their parents. When their father died in his sixties, the women of the family took over the farm. With sixty milking Jerseys and sixty young stock, the herd was one of the top ten in the nation, by milk quality. The family became famous for their all-women farm, though Gert and Jeanette consider it a ridiculous reason to have such a fuss.
The sisters were inspiringly youthful and energetic when we met them, enthusiastically bustling about and presenting us with delicious milk, cookies, and maple syrup. Their unique radiance and the wonderful stories they told us gave us a wonderful level of insight into the world of Vermont’s past.
Wearing all Baby Blue
hunched over
quite the nose
Sunglasses — with one lens bedazzled
energy radiance
happy to see us.
big hands — gnarled, working hands,
soft, warmed
jean cuff, rolled up, workboot house shoes
lots of smiles, teasing and pinching each other
jovial, youthful
genuine welcoming
Why did they never marry?
Spinster, rich and giving

Throughout the leg, we also studied literature and art, and the role played by the Northeastern landscape in forming them. Concepts of wilderness have also evolved, concurrently with the dominant movements in nature literature and art.
In the 1500s, native peoples of Vermont and the Northeast had an intuitive connection with nature, not making any conceptual separation between humans and the world around them. The first European settlers, in the 1600s and 1700s, saw wilderness as something to be feared and fought. They strongly associated wilderness with the concept of being lost, connecting it to moral fears, as well: fearing their “bewilderment,” or moral confusion and despair. Philosophers and artists of the Enlightenment and later the Romantics, ending in about 1850, including Immanuel Kant, Edmund Burke, and William Gilpin, still saw nature as something daunting, something to be conquered, while simultaneously lifting it up, and seeing God in it.
From the mid-1800s to about 1910, the Transcendentalists, such as Thoreau, Muir, and Emerson, reacting, in part, to the Industrial Revolution, were considered the first environmentalists, recognizing the threat to nature from industrial development, and viewing its continued preservation as a human right. Recreation in the wilderness expanded in the 1860s, with the construction of country houses for the wealthy, and the establishment of national parks. Increasing urbanization led to the view of wilderness as an escape from the cities.
In the 1950s and 1960s was another significant environmentalist movement, in the wake of World War II, with writers such as Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold expressing fears about the effect of rapid technological progress on nature and the environment. Widespread pollution and the development of new chemicals prompted some of these fears. Beginning in the 1980s, a return to post-Romantic and Transcendentalist mindsets has become dominant, with the growing environmentalist movement focusing on land preservation, creating islands of nature for the future.
We wrote poems, inspired by some poems by Muir, creating verbal pictures of how the concept of the ‘flowing’ of nature plays a role in many natural systems in which it may not be obvious at first glance, such as in the evolution of boreal forests and in the development of geologic formations.
Born from the earth, in the form of a spiderweb of cold rivulets, water seeps out of high granite and meets in low valleys. The first miles are youthful, dancing playfully amidst boulders and cobblestones, ripping around serpentine corners, and tumbling over waterfalls. Steep banks attempts to control spring torrents, but erode, exposed roots dangling, pleading for help amidst the roar. The temperamental creeks converge in wide glassy pools, the brook’s older brother. They gently flow, caressing islands and shaping sandbars. Soon, the more mature river ebbs and flows, influenced by the silver moon. The deep, dark curls and ribbons of green reflect the colors of the hardwood hillside on a fall day. Sailing smells soon meet the nose, and a white crust forms on the rice lining the shore. Bottlenecked into little rivers, grass waves from the dunes. Shelled creatures skirt underfoot, and waves begin to lap at the shore. A haze rises, and the raindrops return to the sky.

We also studied the landscape as place, looking at the place we’re in, and connecting it to other places we have been. Memories of place influence how we see places we are at any given moment, because when we look at the world around us, we relate it and contrast it to the world in our past.

To the rocks on Great Head…

O dear rock,
fine grained coarse grained meta
and sedimentary,
your intrusions and
are a flow, a moment washed by
raindrops large & small
like the ocean
like a drop of dew
frozen in time
in this moment
you are one
with the tea house that once stood on you
now demolished, thanks to
who never mattered
to you
and who might never realize that they
are part
of you
and, dear moment O Rock,
maritime boreal forest a rock
moving fast upon you
flow in this moment
and though I have not set foot
upon you
in months
and I
miss you
and rock, my spirit stands
on you
and my heart, part of me, is
with you,
and I am
of you,
dear rock.


...And then there is my new home, here in the North-East Kingdom. Not just here though, everywhere here in the North-East. Seeing the landscape as contrast to my prior gives me clarity. I feel very at peace often in the tall stands of spruce, in the dense Boreal thickets, behind the curtain of green. I feel challenge at the cold, of the wind hitting at my face, nipping my nose. I enjoy it, the hardship and the simplicity of the land. Of rolling hills, often not changing enough for notice, yet being a subtle painted background, always there for reference.
So my home is neither here, nor there. I am always longing in the city to go to the wild, and after a fair stretch I long to go back to my city. My home is where I make it, where I lay my head most often. And my home of late is the small towns we pass, in the dairy pastures, the hardwoods, the wetlands, and the cotton wall tents. In my mind, on the trail I am at home, in the sleeping bag and on the sidewalk in downtown. Home isn’t a place, but it can be, and it is more often a time.

Later in the leg, we had a group solo — a time when we traveled for a few days with minimal supervision, and we had to be self-motivated and perform all of our work ourselves. It was a special time, because it represented a turning point for the group, an end of the phase of learning the rhythms of trail life, and a beginning to the process of learning independence and group unity. We will use those skills when we arrive at our next layover, at the Northwoods Stewardship Center in a few days.
Here at Heartbeet Lifesharing, we are preparing for our small-group solos: a four-day leg in which we will travel in groups of three students, and the group leaders will travel a few hours behind us, and, except in event of emergency, have no contact with us aside from the notes we will leave along the way informing them of our continued safety. These four days will undoubtedly be a very special and transformative time as well, preparing and strengthening us for the spring semester.

Thank you to Heartbeet Lifesharing, our hosts at this layover. Heartbeet is a biodynamic farm and intentional community working to provide a supporting environment to adults with special needs. We enjoyed being here greatly!
Kai's Beatles Band at Heartbeet Lifesharing

No comments:

Post a Comment