Cows, connections & caring–in Vermont

Cows, connections & caring–in Vermont

calf-with-flowers
Twenty years later and Vermont is still giving me warm fuzzies for things I didn’t even know I cared about–like politics or energy or something called a “heifer.”

Last month at the River Garden was just one of those times. Students from area schools gathered for a mid-point check in on their science projects for the upcoming Neighborhood Energy Science Fair, sponsored by the Strolling of the Heifers.*

10262148_10152485735948746_7572039504930726672_n
Executive Director Orly Munzing addressing students.

Executive Director Orly Munzing, who founded the Strolling, was on site to address the participants as they prepared to have their work reviewed by science professionals. She told these young innovators that their passion for energy science would help define the future of this planet, and as such, they would serve as ambassadors–educating others, even adults, especially adults. (I got chills.)

I’m only just beginning to comprehend the full scope of what has transformed (in my mind) from a novelty parade into a movement, experienced closeup through my children, who insisted on going to that first “cow” parade in 2002.

A decade later, one of those children is among those enthusiastically preparing an entry for the science fair.

My son Aidan, 13, has been working with peers, Leander, 12, and Cyrus, 10, on a project they began shaping last winter at their elementary school. After School Program Coordinator Emily Wagner worked with regional educator Lisa Holderness from the Vermont Energy Education Program*(VEEP) to engage students who were interested in energy science and who might like participate in the Strolling’s Neighborhood Science Fair which they were helping to sponsor.

It’s exactly these kind of opportunities that create the warm fuzzy feeling that Vermont so freely offers; and its the conscious connections behind those fuzzies, so richly interwoven, that make it hard to know who to thank for making Vermont such a caring place.

But I’d like to try, simply as an exercise in appreciation and recognition:

Was it the Strolling of the Heifer Parade, and the accompanying events that ignited an interest in sustainable energy for my son? Was it the after school seed-growingscience programs, partially funded by the VT Agency of Education, that flamed that interest? Was it his teachers at Marlboro Elementary who, year after year, emphasized experiential, place-based education, capped by independent research, followed by field study abroad and at the Nation’s Capitol with opportunities for social activism? Was it the accessibility of government officials, like VT Governor Peter Shumlin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which so empowered him? Was it our neighbor, Gary MacArthur, who installed our hot water solar panels? Or was it my husband and our community who raised the energy-efficient home in which we live? Was it our grocery store–The Brattleboro Food Co-op whose mission includes outreach and education–connecting food, people and place? Was it the unique community of Brattleboro itself, known for its activism, art and engagement and the enthusiastic support of that by local businesses? Or was it something even simpler, like the hatching project in my son’s kindergarten classroom, or the visit to the local farm in first and second grade, or the creation of the school garden in third and fourth grade–each supported along the way by educational grants from the Strolling of the Heifers?

You’ll have to ask Aidan and his friends, Leander and Cyrus, why they devoted week after week of their free time to a project that even their parents don’t fully comprehend. You’ll find them Saturday, after the parade, on the Brattleboro Commons, as part of the Slow Living Expo, at the center of the Home Energy Village where the first annual Neighborhood Energy Science Fair takes place!

~kelly salasin

10344794_10152485736383746_1400728938314594376_n
Students meet with science professionals at the River Garden in May.

sothLogo1*Now in its second decade, the Strolling of the Heifers has grown from a small-town parade (of cows) into a regional movement with year-round programs and events. The Stroll has expanded its horizons to include not only sustainable agriculture and food systems, but other aspects of local economic sustainability, highlighted by a three-day Slow Living Summit which opens tomorrow, June 4th, 2014. The parade and fairgrounds take place on Saturday, June 7th.

VEEP (Vermont Energy Education Program) is one of the sponsors of The Neighborhood Science Fair. Founded in 1979, their mission is to cultivate energy literacy among Vermont students. “Students who understand energy and how it works will make more informed choices about energy use and inspire others to do the same.”

VEEP_WPlogo4An Energy Literate Person Knows:

  • What our energy resources are and how we utilize them
  • The many ways electricity is made and the advantages and disadvantages of each
  • Why it is important to use energy wisely and how to do so
  • How government policy effects our energy choices

An Energy Literate Person Chooses:

    • To use energy wisely, recognizing the impact of their choice on climate change, our environment and our economy
    • To share their knowledge and inspire action and learning in others

To schedule a free in-class presentation, or learn more about VEEP’s standards-based curricula and ‘hands-on’ science methods, visit www.veep.org.

Advertisements
Hits the Spot Yoga Teacher Training–in Southern Vermont

Hits the Spot Yoga Teacher Training–in Southern Vermont

Solar Hill gardens, Kelly Salasin, 2011, all rights reserved

When I first moved to Vermont, 18 years ago, I heard about Scott Willis, and a place called Solar Hill, I just never knew where it was. When I finally did meet Scott, just a few years back, he wasn’t what I expected.

The name “Scott” brought to mind a youthful, blonde-haired, tennis player, and maybe he was at one time, but now he was a middle-aged guy with a softer figure and a touch of grey.  Just my kind of guru.

When he opened my first yoga class with Stevie Ray Vaughan, I was hooked; and when he tossed out a few bad jokes, I knew I’d found what I was looking for.

It wasn’t too long before I felt the yearning to become a yoga teacher myself, only I knew that my tight muscled, low-keyed body couldn’t handle the intensity of some of the typical trainings. “I wish Scott would offer a yoga teacher training,” I said to my husband.

And then he did.

In 2011, Scott began Hits the Spot Yoga Teacher Training, a year-long program that takes place one weekend a month.  That first class filled up before I could get on the list, but I signed on well in advance for the 2012 program.

I am both excited and anxious. Anxious for all the reasons I’ve already covered–tight muscles, lack of ability or inclination toward physical exertion; those kind of things. Fortunately, what I look forward to outweighs my fears.

I look forward to the challenge of deepening into the body and out of the mind. I look forward to the challenge of learning basic anatomy–if nothing else than to develop a greater appreciation for the gift of this miraculous instrument we call the body. I look forward to the way the training would seep into my every day life and out into my overall outlook and presence. I look forward to expanding my platform as a teacher and group leader.

Despite all this looking forward, I’m still afraid, but I’m counting on some bad jokes and some good tunes to ease the way.

Kelly Salasin, October 2011

For more information about Scott Willis and Hits the Spot Yoga and Yoga Teacher Training, click here.

To read more about balancing life with yoga, click here.

What Soothes You

What Soothes You

“The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.”

~Sri Nisargadatta

visipix.com

I had the opportunity to connect with a renown naturopathic doctor friend of mine, who just happens to live locally; and we touched on the stress people are feeling following the floods.  A light bulb went off when she said that this can manifest in different ways–even in physical injury.

I excused myself from the small gathering and called home right away. My youngest answered the phone and brought it outside to his father who was chopping wood.

“You know how Aidan has been hurting himself so much lately,” I said. “Maybe give him a little extra attention tonight. It could be fallout from the floods.”

My doctor friend also touched on nutritional and supplemental support for post traumatic stress, which hadn’t occurred to me, and I wondered if the Co-op might put together a end cap display of products for that. Between the murder and the flooding, they could use the extra support themselves.

Unlike my friend the doctor, I didn’t watch the flood come across the road and into my house; and unlike my new colleague at work, I didn’t see it take out my entire road. I also wasn’t there at the Co-op Tuesday morning a month ago when a shot was fired inside.

And yet, I am emotionally and physically spent from August as if I had been everywhere.

What do I need, I ask myself.  What would soothe me?

…some soft music, a cup of chai, time walking with a friend.

It was ten years ago this month, when I had to rock myself into letting go of the heartbreaking strain of 9/11.  I walked my dirt roads, soaked in the changing colors, and restored my sense of self and place.

May we all find what soothes us as we rock ourselves into the changes life brings.

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, VT

To read more about the devastation in Vermont, click here;

or here, to read more about the tragedy at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

Last Sunday

Last Sunday

After the flood: Marlboro residents gather at the farm stand on MacArthur Road for the last Sunday of Coffee & Scones; photo: Callie B. Newton, 2011; all rights reserved.

On this one-week anniversary of Irene in Vermont, I’d like to share some of what was posted on Facebook as the day of devastation unfolded:

Very scary in Medburyville. Our bridge to the treehouse is gone and our field and horse pasture is flooding fast. Our horse fence is starting to go down…

Stream in front of my house looks like it may jump the banks… car is packed up and on high ground…. Keep your fingers crossed that my house doesn’t get flooded!

Route 9 near the Brattleboro Naturopathic Clinic is washed out. Be careful folks!

Whetstone Brook raging downtown.

Flat Street flooded.

Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge gone

The road is gone  just down a bit from our house in Marlboro.

Downtown Wilmington washed away.

As these posts trickled in (and then stopped as people lost power),  it was friends outside of the state, watching the news, who posted about the magnitude of the flooding:

Downtown Brattleboro is underwater with much debris heading down stream. Many many roads and bridges are washed out. Sounds like most people are in isolation where they are. National Guard is in West Bratttleboro  and trying to get emergency help up to Wilmington and Marlboro as they are in total isolation. Rte 9 washed out as well.

In the days following, power was restored to the Green Mountain State, and posts like these next ones expressed what we were all feeling:

I was hoping to wake today and find yesterday a bad dream….

Between the shooting, the earthquake and the flash flood, my little nervous system has been on overdrive.

It’s really amazing how a little brook can change so rapidly into a newsworthy disaster. Very sobering.

The community on Facebook grew day by day, and looking back, I’ll always remember the FB conversation that helped us find our way home on that treacherous night one week ago today. It began with this question that I put out to friends:

We’re on our way up 91 to exit 2, can we get home to Marlboro?

 Ellen:  No

Ellen: Route 9 is closed from Orchard St to Bennington

Ruth: They won’t even let you past the farmer’s mkt. they have engineers coming to check even the little bridges. we’re stuck in west b. if they’ll let you thru to my house, we have room for y’all

Is the back way open to Marlboro?

Jen: Hey Kel, I think you might make it somewhat close to your house if you go through Guilford, but up here the roads are washed out and I don’t think you can get down MacArthur

Jennifer J: Not likely. You can’t get close enough to get to a back roaads

Jennifer J.: IF, and this is a big if, you could go up and over Orchard St & IF the bridge on Meadowbrook was still in tact you could take a right on Western Ave to get to Ames Hill. Lots of questions about the bridges on any back roads.

Ellen: Meadowbrook was closed this afternoon

Jen: Liz made it up here just a while ago on Guilford Center Road. She said you could get down MacArthur from the Ames Hill side. This was a few hours ago, but they did make it…

Someone said that road was flooded

Jen: unsure….. everything is a mess, but it was done a little earlier; i think they only took guilford center to tater lane, the south street to come out by 7-11. then up ames hill…

Alright, we’re going to try that way now. Thanks Jen.

(We never saw the next series of posts until days later when our power was restored.)

Sara: Hi Kelly – Guilford is a mess all the brooks are raging and lots of roads closed.

Jen: Good luck you all!

Stephanie: Be careful!

Michelle: Be Careful!!!!

Sara: If you can get to our house you are welcome to stay here tonight – write if you need directions. At Richmond Auto take Guilford center road go approx 3 miles… I’ll leave the lights on.

Amanda: Are you Safe somewhere??

Stephanie: I just got a message from them. They are almost home, hiking in the last mile.

Michelle: Thanks for the update steph!!!!!

Mary: Just found out about the flooding there. I hope everyone is safe.

Robin: Oh my heavens!

Ciri: Did you make it home?

Robin M.: Did you make it home? Jason saw your car abandoned on Fox. Rd.

Three days later, we were back on Facebook and got our first glimpse of how widespread the damage had been. Image after image revealed the destruction in each of the surrounding towns and beyond. And yet, what resonated most with me and everyone I talked to was this:

COMMUNITY

One reporter who had covered both Katrina and Joplin, Missouri, said that he was struck by how upbeat the people of Vermont were following our catastrophe.

Except for those who lost their homes or businesses, most of us are focused on how fortunate we were. We all know someone who has it worse, and right now (at least in my town) there are more people offering help (even from out of state) than there are requests for help.

Perhaps it’s because anyone who chooses to live here or visit here embraces the natural beauty in a way that transcends comfort or convenience, and relies on community to survive–both physically and personally.

Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s 30th President, summed it up best in a quote that has been circulating on Facebook this week:

“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, …but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” ~ President Calvin Coolidge

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, Vermont

For more on Irene in Vermont, click here.

Blame and Hindsight to the Rescue!

Blame and Hindsight to the Rescue!

When something as terrible as a murder occurs in a place that we least expect it, it’s no wonder that fear and vulnerability and anguish lead us to blame.

We are human after all, even in Brattleboro.

This tragedy does call into question so many things, that indeed should be questioned:

Why did we grieve the second murder but not the first?

How can we claim to have such a strong community when we kill each other?

What could we have done to make a difference?

What could the Co-op have done?

I felt compelled to write about this tragedy when I discovered that someone I knew had been taken into custody.  I continued to write each day after, trying to make sense of how this happened. As the days passed, the comments grew, and it is the readers who grapple with this question; and I watch, ever so slowly, as grace and grief are replaced with blame. It is my teenage son who labels it so.

“Did you ever see the South Park episode when a house is burning down and the community stands around asking what happened?” he said. “The kids tug on the parents, saying–Shouldn’t we help?  But the parents answer–No, the important thing is to find out who is to blame.”

I think it’s good to tell each other who we blame, for no other reason than to let it drain from our minds so that we are better prepared to help.  But our blame must be conscious in order to be healing, otherwise we will dwell in it at the expense of actually doing something to make things better.

Hindsight makes it easy to blame as is evidenced by the subtext of the readers’ comments I see:

If only Michael Martin had never been hired.

If only Richard Gagnon had been fired a long time ago.

If only the Co-op had done something to mediate sooner.

It is only natural that we want to find someway to escape this pain, and blame is a strong distraction.

Captain Hindsight, South Park

“Captain Hindsight always appears just in time,” my son says, recounting another South Park episode. “He’s the Super Hero who tells people what they did wrong and how they could have avoided it. This makes people feel better even though it doesn’t change anything.”

But the truth is that there is no escaping grief if you intend to heal; and if you don’t, you add more suffering to the world.

Kelly Salasin, August 20, 2011

Our Own Rally for Sanity

Our Own Rally for Sanity

Rhyme & Reason have been restored to the Kingdom of Wisdom–uniting the feuding Lords of Words and Numbers. If only this were true of our country!

Alas, this act of sweet sanity took place on the stage of the New England Youth Theater in this afternoon’s adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth–a classic children’s adventure novel, delighting young and old with whimsy and insight.

The heroes of this story set off to rescue the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, but first they travel into the Land of Expectations, sink into the Doldrums, face arrests and chaos, deal with ignorance and senselessness–and worst of all: escape the Demon of “Trivium“–who distract the heroes with trivial tasks to keep them from their noble pursuits.

(If I didn’t know better, I would think that Brattleboro was making a political statement.)

This NEYT production with performers of “mixed-abilities” certainly made a statement about “possibilities” rather than “disabilities”–a distinction highlighted by Director, Laura Lawson Tucker.

Tucker beautifully narrated this multi-media production, like a good fairy godmother–cueing lines, gently reflecting redirections, and even enlisting the audience to encourage reluctant actors to shine.

And shine they did!

I was embarrassed to realize that I had generically assumed that all people with disabilities were in some way the same.  But this production by the Theater Adventure Program (TAP), illuminated my ignorance with those who could dance, and those who could sing, and those who could bring a character alive, and those who brought us all to laughter.

Theater is powerful,” Tucker said, “It gives voice.

The power of voice was no more evident than in the young man without one who played the part of the Humbug.  He delivered his lines by pressing “play” on a recorder–and beamed with joy each time his “voice” was expressed–delighting the audience.

Suddenly the bigger picture of this production was evident as I witnessed the team of caregivers, costumers and stage crew who worked together to create this experience with the students and those of us in audience.  From the behind the scenes director,Darlene Jenson, who seemed to be in three places at once, to the Interpreter who signed the show with such style that she too supported the show with each glance and expression and smile.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of Michael Jackson’s “ABC” being signed–and after the show, we were all still singing.

At times, the production was so engaging that I wasn’t sure where to look, and my eyes shifted from the actors, to the narrator, to the interpreter, to the props and scenery, and back to the actors again.  Lots of surprises were built into the show including the accompaniment of an electric guitar for the solo, One is  Lonely Number--and the appearance of a huge gold-eyed monster.

As an educator myself, I can’t imagine what it took to orchestrate this entire production. I was particularly dazzled by the scene in which the sunset was orchestrated by a conductor–creatively portrayed by a spiral of mulit-ability dancers and scarves–first yellows and oranges, then purples and pinks.

The theater was packed from top to bottom for this “inclusive” production of The Phantom Tollbooth, and my son and I were proud to be among the audience.

Although we failed to complete our read aloud of this treasured book before we attended the show, we look forward to returning to it with characters brought to life.

Thank you to all the actors and parents and supporters who made this experience possible–for all of us!  (And thanks to the Vermont voters who brought back a little more Rhyme & Reason to the state.  Now, it’s up to us to show the WAY!)

Kelly Salasin, November 3, 2010

Brattleboro, Vermont

Once Upon a Time…

Once Upon a Time…

welcometovermontThere was a single lucid moment in the month of May, 1993, when desperation fused with destiny and our dream to move to the mountains was winged.

Two weeks earlier, I lost our first baby at the end of the first trimester. Suddenly the good jobs, the benefits, the proximity to family, even the sea, lost its hold on us.

In one feverish week, we blanketed the Green Mountain State with our resumes, asking: Will you have us?

A lone school in a small town answered back.

Although its name lacked the kind of charm we’d hoped for (bringing to mind the huge metropolis in Delaware), we were relieved find Wilmington in our atlas in the southern most part of the state; which to our minds meant less winter. (We had yet to realize that Mount Snow was its closest neighbor.)

We spent the weekend before my interview at my husband grandmother’s place in Adams, Massachusetts. Over the years, we’d looked forward to our long weekends in the Berkshires, soaking up the view of Mount Greylock from Anna’s kitchen at the top of Anthony Street; and the occasional, flirtatious jaunts into nearby Vermont. While we never spent very long in the Green Mountain State, it stirred something inside us. Vermont was planting a seed.

That seed sat dormant until a handful of years later when my sister-in-law suggested we check out the hip town of Brattleboro. Though it wasn’t love at first sight, we did decide to drive across the state, on its southern most route, and came across  a quaint, snowy village with beautiful little shops.

“This is the kind of place we could live!” we both agreed, though we never looked any further into it, because when we returned home to the shore, another dream had been realized.

A simple two lines and our attention immediately shifted from adventure to nesting. We even began to look for a house at the beach, something we had long avoided for fear we’d never leave for the mountains. We put on our name on the home daycare waiting list. We found something called a midwife. I bought lots of books. My bought a stuffed bunny. My  mother in law a tiny pair of moccasins.

Thus I return to the beginning of this tale when one of the most excruciating losses of lives gave wings to a dream that keeps on giving.

The day that we pulled into town for my interview at Deerfield Valley Elementary, we had no recollection of ever seeing Wilmington before. Perhaps our minds were preoccupied with how much depended on this day. Perhaps the seasons here transformed everything. It was  a lush early June now, and it had been snowy February then. More than likely, it was also that our entire beings had been transformed in the sixth months since we’d passed through this place–at once thrust into the prospect of parenthood and all the space that this shapes, then abruptly regurgitated… back to the beginning, to start our lives anew.

We returned to Vermont with clear eyes.

Approaching Wilmington, this time from the west, our awareness moved from the village to the valley itself–greeted first by the Deerfield River whose strength is harnessed to provide energy for Vermont, and then by the great Harriman Reservoir where once the town of Medburyville thrived.

We felt the embrace of this narrow valley, cradled within its hillsides, its fields and woodlands. The welcome continued as we traveled up Route 100 to a greater expanse of sky and view, past the North Branch of the river in its quiet repose alongside the handsome Wheeler Farm.

Our broken hearts began to stir…

As we pulled into the parking lot at the school, we realized that we had seen it once before, many, many years earlier. We had even stopped to say how “right” it looked and how nice it would be to work a place like this, nestled in the woods as it was. My younger sister was at New England college at the time, and on one of trips up to the Berkshires, suggested we meet somewhere in between–to ski–at a place called Mount Snow.

There in the school parking lot among the trees and mountains and streams of Vermont, we broke into wondrous laughter. Fate’s hand played.

Despite 199 other applicants, I was hired. Soon after my husband and I settled into in a little farm house by the woods (an answer to another dream, long forgotten inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

A year later we conceived a child who became our first son.

We lived happily ever after…

Well, it wasn’t that simple.

There were realtors and bears and woodstoves, and lots and lots of snow.

And of course, there is always more dreams to dream and losses to bear.

But once upon a time, we asked Vermont if she would have us, and she resoundingly replied, “Yes!”