New to Vermont, Part II.

New to Vermont, Part II.

It’s not too late to sign up for the free coursework offered through the Vermont State Colleges system available to Vermonters whose jobs were affected by COVID-19. (CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO.)

I earned a university degree almost four decades ago, but I enrolled in two online community classes this fall, including a Storytelling and Media course (with Mike Spry) which required me among other learning modules to record a podcast and try my hand at writing a newspaper article. I ended up employing both of these assignments to highlight the story of someone new to Vermont, a young family member who came here from Portland Oregon. Bex came to Vermont to find the space to ask the questions that they needed to ask in order to shape a new story, not only for themself but for their peers, the Evangelical Christian community and maybe even this nation.

Click here to listen to New to Vermont, Part I, a podcast!

Part II, below:

It Felt Like War

Marlboro, VT
1:11 pm, November 1, 2021

Protestors march into downtown Portland, Bex Burcham, June 2020.

26-year-old Bex arrived in Vermont last month just as the leaves began to explode in color.

“I had a dream about these trees,” Bex said, “Just before I left Portland.”

It was late September when Bex messaged an aunt in Vermont in the middle of the night.

“I was experiencing some serious burn-out,” Bex said, “And I knew I needed a safe place to rest and write.”

Bex grew up the oldest daughter of six children in a relatively isolated Evangelical Christian community in rural Oregon. At 19, Bex relocated to the coastal city of Portland where they attended bible college and studied literature.

“I’d always loved to write,” Bex said of the fantasy stories they’d begun penning at the early age of 7. By the time Bex was in Portland, they’d begun to dabble in non-fiction, writing boldly on a personal blog about the war inside their body–the self-hatred of flesh, the sin of desire. 

Before COVID reached Portland in early 2020, Bex had left Christianity and had begun exploring and claiming an emerging identity. They named their new blog, The Queer Apostate–A Journey of Falling In and Out of Love with Evangelical Christianity.

The following summer, Portland became a flashpoint for the Black Lives Matter movement and Bex found themselves swept up in the protests.

“I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t really know about BLM before George Floyd,” they said. “I’d seen signs and hashtags… But I’d lived in a bubble from the day I was born.”

Just before Bex reached out to their aunt in Vermont, they made this post on Facebook:

Are you deconstructing your childhood experience in homeschool evangelicalism? I want to hear your story! I’m especially looking for more writers and artists from our community. PM me!

Bex was brought up to think that race was no longer an issue and climate change was not real and other social issues were distractions. “I just see it all so different now,” Bex says.

Bex first heard of the BLM protests in Portland when they received an alert on their phone notifying them of an 8 pm. curfew.  “I was off social media at the time so my roommate explained what was going on.” 

The roommate invited Bex to participate. “We made signs at the kitchen table,” Bex said, “And our other roommate read-aloud tips about tear gas.”

Bex dismissed that roommate’s concerns as overly cautious. “I was not at all prepared for what we walked into. Not hundreds of protestors, but thousands.”

Bex later wrote an account of their experience on their blog:

When I first heard about the brutal killing of George Floyd, I was heartbroken, but my attention faded into the noise of the news cycle… When the protests started, I saw the story as the news told it: rioters and looters antagonizing police… From my bedroom reading the news and watching live streams, my own resolve felt distracted, conflicted.

Then I kneeled with 10,000 people in front of a police station.

Bex felt hesitant at first with the idea of protesting. They were brought up in a culture of “niceness,” a niceness that didn’t allow for disruption of polite society. But Bex attributes their experience of the protests in Portland with an awakening to white supremacy and the stronghold it has in Evangelical Christianity.

When Bex describes the speakers at the protest gathering on the waterfront, their eyes light up, “You can’t turn away after you hear those stories,” Bex says.

Bex was galvanized to stand with people of color in her community by the words of Reverend E.D. Mondainé who said to the thousands gathered: “There is no safer place to be than in the company of hope.”

In the Company of Hope
was the title Bex gave to their post about the protests, calling on others to join in.

“Kneel with us,” Bex shouted among the other protestors kneeling in front of the police. Bex was just feet away from the line of officers in riot gear who were gripping batons, tear gas, pepper spray and guns.

Bex wrote on her blog that they stared into the eyes of a young cop, barely over twenty and thought he was on the edge of tears.

“Maybe I was projecting,” Bex wrote. “Maybe I needed to see humanity in these soldiers.”

Bex said her heart broke that night. “There was no question in my mind,” she wrote, “The police started the riot.”

“I can’t breathe!” the voices of the kneeling protestors called out. “I can’t breathe!”

They gave us three minutes before the tear gas hit… There was nowhere to run. Any group over ten was surrounded and gassed, flash bombs hit every few feet, people were choking and pouring milk over their eyes, calling for our medics, but still chanting “Stay together, stay tight!”

I wanted to run, but the smaller the group, the more danger for each individual. They needed bodies. I had to stay. Even as we faced the line of cops marching toward us with our hands up, standing still, they launched attack after attack.

Bex watched not only the city they called home but their worldview, transformed over the days of the protest in Portland in 2020.

There were chain-link fences blocking off half the streets, police car lights flashing behind them. Businesses… boarded up. Helicopters and drones hovered above us –

“It felt like war,” Bex said of Portland. “The fear I felt of the police… a tiny fraction of what people of color face consistently.”

In the months that followed, as the protests waned and COVID dragged on, Bex began to spiral. They couldn’t keep up with their studies or their workload and they had difficulty meeting very basic personal needs. When they found themselves unable to eat or bathe, they reached out to an aunt back east. Although Bex didn’t say it, what they describe sounds like PTSD.

“Come in time to see the leaves change,” Bex’s aunt replied. “Before the first snow flies.”

Just days after Bex arrived on the backroads of rural Vermont, they celebrated their 27th birthday.

Almost a month has passed since and the surround of color that welcomed their arrival has fallen to the ground.

“It mostly rains in Portland,” Bex says, about the west coast city they left behind. “I’m looking forward to a real winter.”

Bex tells their aunt that they want to shape a new story while they’re here and when their aunt, who is also a writer, asks Bex how they think Vermont might play a part in the telling of a new story, Bex smiles and replies that it already has:

“In the space to ask that question.”

Bex in Vermont, October 2021. Kelly Salasin.

Kelly Salasin

New to Vermont

New to Vermont

This fall, the Vermont State Colleges system offered free classes and training to Vermonters whose jobs were affected by COVID-19. I'd earned a university degree almost four decades ago, but since I could no longer lead in-person classes and needed to brush up on my online skills, I enrolled for two courses at CCV. 

One of those courses is entitled Storytelling & Media and we were recently assigned to make a mock podcast so I interviewed a family member from Portland Oregon who had just moved in with me in Southern VT. 

Despite the thirty years between us, Bex and I are both writers and passionate about social justice which made for easy conversation on everything from Black Lives Matter to what it means to tell a new story and find the space to tell it--in Vermont: 

For New to Vermont, Part II, click here.

First Storm

First Storm

We lost the ”Grandfather” tree soon after we built the house which was quite a blow to all of us, but the “Grandmother” Pine, so named for being almost as tall as the seed tree just beyond her, is still with us, a dozen years later, though we fear not for long.

Still, this morning when trees fell across this mountain town–upon houses and roadways and cars–She, Ever-Wise, sacrificed an upper branch which in its tumbling cleared the lower branches of their burden of heavy snow so that she remains, sturdy, high above the canopy, facing West.

I can’t help thinking this some kind of Wisdom Teaching—about aging and letting go and most of all provision—but I’ll wait to ponder that until I’ve had supper and a shower, hoping electricity & running water will be restored soon.

(November 2018)



I look past the needles that line my belly, the lowest just above the rise of my pelvis, an inch deep, and further still past the needles at my ankle to the plant circling the room where the walls meet the ceiling, the same ivy-like, heart-shaped-leaf that I have in my house, a plant which was once among several left on a small round kitchen table with the words: “Free,” which despite the absence of a green thumb I brought home after a yoga class or was it a birthing class, both brand new endeavors  after leaving the mid-Atlantic for the Green Mountains in 1993 where I discovered at my first staff meeting at Deerfield Valley Elementary that everyone ate something that I’d I mistakenly pronounced as another word for soil.

A Long Slow Color is Green.

These are the words that were carved into thick medallion of wood that hung above the entrance to a place smack in the middle of Main Street, beside a classic Vermont Inn. The oddly named: Klara Simpla housed the bookstore which is what brought me inside the strange smelling shop filled with something called herbs and homeopathics and tinctures, not to mention the yoga and birthing classes (among other offerings) on the second and third floors. There were also two huge chests filled with household and clothing items that were giveaways. 25 years later, I’m still the plaid blanket that I found in that pile is a family classic when we picnic beside pond and I still wear the black, water resistant wind pants when I snow shoe.

A long slow color is green.

Those words from the wooden medallion which hung above Klara Simpla were spoken out loud to me once by the founder herself, the woman who offered her plants to women like me just beginning to find our way on the path to wholeness.

“There is so much to know. How do I begin?” I asked Faye, at the end of an interview she’d surprisingly granted me when I’d first began writing for the Cracker Barrel.

But what really brought my attention to the plant circling the ceiling in the acupuncturist’s office, beyond the fact that the old period building with its hissing radiators reminded me of my husband’s grandmother’s place in the nearby Berkshires (which is how we ended up leaving the southern New Jersey for New England), and beyond the surprise that my surname was all over the building because in addition to housing the acupuncturist’s office, it housed an organization called the Salasin Center (so named for a distant relative that I found on Facebook) was that its dead leaves were left hanging among its healthy ones, and if not a shouting sign of neglect then some kind of statement which I had plenty of time to ponder as I lay on the table week after week for an hour at a time–from sandals to long pants to scarves to wool socks and hats.

With nothing to do but remain still so that the needles in my belly (or eye socket) wouldn’t move, the story–my story–about the neglected ivy-like plant–began to shift, somewhere beneath my personal anxiety around neglect.

When the acupuncturist returned to the room to remove the needles of which there were a total of 8 on this particular visit–including one at the top of my skull, and one at each of my temples, as well as one between my toes and another placed between my bottom two ribs, I finally said aloud what I’d been thinking for so many weeks in a row (hoping to silence it in my head):

“Has anyone ever said that those–(I pointed toward a particularly long line of decaying leaves)–look like a chrysalis?” (I wish I knew then the plural.)

Surprisingly Dan said, “No,” and nothing more.

But my therapist picked up the thread, the very same week, which is something I try to avoid–more than one appointment in the same week–but which has been unavoidable during this health crisis that has so depleted me (while serving as a boot-camp for letting go.)

“This is a very inward time for you, more so than ever,” Carolyn said, as I sat across from her in a room perched above the Connecticut River in downtown Brattleboro; something I had been doing about once a month or so ever since my mother’s death, a span of time easily measured by the age of my youngest son, 18.

“It’s time to retreat, to be unseen, to rest under the covers,” she said, “To let your work deepen inside like the spinning of a cocoon.”

My mind immediately protested with all that had to be done in that particular month–December!–not to mention the day trip I’d imagined to the sea the very next day–on the occasion of my 55th birthday. (I had arrived in Vermont at 29.)

“Does this resonate for you?” Carolyn asked, seeing past the veneer of my capacity, into the grievous depletion of chi.

I nodded begrudgingly.

There was one last appointment scheduled that same day, which is something I never do, but it was the only opening my friend had to trade massage for the work I’d done on her website.

The afternoon though brightly lit, was bitter cold, and I arrived at her house chilled, and even so, I removed each and every layer, until I stood in my underwear and slid, belly up, under the single sheet on her table.

“Are you cold?” she asked, turning up the temperature on the heating pads beneath me.

Elaina dangled the pendulum over the center line of my body sensing the ongoing obstruction of the second chakra–digestion, letting go, family, finances, overextension.

“How is mothering going?” she asked, knowing that my youngest left the nest this very August, a day upon which this sweeping illness presented itself in absurdly symbolic fashion.

“There is a burden on your left shoulder,” she added. “A responsibility that you’re carrying, that is not yours, which means it’s stuck there because it has nowhere to go.”

I told her about the Ritual of Resignation that I had concocted just before Thanksgiving. My therapist had suggested the ritual as an accompaniment to the potent antibiotics to which I planned to surrender, something I hadn’t needed since I moved to Vermont and began using herbs. I filled the prescription bottle with tiny pieces of paper upon which I wrote all the ways I was ready to let go, particularly with regard to my family of origin who I’d begun to carry as a girl.

“So many of your joints are blocked,” Elaina said, as she massaged my shoulders and elbows and wrists, my hips and knees and ankles.

As I write this morning, on the day after my birthday, my hands take turns leaving the keyboard to touch my shoulder tips again and again. The skin there is so strikingly soft, like a baby’s flesh (or what I vaguely recall of a baby), the result of a salt scrub I offered my joints yesterday morning while the sun rose brightly through the trees on another bitterly cold day, on the anniversary of my birth.

So too was my time on the table with Elaina sensual, accompanied as it was by her cat, black, like my own Licorice from long ago with whom I shared a soul connection as a girl in Rockies as my mother disappeared in the bottle. Licorice would drag her paws down my face, and once when recalling this in my therapist’s chair on a guided journey forty years later, I was certain I smelled Licorice’s milky breath.

As Elaina worked on my neck, “Kiki” brushed her whiskers against my left cheek, purring in my ear, and then she pranced across my belly, tenderizing the second chakra, while on the Elaina’s small cd player, a classical version of “Danny Boy” softly played, a song which once eulogized my mother who named her only son Daniel.

After the sunny birthday morning shower with the salt scrub around each joint, my husband drove me to the sea, where I watched from the passenger’s seat, light, moving across frozen lakes and rivers and marshlands and fields, even as my head ached from yet another migraine (a fourth since Thanksgiving week; since the antibiotic?) until I arrived, at the hour of my birth, sensing into the pain of separation–skull crushed by pubic bones–at the open, endless, embrace of Return, understanding in that moment, that the title of my book would be something much larger than I had conceived, could conceive, of the story I’d been spinning several years around a tragedy.

When instead of turning south, we continued along the coastal road deeper into Maine, we passed a tiny pond beside the woods upon which a single skater glided skillfully in tighter and tighter circles.

“He must be professional hockey player,” I said to my husband.

“Such a small pond he’s on,” my husband replied.

“Such elegance,” I said.

And now I recall the moment when I’d fully surrendered to Elaina’s touch on the table, and she asked me to turn over onto my belly, layering heating pads and blankets atop my back, until I grew so hot that I imagined melting, after which she removed the layers, which had grown sticky, peeling them one by one, until I found myself unburdened and light, nascent and raw, like the first unfurling of new life.

A budget is a moral document.

A budget is a moral document.

I guess it’s been said before but it landed in me for the first time when I heard it spoken last month at the Rally for Trans Justice | Brattleboro.

I jotted those words down in a tiny notebook that I keep in my purse:

A budget is a moral document.

Over the weekend, my husband and I revisited our budget which has long been neglected. Years ago, as my hormones began to change, I turned it all over to him; and as our kids came of age, I looked at it less and less.

We began budgeting when we became parents. I didn’t want to do it, but it was 1995, and it was the first time that I didn’t earn a substantial income. I was home with a child, which is where I discovered I had to remain, but I couldn’t figure out how to avoid credit card debt with my husband’s salary as a new teacher at $20,000 which didn’t include health coverage for the new baby or me.

A budget is a moral document.

I felt so ashamed when I reported to the State Office to arrange for supplemental food and medical care for our son. “I’m not taking this from others am I?” I asked. “I’m a teacher. This is a choice for me. I know it’s not for others.”

A budget is a moral document.

I learned to track every penny then so that we might afford to provide our children with a parent at home, and unpoisoned food, and health care and education that was integrative and whole.

Fuel assistance and the Reformer Christmas Stocking (providing winter wear for the kids each year) helped us get by.

A budget is a moral document.

It was a long haul. There were no true vacations. No dinners out. Not so much as a coffee at a cafe. Our clothes were second-hand. Our gifts were re-gifted. Even the presents under the tree were recycled from the previous year as long as our kids were too young to notice.

“Why don’t you ski?” my father asked, when he came with his doctor friends to ski in Vermont. “You live here. Why don’t you have skis?”

Years later, after my husband’s income climbed, we built our first home, and then he went two years without a teaching salary.

A budget can shrink and expand. We didn’t accrue any debt. I’m so proud of that time. We pulled together as a couple and as a family. The kids gave up their allowances.  The community supported my husband with side jobs. We got by with the unemployment provided by the state.

A budget is a moral document.

Last week I read that the United States is second among developed nations with credit card debt. Close to half of us carry that weight, while in say France or Germany or Australia, less than ten percent do.

With more and more education, and more and more experience, and with the opportunity that comes from that, my husband’s income grew exponentially and we neglected our budget more and more; while simultaneously my opportunities exponentially shrunk, as did my willingness to do just about anything for a buck so that my life could remain shaped around the home.

Instead I’ve began shaping my life around writing.

Is a budget immoral if it provides for an aging woman?
No one wants to sell the house.

Not only did our first-born put himself through college, but he makes more in a summer than I can scrape by in a year.

He called last night from a rally in Burlington–Bernie, Christine, Zuckerman. He was coordinating volunteers. I put him on speaker phone.

“Dad and I are working on the budget,” I said, a phrase which no doubt is a trigger for him given the financial struggles of our family’s early years.

He told us about the inspirational speeches and the enthusiasm, and then he had to go to the next event.

Turning back toward the budget, my husband and I were reminded about what’s at stake. How we provide. What we prioritize. And how spending time with the budget allows us to question this.

A budget is a moral document.

I’ll never forget the cartoon I saw when I was a young teacher. It made me question what was always taken for granted–that money was meant for “things” while “lives” went wasted.