Today I am compelled by circumstances to offer some additions to an earlier blog entry about my beloved adopted state of Vermont. As I futilely tried to find the weather channel forecast for Vermont late yesterday and realized that the internet was not working….again….for the second time in as many days and tried to phone our company about the problem….again… but ruefully realized that our house phone doesn’t function without internet and so tried my cell phone to call and could not, since my cell phone works here at the house only when the internet is on and I have to drive halfway down Danby Mountain Road toward the village of Dorset to get it to work, I realize that I’m living in what amounts to a third world country – Vermont – where you can never take modern conveniences, like electricity, telephone and internet for granted but must fall on your knees with amazement and gratitude when they do work and can be relied upon.
Yes, two days ago I noticed that the internet was phasing in and out. One moment when I was trying to retrieve an article from the New York Times I got the “cannot reach server” sign and threw my hands in the air and rolled my eyes in frustration, punctuating with a little strong language, and the next moment, when trying to find the same article, there it was on my screen just like normal. Accordingly, I called (when the phone service had phased in and was working) Consolidated Communications, the latest iteration of our constantly evolving telephone/internet company, to complain and was directed to conduct the usual drill – unplug the modem, wait a minute or two, them plug it back in and hope the internet comes back up. Well, I conducted the drill again and again and sometimes the internet came back and sometimes it did not. Finally Consolidated Communications said they would “check things on their end” and send someone out to check here as well. With the internet still fluctuating on and off, a young man in a panel truck arrived and said they had discovered something “on their end” and had fixed the problem, but he would install a new modem for us just in case. OK, the new modem is installed, has functioned for a couple of days but now the internet is off again. Is it “something on their end” again or is the new modem not functioning properly? What the hell is wrong now?
Native Vermonters, like my wife, her relatives and friends here and around Dorset, will tell you apologetically but factually that indeed, such conveniences as electricity, telephone and internet are not always reliable here in Vermont and cannot be taken for granted because of one simple fact – trees by the millions grow here, trees which in a winter snowstorm or summer thunderstorm can be blown down and take some wires with them. Or perhaps the pole itself, transporting those vital functions, will be downed. So this I understand, no problem – trees and their peculiarities are a fact of life here in Vermont. So, I ask, if this is such a problem, why not just put the electrical power underground, as is often done in other locations? Well, the answer to this perfectly reasonable question brings me to another complaint about my beloved adopted state of Vermont – rocks, stones, boulders, whatever you choose to call them, of all sizes and dimensions are underground everywhere in Vermont – sometimes at or near the surface, sometimes deeper, but they are always here, and how well I know.
Last week, in an uncommon burst of generosity, I thought I would indulge my spouse and finally install some much needed edging around some of her flower garden areas to repel the ever advancing invasive grass and weeds from the adjacent lawn. So I ordered a few more boxes of plastic six by eight inch edging pieces that attach to each other and are simply tapped (pounded?) into the ground with a hard rubber mallet. Well, I know what lurks under the ground here so when I begin a task like this I always stretch a string between two stakes, then drive my square edged spade into the ground along the string to get a straight line to form a long groove into which to drive the units of plastic edging. Well, along that twenty foot line, I find only perhaps five places where the spade goes straight down to form a groove for the edging. Elsewhere I get a “clunk” or, worse, a “clank”, when the spade strikes the virtually ever-present rock. So I move my spade slightly toward me or away from me, or to the right or to the left, to find where the spade might go down unimpeded, so that perhaps I can get alongside or underneath the impediment to lever it up and out of the ground. Most times, my sturdy faithful spade is sufficient to the task and up comes the rock so that I can now continue down the line for the edging. But occasionally it is not, so I have to go to the garage and grab the most essential garden and landscaping tool I own – my heavy steel “digging and tamping” bar, which I raise and slam down into the ground combining its considerable weight with what remains of my strength to get underneath or alongside of the much larger object which is impeding my edging job and which my spade cannot dislodge and finally lever it out.
This absolutely essential (in Vermont) tool, I had originally purchased to assist in a huge project to which I had committed several summers ago – the construction of a post and rail fence along the frontage of our property. To dig the holes for the posts, I had optimistically but foolishly rented a gasoline powered post hole digger which once here, had to be wrestled into position and the revolving auger digging blade lowered into the ground. While this machine may have worked well for the first few inches of the hole, it would inevitably strike a rock and just sit there and spin, halting its progress downward. When more weight was applied to the auger side of the machine by me or my wife by sometimes actually sitting on it, the digger might finally dislodge and regurgitate a medium sized stone and proceed downward. However, inevitably it would encounter a more sizable obstruction and just sit and spin regardless of any additional weight applied. So then I would have to withdraw the auger, push the machine aside, turn off the engine and dig the stone out manually and this is best done with a bar and a spade. So ultimately, having learned that a powered post hole digger was useless here on our property, I returned it to the rental place in Manchester and resigned myself to completing the entire job manually with my steel bar and a spade. I think that the powered post-hole digger helped me minimally with only four of the total of 25 or so holes.
Some other example of struggles with Vermont rocks – in spite of my impassioned pleas to stop buying items to plant and instead just maintain the beautiful flourishing gardens we have already started and nurtured, my spouse had insisted on purchasing a couple more items – a magnolia tree, which we hope will survive in this harsh climate and a really pretty butterfly bush. So after making excuses and delaying, I was in an optimistic mood recently and so finally consented to plant the magnolia. But as usual, the spade went in a couple of inches, then stopped…a rock. Ok, well I’ll try a little over this way, but again clank – a really big one I guess. Forgetfully armed only with the spade, I made the trip to the garage to retrieve the steel bar. By the time the hole was dug, I had not only a pile of dirt but had removed also a pile of rocks.
And the whole process was repeated a few days later with the planting of the butterfly bush – me starting out optimistically and happily but in no time sweating and swearing and prying out rocks.
And then there are the roads here in my beloved Vermont. I have never driven on worse roads. State route 30 from where we live to Manchester has asphalt patches on the asphalt patches. And all are cracking and coming apart. Time to patch up the the patches on the patches. Yes I know how damaging the severe winters are on these paved roads. But comparing Vermont’s roads to those in other states that endure equally severe winters, there is no comparison. Why? Is Vermont behind in the science of road building and repair? My guess is that they’re building and repairing roads the same way they did fifty years ago. There have likely been some advances – time to learn about them and apply them. I really do think that a favorite Vermont adage uttered by every road crew boss, every tradesperson, every town manager is, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it….”
And then there are the deer. I mentioned in my previous article about Vermont how important deer hunting season is here. It seems like virtually the entire state shuts down for these several weeks. However, there seem to be more deer than ever here, and it appears that most are unfortunately concentrated near our modest little property. Perhaps drawn by the several old apple trees that border our lawn which drop their bounty each fall, deer seem to frequent our place far more than should be normal. And our plants suffer as a result. They love to eat the tops off of the bluebell plants that are in the woods around our grass. We moved a quantity of them to our gardens this year and they strolled through and ate the tops off of them there as well, so no beautiful blooms. Worst of all, we were shocked upon our return from Arizona this spring to see that they had rendered a dozen or so of the lush arborvitae trees along our fence virtual arboreal skeletons. And I still don’t know if I should wait and see if they come back or simply remove them and replace with something deer-proof or if impossible, at least deer-resistant.
And a few other complaints about other occurrences that seem inexplicable except in terms of third world countries. I buy a gallon of regular milk every so often to use in my coffee and an occasional bowl of cold breakfast cereal. I use it slowly but it’s usually gone by the expiration date. However, just the other day, I was shocked to have it turn sour (yes, I had put it into my coffee that morning and was disgusted to see little curdled bits floating around as I mixed it in) a full week before the expiration date. Hey, I had hustled home and put it into the refrigerator promptly and had never left it out. So is there yet another third world condition here – inadequate refrigeration? Hey, my refrigerator works well and I have verified the inside temperature. So is the problem at the dairy, at the transportation or packaging facilities or at the supermarket? And this was not the first time my milk has gone sour quickly. It’s happened at least a half dozen other times over the past few years. What the hell is going on here?
And one other thing before I end this article. Vermont seems not to care about customer service. When I’m here I miss so much the humor, the helpfulness, accommodation, the obliging manner of retail clerks in Arizona, where the customer is valued and is always right. Here it seems to be just he opposite. I am made to feel that I am a troublesome intruder, an inconvenience. I do realize that retail clerks can be way too attentive and that drives me nuts too. I remember a few years ago when every clerk, shelf stocker, and cashier at Home Depot was evidently forced to greet every customer with a cheery “How are you today?” It got on my nerves so much that I was tempted to reply, “None of your damned business how I am. Just tell me where I can find the nails”. But I am tired of being ignored by unhelpful retail people. The other day when I bought groceries, I not only had to put up with a silent sullen cashier, but had to bag all my grocery items myself. So in Vermont, it seems that the customer comes last. Who’s first? I don’t know but the customer be damned – from dishonest tradespeople to lazy and unresponsive retail clerks, no one seems to care.
And with a Ford car this time in Vermont I decided to obtain the much needed oil change from a local Ford dealer after the long drive to Vermont, in order to set up a relationship where I could feel that my needs would be looked after. What an ordeal. Upon entering the service department, one guy was on the phone and another was on his computer. I chose to stand in front of the computer guy’s desk to be waited upon. Yes, I waited and waited until he finally and begrudgingly got off his computer, apparently put out at my presence, and asked what he could do for me. Finally, I was able to explain that I had an appointment and would leave my car and be back in a couple of hours to pick it up. When I returned, that guy’s desk was empty and the other guy was again on his phone. So guess what – a service mechanic came through the door and offered his help, took me to a desk where I could pay the bill – but that lady was on a lunch break so he took me back to the guy who was on his phone, finally off, and I paid the bill and collected my keys. I’ve been to all kinds of auto dealers in my life but have never experienced anything like this. But thank God for the mechanic, who, greasy hands, smudged uniform shirt and all, did seem to care. How does this dealer stay in business, pray tell? Must be selling a lot of cars – I don’t think there’s many repeat customers in the service department.
And finally, on the negative side of the ledger, I have to mention the bugs. Whenever I venture into the coolness of a pleasant Vermont evening, I have to coat my exposed skin with some kind of repellant to prevent being assaulted by bugs. A particularly troublesome insect is the notorious “no see-um” or “biting midge”, a tiny bug whose bite seems much worse than that of a mosquito. A “no see-um” bite somewhere on my scalp or back of the neck raises a bump like I had been hit with a hammer. And that bump itches too. Evidently, the tragic insect die-off caused by overuse of chemicals on farms, lawns and gardens has not affected these nasty little insects. Actually, I’ll bet that their numbers have been augmented by the demise of natural enemies. Whatever the cause, the lure of a warm humid evening is easy to resist here in a Vermont summer. However, all bugs have their seasons, so hopefully they’ll go away soon.
And then there are the ticks. These nasty, sneaky and dangerous creatures fall off their original hosts, the ubiquitous deer here and wait to attach themselves to us unsuspecting humans and infect us with any number of tick-borne diseases, the most notorious of which is Lyme Disease. I have received my share of bites, two just this summer, neither of which have apparently infected me. And I have received them in the past. During the summer of 2017 I came down with a frightening attack of arthritis. It seemed that every joint in my body was swelling and painful, as if I had been injected with some kind of poison. Of course I suspected Lyme so finally had the blood test which was negative. I’m still fighting the arthritis, which rheumatologists in both Vermont and Arizona still insist is “osteoarthritis”. Nevertheless I am convinced that those tick bites have something to do with this condition and so plan to get another test, since it’s only about 80 percent effective anyhow. I am always troubled and confused by Lyme Disease because the more you read about it the clearer it becomes that it affects different people in different ways and at different times. A prominent example is Kris Kristofferson, whose recent memory loss and confusion was blamed on dementia, presumably Alzheimers, until some enterprising doctor ordered a test for Lyme which turned up positive. It became apparent that Kristofferson had likely received a tick bite while filming “Disappearances” in 2005. Where? In Vermont. So I’ve not yet finished researching the cause of this sudden encounter with arthritis. I’m convinced its cause is Lyme.
But…on the other hand, I should reinforce and add to the many compliments I offered my adopted second-home state before. Experiments in socialism are alive and well here in dear old Vermont. My spouse’s favorite mail order company for her gardening needs, Gardener’s Supply, the company from which I had purchased the afore-mentioned boxes of plastic edging, is wholly owned and operated by its employees. Yes, its gracious salespersons, stockers, maintenance and office people work hard to increase company profits, which accrue directly to them and their families, not to a Jeff Bezos, a David Koch, a Walton or an amorphous army of wealthy stockholders. At Gardeners, the employees are the Bezoses, the Kochs, the Waltons and the stockholders, which adds to the pleasure of shopping there. This is how it should be, is it not? If employees work hard, they should receive a fair share of the profits.
And Vermonters are well ahead of the curve in other crucial areas as well. Shortly we will become the first state to outlaw plastic bags. And to prepare, I am now carrying cloth bags in the car for grocery shopping, although I often forget that they are there. And also, Vermont is moving toward keeping organic matter out of landfills and will at some point in the near future, actually require residents to deal with their own organic throwaway garbage, preferably by composting. We’re thankfully ahead of that curve already too, being the proud possessors for some years now of a “Green Johanna”, a barrel type of composter made in Sweden. Our little box garden in the back produces some pretty good vegetables, thanks to the rich compost that has been mixed into its soil.
And I should add to my previous compliments about politics here in Vermont, that this little state still produces Republicans that think and care. Yes, just like our staunchly Democratic neighbor to the south, Massachusetts, we do elect a Republican governor occasionally, the latest incarnation being Governor Phil Scott. Along with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, these guys are a throwback to Republicans like Mark Hatfield or Nelson Rockefeller, principled people who were practical, sensible, honest and honorable. Actually politicians like Scott and Baker are middle of the road governors, closer to Democrats actually in the way they govern, than the more radical prominent Republicans of today.
And Vermont continues to be significantly ahead of other states in the recognition and legalization of alternative life styles, characteristics with which many of our fellow human beings are born and over which they have no control and thus should be entitled to the same rights and privileges which the rest of us enjoy. Yes, Vermont was the first state to allow civil unions for gay couples, a remarkable achievement accomplished way back in 2000. Congratulations, Vermont.
Well there, I’m done with my second article about Vermont, my complaints and my compliments. And in spite of everything, I really do enjoy the people, the weather, even the roads and the rocks here and wouldn’t want to spend my summers anywhere else. Good old Vermont.