Snow in June

I went wading this morning.

I walk outdoors most mornings when the weather permits. This morning I could have used my barn boots instead of my sneaks. Yesterday, Jack Parent started trucking the first-cut hay down the road and neighbor Charley Smith’s Cottonwood trees began snowing. It wasn’t quite knee deep at the bottom of the hill but it is piled higher and deeper.

“The trees do that for Father’s Day each year,” Mr. Smith said.

Cottonwood Tree It doesn’t appear that we can spin cottonwood seeds into yarn let alone loom a fabric and the lumber is lousy; it splits poorly, rots quickly, and offers about 12 BTUs per cord of firewood. On the other hand caterpillars love the wood as food.

Mr. Smith’s bigger issue is the chopped grass that sluices off the farm trucks. The Parent farm is divided. His new farm is about three miles north of his home farm and about half a mile north of me. I get to watch a regular parade of 8-wheel tractors and liquid manure trucks and open dump trucks.

CottonwoodWe pick up half a bale of hay for each truck that passes but we have about 500 feet of road frontage. I don’t think Mr. Smith gets quite that much although there is a bump right in front of his land.

“There ought to be a law,” he said. “Farmers have too much power. We should have a regulation to keep the roads free of debris.”

I’m not much for rules. I googled farm bureau regulations and found about 2,230,000 results in 0.21 seconds. Regulation > Policy & Politics > Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers fear effects of proposed child labor regulations” at the Iowa Farm Bureau. Arkansas EPA regs. Suarez on Labor Regulations. Texas Farm Bureau Commodities and Regulatory authority. Guide to Lighting Regulations for Farm Implements, Guide to Open Burning, and Women’s Food Check Out Day at the Tennessee Farm Bureau. The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau also administers the ILRP on behalf of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition.

Hay Truck And so on.

Heck, there were about 4,290,000 hits, nearly twice as many, for Vermont farm regulations alone.

Maybe it’s time for someone without a Ph.D. to wade through this mess. There is no way on this green Earth that any farmer could comply with every reg already on the books, let alone the 1,523 new ones under consideration right now.

Meanwhile, Mr. Parent probably should think to cover his dump beds; after all, feed is even more expensive when the road gods get that sacrifice bale every day.

This farm report brought to you by the letter G.


Wally World does not often impress me but they did on Friday.

The Internoodle is rife with estimates of Wal-Mart’s cost to We the Overtaxed People, protests over sprawl, criticism of their labor practices in this country and the labor conditions in supplier factories around the globe, complaints about unfair treatment specifically of the women who work in the stores and Supercenters, shoddy assembly of most consumer goods driven by the way the firm has reshaped manufacturing around the world, and far more.

Opponents of a planned Wal-Mart here in North Puffin have protested for almost two decades.

PBS reported, “Wal-Mart’s [Vermont] opponents argue that the state’s economy and culture would be damaged by the retailer’s presence. In California, opponents say the company has cost taxpayers millions by shortchanging its employees on healthcare.”

Every bit of the superstore v. Main Street argument is absolutely true.

Wal-Mart built their fourth Vermont store, a 150,000 square-foot box, in Williston in 1997. I shopped there on Friday.

So did a lot of other people from North Puffin because we don’t have a department store in this county.

We didn’t need any other shopperamas a decade ago because we still had Ames back then but Ames closed all its retail stores here in 2002. Since then, pretty much everyone in Northwestern Vermont has had only a couple of choices for sox and underwear: buy them at the supermarket or the Dollar store or pay the I-89 tax to drive an hour to the big box center in the next county.

So I spent the $27.50 in gas to drive the truck to Williston on Friday because we don’t have a department store any closer than that. I also had to go to the Sears Auto Center but that’s a story I’ll tell later.

Walmart SignI saw a sign for Wal-Mart Interpreter Services in the pharmacy department. That impressed me and I said so to the pharmacy consultant.

“Surely you don’t have all those interpreters in the store,” I said, “and the tricorder/universal translator isn’t out of Google’s prototype lab yet.”

“Nope,” she told me. “All the customer has to do is point to their language on this card. We call a translator at the home office and Bob’s your uncle.”

The store can handle 12 different languages (13 if you count English) from Arabic to Vietnamese. A mom-and-pop operation can’t afford to keep a dozen U.N. translators on staff.

[Oooo, business opportunity!]

Regular readers know that I will not willingly deal with any company that requires me to “Press 2 for English” in part because immigrants to this great melting pot should help us learn their cultures while they assimilate ours and they need to learn English. Without that, America stops being a melting pot and becomes a nation of tiny, armed, walled, exclusive Arabtowns and Chinatowns and Mexicotowns and Viettowns. That said, Wal-Mart’s system to let them do business in their native tongues means they will do business outside their shell communities and that’s a good thing.

Orphan’s Club

School starts this week for many and very soon for most.

The parents of our kids’ friends become some of our friends. A gang of us got together here in North Puffin after all of our kids abandoned us for the bright lights of school and work to the loneliness of old age. We had the usual potluck suppers and camaraderie as well as canoe trips and concert nights and bank robberies.

So how did you feel when your youngest left the nest for college or wherever, especially if this was hundreds of miles away? another friend wondered on Facebook.

The answers varied from, “My youngest may never leave” to pride in “his readiness and enthusiasm to go” to a coast-to-coast flight “with him to help him get stuff to his dorm” to “I’ve already got TWO of my kids this > < close to being able to support me when I suddenly appear at their front doors with a suitcase.”

And, of course, boomerang kids have long made headlines as the once thundering and now sour economy had no room for them at the Inn.

My aunt moved six times to follow her elder daughter, my cousin, around the country including two sojourns when they all owned houses in South Puffin. That cousin now lives with her father.

My own parents moved in with my dad’s in-laws. My son moved in with his in-laws. Pragmatism drove both moves.

My mother’s mother died in 1953 leaving my maternal grandfather alone in the ancestral farmhouse. It was an easy fit to absorb a couple more generations, good for my grandfather who couldn’t have kept the place up alone and for my parents who also didn’t have the resources or time to manage the house and barns and lawn and gardens and fields.

As an only child, I almost never had a “baby sitter” and was almost never alone.

My son’s story is more modern. He married and moved in with his in-laws on the same day. It was meant to be temporary because the in-laws had a small house and the kids really wanted to be on their own. They were married, though, and needed to live somewhere. Inertia set in. Nearly two decades and a couple of grandkids later, when that house went on the market, the kids bought their own first house.

I wonder if all involved would have done better on their own?

My dad didn’t need to “make the mortgage” or even be terribly responsible for maintaining a household. Sure, he contributed to the costs and he mowed the lawn and did the normal homey chores but he fretted more over whether wood rot was chewing up the cabin on the boat than whether asphalt rot was chewing up the shingles on the homestead. Likewise, my son didn’t need to make the mortgage or even be terribly responsible for maintaining his household. Sure, he contributed to the costs and he mowed the lawn and did the normal homey chores but he fretted more over whether Vermont road fertilizer was chewing up the floors of his van than whether Vermont rust was chewing up the tin roof on the homestead.

Kids leaving the nest. Taking responsibility. Do the choices we make now to insulate our kids from life make it harder for them to live?

Do Democrats Believe in Democracy?

Maybe not.

“All politics is local.”

Speaking of shopping, the Vermont Supreme Court last week ruled in favor of construction of a Walmart in St. Albans. Developer Jeff Davis expects the store to be open for business by the end of next year. The unanimous decision, the high court’s second in the case since 1997, upheld a 2010 decision from the Vermont Environmental Court. The Vermont Natural Resources Council had opposed the development.

Vermont was the last state in the union to receive the Walmart blessing; the first store opened here in 1995. Some Franklin County residents have fought off the megaretailer for nearly 20 years. We didn’t need Wally back in ’95 because we had Ames but Ames closed its retail stores here in 2002. Since then, pretty much everyone in Northwestern Vermont has had only a couple of choices for sox and underwear: buy them at the supermarket or the Dollar store or pay the I-89 tax to drive an hour to the big box center in the next county.

The Vermont Environmental Court decision had already granted Walmart permission to build the 147,000-square-foot store in Franklin County over VNRC objections. The court required Wally to pay the Town additional “public service costs” (such as for fire and police) that its presence cause the Town to incur.

That’s not unusual. Municipalities often charge developers impact fees before allowing them to build houses and stores.

And now the Supremes have upheld it. Again.

“This is such a bad decision for the governance of Vermont,” VNRC spokesman Jared Margolis told WPTZ News. “Really gives the green light, opens the floodgates to local boards to act however they want because the Supreme Court has condoned pretty awful behavior.”

Atty. Margolis ain’t from around here or he would know that local control is the governance of Vermont life.

Former Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, also a Democrat, wrote, “…One-size-fits-all solutions from the state will not work as well as allowing our cities and towns to develop their own responses to local problems… Over the years our legislature has given us local control over many issues — from animal control to zoning.”

Ms. Markowitz got some of that right. Citizens and their local boards do have control over issues ranging from animal control to zoning but not because the legislature in its beneficence granted it. Citizens and their local boards do have control over issues ranging from animal control to zoning because we kept those rights while constitutionally ceding some affairs to the legislature.

Creepy, crawly, encroachment. That’s the way erosion works. Take a little here. Take a little there. Pretty soon the legislature grants us leave to shop for the little parts of our little lives.

Sooner or later they’ll notice that a local board might act however it wants and the sky falls down.

This is not the first time the Vermont Natural Resources Council has come down on the side of interference. They support major property tax increases on private lands to punish bad land uses, unremittingly denounce anyone who might allow a (gasp) snowmobile to cross his farm, and oppose the planned Lowell Mountain wind project.

I’m thinking the elected local boards might think VNRC’s self-appointed behavior pretty awful.

State v. Local Control

New Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $615 million in line items in a $69 BILLION state budget this month. Less than 1%. He also signed House Bill 7207 into law.

Them as whose oxen were gored are up in arms.

State Rep. Ron Saunders (D-Monroe County) has bemoaned the fact that the state Department of Community Affairs “which played a major role in making sure Monroe County governments adhere to Area of Critical State Concern mandates” is among the bovines “gutted.” See, House Bill 7207, the redesignatedCommunity Planning Act” essentially dismantles the D.C.A. by moving that agency’s duties to a new Division of Community Development.

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott came to the Keys for his first time as governor but I didn’t see him despite the fact that he stayed at a Marathon motel and spoke at the Marathon High School graduation.

Florida is bigger than many third world nations in land area, population, residential income, and tax revenue. Come to think of it, Florida is bigger than many European nations in all of the above.

To put that in perspective, the Florida $3 billion budget deficit is bigger than Vermont’s entire state budget.

Gov. Scott had made the Community Planning Act one of his priorities because oversight of development in the Keys should be handled locally rather than through Tallahassee.

“I believe in local government… It’s closer to the people,” he told the Keynoter. “I just don’t believe we ought to be running these things at the state level. I think that we ought to have local control of things. Each community needs to decide what they want to do in their community.”

Looking back to Vermont, local control is more than a buzzword.

Local control is on the lips of Town Selectmen, of voters at Town Meetings, of the 290 school superintendents serving Vermont’s 251 Towns.

New North Puffin Selectman Tom Tom Ripley summed it up, “We figure the one-size-fits-all solutions we get from the County or the State or the Feds or the One-World-Government fall well short of just letting our cities and towns muddle through our local issues.” Tom is North Puffin’s best known garbage man in a state where garbage collection is private enterprise and pretty much everyone with a pickup truck can be a trash hauler.

Indeed, Vermont has essentially no County government at all, relying on local boards to oversee our governmental needs from animal control to zoning.

On paper, local control looks as if it would be more expensive than the consolidated services available from the state or the Feds. After all 290 school superintendents just have to cost more for the 92,431 enrolled students than, say, a couple of dozen, right?


Of course, right. We know that banks gobbled up their neighbors and airlines swallowed their competitors to save us money. Of course, Judge Harold H. Greene broke up AT&T to, um, save us money, too.

There are other costs to government. A Facebook group “Abused Land Owners of Monroe County Florida Want Justice” reminds us that all is not right in Paradise. A familiar headline reads, “FBI investigates Florida political corruption in Capitol.” And Time Magazine reported that exclusive Palm Beach County, once the Kennedys’ winter playground, “has begun to rival Miami as the Sunshine State’s capital of corruption and political mischief.”

I guess the final answer is really a question: “Do you want the corrupt politician you can see at the Cracked Conch or the one hidden away in Tallahassee controlling how you use your property?”