THE NATURE CONSERVANCY OF VERMONT
Some of Vermont’s most significant natural areas are held and protected by The Nature Conservancy of Vermont, a private nonprofit organization chartered in 1960. The Conservancy identifies critical natural sites in Vermont and works to preserve biodiversity in and around them and in each geographic region in the state. It seeks to protect particular species as well as large areas of the landscape-forest. Nature is not bound by lines on a map, so the Conservancy seeks connectivity with neighboring natural areas in New Hampshire, Canada, and New York.
While private and commercial development threatens and divides more and more natural areas, Vermont’s natural environments are also threatened by invasive species, a changing climate, and acid rain. Today many of Vermont’s native species are being purged by invasive nonnatives, so the Conservancy’s natural scientists look at the viability of long-term solutions for saving rare native species as well as whole landscapes. Will Vermont and its people commit to the preservation of the state’s natural landscape? Of the states in the eastern part of the country, Vermont may have the best chance to achieve equilibrium: the culture of Vermont cares about the natural environment and exhibits the desire to protect it.
To protect the range of life in a natural community once a particular site is identified, the Conservancy then develops a plan of action that may include acquiring the land, creating easements, or working with government programs. Often, what happens around any natural area is as important as what happens within it. The stewardship of these properties is foremost about ecological management but also about developing good relationships with neighboring landowners.
The Conservancy strives to help people see the fragile, hidden secrets of beauty in some of the most amazing places in Vermont. Since its formation in 1960, the Vermont chapter has been responsible for the protection of over 167,000 acres of land in the state and stewards a rich and diverse preserve system of close to 17,000 acres of natural environments. And there is more land in Vermont that deserves to be protected. Many of the places the Conservancy has protected are accessible to visitors. To visit these special places is to appreciate the important body of work that The Nature Conservancy of Vermont has been able to accomplish over four decades and to celebrate even the smallest—and often the most glorious—features in nature.
H. Laurence Achilles Natural Area at Shelburne Pond
Not far from one of the most densely populated areas in Vermont, this secluded pond, with its uniquely undeveloped shoreline, remains surrounded by fields and limestone cliffs. The marshes and swamps provide an excellent habitat for birds, and the woodlands—a perfect place for snowshoe hares—are a rich source for spring wildflowers such as hepatica, bloodroot, and red and white trilliums.
Williams Woods Natural Area
Forests like the one at Williams Woods once covered thousands of acres in the Lake Champlain Valley but over time had been cleared for farming. This very rare place is an island among agricultural activity: it remains one of the few places in the area that had never been cleared for farming or development. Mighty 300-year-old swamp oaks can be found at the site. A marsh, a brook, and vernal pools make it an important area for colorful amphibians like the red-spotted newt, the blue-spotted salamander, and the gray tree frog.
Calais and East Montpelier
Chickering Bog Natural Area
A thick layer of peat—30 feet deep in places—and a small pond are the remains of a large body of water that was formed here 13,000 years ago. A boardwalk allows visitors access into part of the bog where, in season, one can see blue flag iris, showy lady’s slipper, and pitcher plants and hear boisterous frogs and wood ducks. Outside the bog, paths through a magnificent old mixed-hardwood and balsam fir forest are an excellent way to discover twinflowers and rare pink lady’s slippers.
Long Pond Natural Area
Undeveloped, remote, deep in the woods, and surrounded by acres of balsam fir, spruce, beech, maple, and birch trees, Long Pond is the perfect natural habitat for the common loon, great blue heron, varieties of duck, osprey, black eagle, hermit thrush, and pileated woodpecker. In the woods, the porcupine, mink, weasel, otter, moose, snowshoe hare, and bobcat make their home. The Conservancy manages an important part of the shoreline that includes a mature white cedar swamp and watershed that feeds the pond.
Eshqua Bog Natural Area
Sitting quietly among a 40-acre sanctuary owned jointly with the New England Wild Flower Society, this unusual postglacial natural area is renowned for its white bog and green bog orchids, showy and pink lady’s slippers, and other rare plant species, such as Labrador tea and pitcher plants. Called a bog, but technically a fen, this wet place is fed by groundwater, which is rich in nutrients, rather than by rainwater, which is highly acidic and typical of bogs.
Helen W. Buckner Natural Area at Bald Mountain
This preserve, which now includes the historic Galick homestead, is located on a peninsula of Vermont that is surrounded by New York State. The largest site owned by the Vermont chapter, this natural area is also its most ecologically diverse and serves as habitat for a wide range of wildlife. It is the only place in Vermont where rattlesnakes are able to live year-round in a natural environment. It provides migration and nesting for over 50 kinds of birds, among the most notable being the peregrine falcon. The five-lined skink, Vermont’s only lizard, lives here among numerous species of salamanders and frogs. The woodlands are haven for bobcats.
LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area
The marsh, ultimately connected to Lake Champlain by the LaPlatte River, covers hundreds of acres of land that is flooded during the rainy times of the year, making it difficult for some tree species to endure the wet clay soil. Here, black willow and swamp white oak thrive on the annual spring floods, and native common cattail and pickerelweed abound. Vermont faces tough obstacles where exotic plants such as honeysuckle, purple loosestrife, and flowering rush reproduce and spread rapidly, as they do here at the marsh, and exotic animals outcompete native species, as cormorants—which are new to Vermont—do to the common tern.
Victory and Granby
Victory Bog Natural Area
Formerly owned by a large paper company, this massive wild area that the Conservancy helped to acquire is a common home to black bear, beaver, white-tailed deer, mink, moose, blue heron, grouse, duck, and trout. The acquisition helped to make two portions of important forests in Victory connect that, combined, now amount to over 20,000 acres of contiguous land. The significant scale of this project vividly exemplifies the important goals The Nature Conservancy of Vermont has worked to achieve in Vermont for all who treasure and value the state’s unique, and often fragile, natural environments.
White River Junction
JOHN KEMP LEE
Intentions can sometimes shift dramatically as a result of an unforeseen experience. John Kemp Lee entered Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, as a freshman to study psychology and premedical courses, with the goal of becoming a dentist. During his senior year, he took an elective course in the college’s art department, and it was that class and its inspiring teacher that opened his mind to the idea of making art. Lee graduated from the college and applied to dental school but instead took a job with the aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut. After a year, while pondering his future and finding it difficult to shed the uncommon experience of making sculpture, he decided to quit his comfortable job, abandon the idea of becoming a dentist, and set out to become a sculptor.
Lee reminisces that sculpture was “a discipline that one could be serious about,” and he enrolled at the Maine College of Art in Portland, where the course of study was similar to the French academic discipline of studying art by looking at and making copies of the work of the great European masters. Lee then went on to study sculpture in the master of fine arts program at the University of Pennsylvania. The university’s museum has a vast collection of Eastern art that greatly inspired Lee during his years at the school, and it informed his developing artistic sensibilities. In 1984, Lee returned to Dartmouth, this time to teach drawing, sculpture, and printmaking, as well as to continue to develop his own artwork.
As an American making sculpture in the 20th century, Lee knew that he did not want to make representational statues, but he loved the figure as a subject. He was drawn to ancient Eastern art and the quiet strength that it evokes, but he wanted to become a contemporary sculptor actively working in the modern Western world. Today Lee’s work remains figurative, although it contains no traditional representations of figures. The complex contrasts of his interests find balance in his work where, as in Zen and Eastern sculpture, the stillness—the absence of motion—and the transition of energy are strongly felt.
Living in rural Vermont, Lee began to study Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a fundamental martial art that originated in ancient China in remote villages where the people, poor and without weapons to defend themselves, had to fend off attacks from enemies with only their bodies. In Tai Chi, one takes his opponent’s energy and, rather than block it, takes that energy and transitions it. The original purpose of Tai Chi has evolved over the centuries from a technique of self-defense to a process of self-cultivation through the practice of movement and health and fitness. As a process of moving meditation, Tai Chi strengthened Lee’s interest in Eastern art, and he has worked to translate many of its fundamental concepts into his sculpture.
In Tai Chi, a student spends years learning the art of movement from a master. In art, Lee has been fortunate to have had many great instructors and mentors—his masters—to whom he unselfishly attributes his personal development as an artist. Among them are his Dartmouth faculty colleagues and artists Varujan Boghosian and the late Fumio Yoshimura.
For Lee, there is now no end to his practice of Tai Chi and the beginning of his sculpture. “There is no boundary between art and movement,” he believes. A moving pendulum, for example, is energy that ultimately returns to rest. Concepts in Tai Chi such as transition, balance, gravity, energy, turning, and rest serve as catalysts for gesture, form, and symbol in Lee’s work.
Lee seeks to bring into his work the order of existing energy “as an antidote to the noise that we are bombarded with and cultivate in our lives, such as the radio or television. The way we breathe, our ability to live, is largely predicated on our ability to expand. There are certain things that speak to us all: gravity, energy, and the absence of tension. These are the universal things that join us together instead of what draw us apart.”
The constant hum is grounding, and raw energy lives in the continuous, penetrating sound and earthy drone of the bagpipes. To play the pipes—an instrument that consists of a bag, a chanter, and a cylindrical tube with a single reed, called a drone—requires a carefully developed personal air supply. The bagpipe may have developed from an ancient instrument similar to a pastoral hornpipe. References to pipelike instruments reach back as early as 400 bc and even to the Roman Emperor Nero, who was reputed to be a bagpipe player. The Roman army used pipe music to inspire its troops when marching into battle. Roman conquerors may have introduced the bagpipe to the British Isles.
Timothy Cummings is a musician, and bagpipes and bagpipe playing are part of his genetic memory. He started playing traditional Irish songs on the piano at age six. As a child, he listened to old recordings of bagpipe music and was intrigued by the tunes and sound of the instrument. He learned piping on a practice chanter, a simple wind instrument. Cummings now plays a number of instruments, each having its own unique qualities and sound. Among them are Great Highland bagpipes, an Irish war pipe, and Border pipes.
After college, Cummings wanted to compose music and left the northern hemisphere for New Zealand, where he entered the graduate program at Wellington to study musicology and ethnomusicology. From New Zealand, Cummings moved to a small town in New Brunswick, Canada, to teach music at the local school. The long, cold, gray winter drove him south to warmer Vermont. For Cummings, Vermont was an intuitive choice—he knew it would be the right place to live. Cummings is now proud to call Vermont home. Not taking anything for granted, Cummings is surprised that “some Vermonters do not realize how beautiful and wonderful Vermont is.”
Cummings teaches piping privately and performs privately, as well as for church functions and weddings. He is keenly interested in arranging and composing collections of music that are broad enough to be played on the bagpipe—hymns from different denominations and old-time Appalachian music. Cummings’s goal is to make the bagpipe socially acceptable for music beyond the traditional bagpipe repertoire. The expansive collection of world hymns that Cummings has worked to arrange opens up new possibilities for musicians and listeners of the bagpipe.
CADY BROOK FARM
Cady Brook Farm is a private home, and its owners consider the buildings and landscape they have cultivated there a work in progress. Consideration and care for the buildings, gardens, meadows, and forests are a priority for them, and their process in creating their own special place deep in the hills of South Woodstock is guided by a keen sensitivity to nature and the celebrations that come with sharing the beauty and bounty of the changing seasons with family and friends.
Stephen and Louise Schwebel had been looking to buy a second home in the country—a retreat far from their work and responsibilities in the city. Louise Schwebel had looked at properties in Rhode Island, Connecticut, the Massachusetts islands, and Maine. She had never been to Vermont, and 15 minutes after she arrived, something clicked—she knew Vermont was right. On that spring day, the sky was clear and deep blue, and the hills were bright green. “When we came to Cady Brook Farm, I took ten steps, saw the beautiful pond, and knew this was the place,” she remembers. “These were hills where I could live and breathe.”
Louise Schwebel grew up in Stockholm. In Sweden, it is a common custom to spend summers at a country house, where pleasures such as picking berries, collecting mushrooms, watching the birds, and fly fishing reign. Swedes have a devout respect for the land and make wonderful celebrations of yearly rituals with special foods, songs, and decorations, such as marking the end of winter by gathering up all of the season’s fallen branches and, on the last night of April, joining in a great celebration, with singing and merry-making around a bonfire. The Schwebels have translated the Swedish sense of joy and care for nature to taking responsibility for the land, working with nature, and celebrating the seasons at Cady Brook Farm.
The previous owners had the beams from a 1798 barn frame from nearby Bethel moved to the South Woodstock site and reused them as a frame for the new house. When the Schwebels bought the property in 1993, they lived with it for a while as it had been designed but then determined to develop a 3-, 5-, and 10-year plan for the house and land around it to suit their own sensibilities. The land was a top priority. As part of a forestry plan, one of the first steps was to make sure that the forest and its plants had space and light to grow. By selectively opening up the forest, sunlight poured into it, allowing the hardwood trees and native plants to thrive. To revive the failing meadows, they removed extensive brambles and invasive honeysuckle and spread lime to restore fertility. The meadows are now wonderful places for wildlife, and in the fall, after the summer birds have migrated south, the grasses are cut back and the clippings left as a natural fertilizer for the earth. Having achieved their 10-year plan, the Schwebels are now developing the next phase of design to accommodate their children and their spouses and a new generation by rebuilding a guesthouse, creating new gardens, building stone walls, and planting trees. The plans and the work are ongoing.
Air and water mark the difference in living in two places. Leaving the city and arriving at Cady Brook Farm, Louise Schwebel first drinks a tall glass of cold water because it is so good. “I arrive always exhausted and always happy. I drink the water, breathe the air, and simply walk around. It takes three days to get the right balance, to get used to it. The water and the air are so potent, so strong. Hopefully we will be here for a while. The important thing is that we care for this place.”
—Glenn Suokko, 2008