|A blend of farm and village, work and recreation, sophisticated and vernacular, fresh and weathered, Vermont is a place where the qualities of connectedness are revealed through its resourceful people, landscape, agriculture, art, and poetry.|
Here much remains untarnished, compared with other places. The beauty of summer reveals its most resplendent pleasures in simple forms: summer arrives and rests on wild strawberries, in well-tended gardens, and in the shade of old trees; the rhythm of horses clip-clopping on a soft dirt road is heard through the screen of a back-porch afternoon slumber; and quietude is balanced with joviality among friends in the lingering light of the solstice. Here the land is paramount to each and every intent calling us to walk upon it and to become a part of it; the warm air is brief and coveted and precious. Reticent to deny the pleasure of summer’s embrace, reluctant to admit its imminent withdrawal, we play.
ENVISIONING LANDSCAPE: CONSERVATION
Individuals can make a difference in their community, but some individuals make an impact beyond it. To explore the vast grounds, forest trails, and carriage roads at Marsh-Billings- Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock is to experience not only the difference one individual has made to a local com¬munity but rather the significant difference many generations of individuals have made to a town, a state, and a nation.
The national park in this small town is the result of the visions, plans, and actions of several individuals who made a commitment over time to provide a better landscape for Vermont, Vermonters, and visitors to Vermont. These men and women cared deeply for the world around them and fully recognized the multifold connections that bind us to the health, character, and beauty of the land. Informed by the art and literature of their day, and with an interest in improving and maintaining the unique heritage of Woodstock, the prudent residents in the story of this special place have made a difference by practicing land stewardship—by taking care of their place.
Vermont in the 19th century looked very different from the Vermont we see today. Envision a landscape faced with crisis: a land cleared of its forests to meet lumber-product demands or to make extensive pastures for millions of sheep. As a result, few trees were left standing whose roots could hold the soil in place; trees that could nurture the earth through seasonal growth, decay, and compost; or trees that could provide habitat for the thousands of indigenous plant, bird, and animal species. The hills were barren, much of the countryside lay in ruin, flooding and extensive erosion were commonplace, and Vermont witnessed a severe ecological and economic decline. Many Vermonters left their state to forge futures in other parts of the country.
George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882), the first visionary to inhabit the property, spent his adult life serving several terms in Congress and later as an American diplomat abroad, but his childhood experiences on his family’s farm in Woodstock helped form his adult perspectives. Through his carefully considered observations and writings—most notably in his book Man and Nature (1864)—Marsh is today considered one of the founders of the environmental movement.
After making his fortune in the California Gold Rush, Frederick Billings (1823–1890) returned to his home state of Vermont and witnessed the devastation of the countryside. In 1869, Billings purchased and began to expand the Marsh property, where he was determined to create a model farm founded on a sustainable approach to land and forest management. At the time, forest conservation was hardly a recognized profession in the United States and the science of forestry was just beginning to develop, so Billings had to look to Europe as a model for his reforestation plans in Woodstock.
Billings developed the old farm roads on Mount Tom into gentle carriage roads for easier access to observe the forest. He encouraged others to explore his property, and researchers came to witness his experiments with species and plantings. His carriage roads, which he considered his greatest contribution to the property, are a weaving of the practical and the beautiful. He opened his land to the community, and visitors experienced the extraordinary splendor of the land and forest. In sharing his interest and his commitment to land stewardship, Billings encouraged others to do the same on their own properties. His influence spread beyond Woodstock to other communities. His motive was the restoration of the forest, but through his commitment to the land, he proved to be pivotal in improving the healthful and aesthetic character of the Vermont landscape.
After Billings’s death in 1890, his wife Julia (1835–1914) and their daughters Elizabeth, Mary, and Laura maintained the same commitment to stewardship and land-management practices, further enhancing the estate’s ecology and natural beauty.
At the end of the 19th century, at a time when philanthropic American families created many great cultural and educational institutions, the Rockefeller family held a love for the country’s vast landscapes and still-untouched frontiers. Four generations of the Rockefeller family made a commitment to preserving the American landscape by creating more than 20 national parks. In 1934, Laurance Rockefeller (1910–2004), who held his family’s interest in the land, married one of Billings’s granddaughters, Mary French (1910–1997). Mary and Laurance Rockefeller shared a deep respect for heritage and historic character and perpetuated the vision and work originated by Frederick and Julia Billings and their daughters at their Woodstock estate that had been passed down through the Billings family to Mary.
The Rockefellers also believed in the need for beauty in life. The natural beauty of the land should be experienced if it is to be appreciated, and the Rockefellers felt that recreation was a strong feature of experience. In 1970, they created ski trails on Mount Tom and a resort and sports center in Woodstock and invited the local community and visitors from afar to enjoy the beauty of the natural environment through recreation and sports such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife observation. Outside their estate, among many of the initiatives designed to preserve the historic character of Woodstock, they provided the resources to bury the unsightly electrical lines and telephone cables in the town center in order to enhance uninterrupted views of the beautiful tree-lined streets and village architecture, therefore creating a timeless vision of the Vermont village. Beyond Woodstock, Laurance Rockefeller worked as an advisor to five American presidents to make conservation an important part of the national agenda. In 1992, the Rockefellers made their Woodstock estate a gift to the American people that became Vermont’s first national park in 1998.
The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is the earliest surviving example of planned and managed reforestation in the United States. The property is now managed by the National Park Service, and it is presently the only national park to practice land stewardship. Under the guidance of Superintendent Rolf Diamant and a deeply committed staff, the park is an illustrative landscape that tells the story of conservation. A rare example of over 130 years of commitment to resource-oriented stewardship, this unique environment clearly illustrates the dynamic layers of a natural ecology.
The park staff recently composed a forest-management plan based on the property’s history and its natural and cultural resources, laying out a vision of what the park might look like in 100 to 200 years. In the 19th century, Vermont faced environmental crises as a result of man’s direct actions, primarily because of deforestation through cutting and stripping. In the 21st century, disease, invasive species, and atmospheric deposition threaten the forest’s balance and its future. The forest, however, is constantly changing and resilient, and the staff studies how to manage, protect, preserve, and enhance it in the process.
Today the park staff is pushing forward into a new era of stewardship. One example of the philosophy of the park’s present leadership is to use the forest to interpret local resource economies by linking local craftsmen and the wood-products industry. The park recently received third-party certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and is the only federal land to have received such certification. A criterion for certification is the property’s relationship to a local economy and to educational programs. Pine harvested from the forest was used for the rehabilitation of the Carriage Barn Visitor Center, and Vermont furniture makers were asked to make bookshelves, tables, and chairs from wood harvested from the park forest. The furniture makers were able to select the wood while the trees were still standing, a portable sawmill was brought on site, and the craftsmen were given the wood they needed for their furniture designs. They returned with finished products, and today the visitor center is furnished with their work.
The park’s business is education, and it is managed for people, not for product or profit. The forest is seen—and often literally used—as a classroom that provides the venue for exploration, demonstration, and contemplation. As a center for education, the park seeks to be a transparent stage for engaged dialogue about the park, land stewardship, management practices, and new directions in conservation.
Over a century ago, forest conservation was a new concept, and very few individuals had the vision to practice it. The unique example of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park illustrates a legacy of commitment to careful forest management and clearly reflects the interface of people with the land. The park and its visionaries offer us enduring inspiration to take care of our own little corners of the world—no matter how large or small—and make the commitment to manage them well and meaningfully for the present and the future.
ENVISIONING LANDSCAPE: PAINTING
Peter Brooke has spent years enthusiastically tending the land and forest on a magnificent hill near his house where most days he walks, hikes, bikes, or skis its many trails. He also spends much of his time on the hill looking—at the ground and trees, the old stone walls and meadows, or from his hill to the expanse of rolling hills beyond. At the summit of the hill is an extraordinary 360-degree view of the vast Connecticut River Valley to the south, the Green Mountains to the west, Canada to the north, and the White Mountains to the east. Years ago Brooke sought to understand his relationship to the land around him and firmly made the decision to paint pictures that are inspired only by the hill that is so meaningful to him.
From his hill, Brooke absorbs what he sees. His work is a result of accumulated time and memory built by visual experience and expressed as paintings back in his studio. He paints a month or two after a season has passed, when many visits to the hill have had time to saturate his thinking. In his studio, Brooke often works in concert on a number of paintings at one time. The paintings in progress are arranged on the studio walls much like a panorama, so he can view the work collectively and know that each painting will work well with another.
For the viewer, Brooke’s paintings might suggest a specific site, but they are never literal, real places. He creates a sense of place by first experiencing it, then re-envisioning it, then painting it. In his work, familiar objects such as tree forms ultimately become abstract; space often becomes ambiguous. The viewer’s eye travels through Brooke’s paintings with a sense of what it might be like to walk through and experience his created spaces, to anticipate what might be around the next corner or perhaps remember the experience of a walk after the return home.
Brooke paints intuitively, directly, focusing on making a picture and not on describing the particular. His work is not a replication of what he sees in the world-space outside but rather what he sees from experience inside—that which is constant and yet forever changing with each sojourn, each day, each season, each year.
ENVISIONING LANDSCAPE: FARMING
Vermont is rich with farms, and Fat Rooster Farm is one of several excellent organic farms in Orange County. The farm is unique because of the diversity of naturally grown or pastured food products it offers. Visitors to the farm in season can purchase virtually everything for the kitchen, such as eggs, herbs, salad greens, heirloom varieties of vegetables, garlic, shitake mushrooms, chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, pork, maple syrup, honey, fresh flowers, and even hand-turned hardwood salad bowls.
Kyle Jones grew up on a farm in Ohio, where he witnessed the economics and realities of conventional farming and turned away from it as a profession. Later, however, Jones was impressed and inspired by friends who farm and raise sheep in Maine. Benefiting from their example, and urged on by his wife, Jennifer Megyesi, Jones determined to farm organically, and together he and Megyesi created Fat Rooster Farm to grow and raise good honest food for their family and for others in the community.
Jones also works part-time as a forest ecologist at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock. Influenced by Marsh, “who saw and wrote about important environmental issues at a time when very few did,” and Billings, “who liked to do things on the ground,” Jones’s informed vision for creating a diversified, well-managed farm and for taking care of the earth around him is a fine example of the important continuum of forward-thinking Vermonters.
GASTRONOMY: THE PLEASURE TO PICK
Some do and some do not.
Some stand for hours in the hot summer sun—arms and ankles scratched sore, neck mosquito-bitten, fingers stained sticky with juice—pleased to pick berries. Some pick simply for pleasure, some out of tradition, some to sell a basketful, some in anticipatation of a pie.
Some prefer strawberries from tidy, long, carefully planned beds. Others prefer raspberries from a neighbor’s backyard. Some prefer blueberries by the handful from a pick-your-own. Children seem to prefer them all.
Some, however, strike out in the wild to seek that dark and swollen fruit nestled on shoots riveted with prickly thorns, the prolific Rubus fruticosus, the blackberry. Tolerant of more sun and more heat than its cousins, the blackberry patiently waits all summer, happily the last in line. Not showy, never tame, always a challenge, the native blackberry holds the stories, wisdom, and nourishment of the year—how deep was the frost and winter snow, how wet was the spring, how dry and sunny was the summer—all safely contained within its individual drupelets.
Some linger in the bliss of late summer to pick while the sun— soon to rest low in the western sky—urges them on. The sun itself lives most strikingly in the fruit, caught in a kiss, a kiss we all long for. Hot dry grass, asters, and goldenrod are the blackberry picker’s companions, blue jays and blackbirds her competition. In the wild and in freedom, the berry picker chooses carefully, the berry picker picks carefully, one berry at a time.
—Glenn Suokko, 2006