Saturday, June 02, 2012

Spring Turkey Hunting

The hardest thing about turkey hunting is getting out of bed at 4 am. Once you're up, though, and have pulled on full camo, it's as simple as grabbing your shotgun, going outside, and quietly sitting through the early summer dawn. "Three-quarters of turkey hunting is listening," whispered Dave Brown on the morning he first took me hunting.

On the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend I got out of bed, walked along the edge of sleeping Craftsbury Common, sat down in a hedgerow by a corn field, and listened. A few days earlier Dave and I had seen six jakes in this field, but couldn't sneak up on them or call them into range.

It didn't take long to hear the first gobble. The turkey was down towards Sunny Sweatt's - not so far away. I called to it with my wooden Ol Yelper call, and it gobbled right back.

Before long I could hear four separate gobblers, each going off in a different direction. Sometimes it was hard to tell if they were gobbling at each other, gobbling at my calls, gobbling because the sun was coming up or gobbling because they felt horny.

The most frequent and vigorous gobbling seemed to be coming - ironically - from the meadow in front of my house, about a quarter-mile away. I waited as long as I could (though in retrospect I should have waited longer) and then headed towards the meadow through the cedar woods.

GobbleGobbleGobbleGobble. Now that I was closer to the turkey, I had a better sense of its position - in the farthest corner of my front meadow. Creeping along, I came to the edge of the field. The sun was up by now, and I was getting hot under all the camo gear. I paused, called, and the turkey gobbled back. There are small pines along the edge of the meadow, and I began crawling through them, getting closer to the turkey.

gobblegobble. That was a fainter gobble from somewhere down the Catamount Trail. GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE. My turkey was really close now - only 100 yards away. I lay flat at the base of a little white pine and called. No response. Making it to another pine would get me ten feet closer. I crawled forward.

Gobble. Gobble. gobble. I still couldn't see my turkey. It wasn't far away, but seemed to have held up back in the woods. I crawled, waited, called, and waited some more. There were tiny violets and buttercups in the meadow grass. I called. I waited. I crawled forward.

I only heard the turkey gobble once more. It was well back into the woods by then, and the sun was high. I wanted a cup of coffee.

After taking over an hour to crawl across the meadow I stood up and trudged back towards the trail. I hadn't gone ten feet, though, when a turkey flushed up from the meadow grass. It had crouched down and hid when it saw me coming, and if I had taken one more step I would have stepped on its head - its bright red gobbler head - which I got a great look at as the turkey flew away and crashed into the trees.

The other gobbler, I realized. It had been following my calls, stalking me as I stalked the first turkey. If only at some point in my long and disappointing meadow crawl I had simply looked behind me.

I went home, made coffee, shed my camo coveralls, face mask, hat, and gloves, unloaded my shotgun, and got in the shower. But the hunt wasn't over. As I got out of the shower and looked out the bedroom window, what did I see but a red-headed gobbler, making his persistent way through the meadow grass.

I grabbed my rubber gobbler call, held it out the bedroom window, and gave it a shake. Gobble Gobble Gobble. The turkey stopped in its tracks, extended its neck, and gobbled back. There was no time to lose.

I scrambled downstairs stark naked, still holding the gobbler call. The church bells were ringing on the Common, just past the Craftsbury Public Library, and I paused for a moment to appreciate how awesome it is to live in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

Then I realized that if I could see the church and library, people in the church and library could see me - standing naked in front of the window holding a turkey call that looks like this:

I quickly ducked into the mudroom, grabbed my shotgun, pulled on my coveralls and ran barefoot into the field. The turkey was down in the woods, gobbling. Once more I crawled to the edge of the meadow. Wilson had been told to sit and stay, but he followed me at a distance. I lay there amidst all the little flowers, listening. Wilson tentatively walked up, stretched out, and rolled in the summer sun.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Belvidere Mountain Hike

Wilson and I climbed Belvidere Mountain yesterday, starting from Tillotson Road in Lowell. The trail climbed gradually at first, crossing several small streams, including one that seemed big enough to hold brook trout. It was a hot sunny day, the wildflowers were in full bloom, and I could smell the blossoms of wild apple trees.

It took a couple of hours to reach the summit. There was one couple there, and Wilson ran over to say hello. They were from Montreal. His family has a place in Jay, and she grew up in New Zealand. They met in Shenzhen. I asked them for help opening my beer, because I didn't have an opener. It was a special maple wheat beer from Rock Art. We couldn't open it with the lighter, but I eventually popped the cap off against the metal leg of the fire tower. I offered some beer to the couple, but they declined. "It's a special maple beer," I told them, and the girl from New Zealand said "Wow - how Canadian of you."

From the top we could see the abandoned asbestos mine in the foreground, and the Lowell ridgeline just beyond. The access road and turbine pads for the Lowell wind project stood out as brown scars against the light green of the springtime mountains.

My picnic was pretty awesome. I had stopped at Pete's and bought a baguette from Elmore Mountain, a container of garlic cheese spread from Sweet Rowen Farmstead, and a bag of Pete's mesclun greens. There was a lot of food, but I was hungry, and Wilson helped me eat the bread and cheese.

Pete's Greens, Sweet Rowen Cheese, Elmore Mountain Bread, Rock Art Beer

Another couple arrived as I was getting ready to leave. They were from Cambridge, MA, and had a condo in Newport Center. I gave them the rest of my picnic. The guy asked if I was selling stock in Sweet Rowen because of my description of the cheese.

The hike down went by quick. There were so many wildflowers.

On the drive to the trailhead I had passed what looked like a great fishing spot, so I stopped on the way back, and Wilson and I explored the river. It was a gorgeous trout stream - the headwaters of the Missisquoi, I think, a series of pools and rapids carved into rock. My spinner was too big - a #2 Mepps - and although I attracted lots of strikes I only landed one fish - a fat 10'' brookie. There were some old cellar holes along the stream.

I quit fishing when I lost the spinner and drove home listening to a Quebec radio station that played 80s dance music. Later, looking at Google Earth, I saw that the beautiful trout stream flows right out of beaver ponds by the old asbestos mine.

Here's a video of Wilson on the trail:

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Kachin in the New York Times

This is a terrific video from the besieged Kachin micro-state in northern Myanmar, published today by the NY Times.

In case you can't watch the embedded video above, here's the link to the permanent URL: NY TIMES Kachin Video

In 2008, I spent a month in the part of Myanmar portrayed in the video, reporting for the Pulitzer Center and teaching journalism workshops with Documentary Arts Asia. Here are a couple of my articles about Kachin:

Understanding the War in Kachin

Finding Faith in Myanmar

Ryan Libre has lived for several extended periods in Kachin, working as a documentary photographer and filmmaker. He maintains the site

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Brooklyn Goat Roast

Last spring, I traveled to New York with 12 goats and 12 students from Sterling College. The trip culminated in a goat roast at my friend Nick's place in Park Slope. Another friend, Darrin Duford, attended the Brooklyn Goat Roast and wrote a piece about it for Matador. Good times.

With a beer in hand, Tim gestured to the temperature gauge on top of the grill. “220 degrees. Right between ‘smoke’ and ‘barbecue.’ That’s about where it should be.” That was where it stayed for eight hours.

Full Article: Roast a Goat, Support a Farm


Monday, June 27, 2011

Sterling College and the University of Vermont

My friend and colleague Jody Stoddard writes an absolutely wonderful blog called Farmer Jo. Her latest post describes the differences between Sterling College and the University of Vermont --- it's one of the very best things I've read this year.

Here's the post: Compare and Contrast

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

View from a frontline bunker in Kachin

Ryan Libre took this photo yesterday in Kachin State, where fighting has broken out between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fighting in Kachin

Photo: Ryan Libre

After almost two decades of uneasy peace, war has returned to Kachin, in the north of Burma. The Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have been fighting for almost a week in an area close to controversial Chinese hydro-electric projects. Both sides have suffered fatalities, civilians are fleeing to the Chinese border, and the Kachins are accusing the Burmese of torturing and killing prisoners of war.

The fighting in Kachin is not unexpected. The Kachin people - who are predominantly Christian - insist on a political role within a federal union of Burma, while the Burmese government attempts to exert exclusive economic and political control over Kachin's rich natural resources. Tensions have been rising in recent years, and many observers felt that only China's watchful and wary presence had kept the two antagonists at bay until now.

Although the Burmese government and media has been silent about the fighting in Kachin, the news is hitting worldwide media, helped along by a very savvy media relations campaign within the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The KIO's policy of promoting a free media and inviting foreign journalists (like myself) into their territory stands in stark contrast to the fierce repression that muzzles the media in most of Burma.

In my opinion, the one thing that some foreign media is getting wrong, however, is the framing of this conflict, which is too often portrayed as tribal and remote - fighting between tribes in a lawless land. Kachin is not a remote jungle backwater, the Kachin people are not tribal head-hunters, and Kachin soldiers do NOT hack the ears off their enemies. The territory at stake is one of the most economically important and politically open parts of Burma, and the Kachin people are fully aware of their situation and how it fits within a contemporary global context.

Many Kachins can speak eloquently about their political dilemma in at least four languages, including English, Chinese, Burmese and Jinghpaw. The political leadership is expert in diplomacy and eager to develop and democratize.

Kachin leaders like Gun Maw, a chief negotiator for the KIO, embody an alternative leadership for a new Burma that recognizes human rights. Unlike the sclerotic and ineffective domestic opposition, embodied by the National League for Democracy, the KIO leadership is seasoned by the experience of governing through challenging times.

Historically, the Kachin quest for international recognition and political legitimacy was hamstrung by involvement in the drug trade, but since a 1994 ceasefire, and especially in the past three years, the KIO has campaigned extensively against the cultivation, distribution, and use of opium and other illegal drugs. The Kachin gamble was that political legitimacy and international awareness would prove more valuable than money from the drug trade.

"We need a lot of help," commented a Kachin leader during my visit in 2008. "We need moral support, material support, political support, and legal support."

Much is at stake in Kachin. The KIO is calling for Beijing to mediate the current conflict, but the Chinese are in close communication with the Burmese military. Whether or not the conflict spreads may depend on the extent to which the front line units of the Burmese army will answer to the military command. It may also depend on the willingness of the international community to address a conflict that is playing out in China's backyard.

For updates, visit The Irrawaddy and the Kachin News Group. For more photos by Ryan Libre, visit his gallery, Inside the Kachin Independence Army.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hanging out off the coast of Greenland

Sterling College alum Hannah McHardy, '10, is currently suspended beneath an oil rig off the coast of Greenland in an effort to halt drilling in arctic seas. Wow. Here's a link to her latest blog post: Update from the Arctic Survival Pod.


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Goat Road Rally of 2011

A couple of weeks ago I went to NYC with 12 goats, 12 college students, 1 professor, and 1 intrepid reporter - Melissa Pasanen, who was on assignment for the Burlington Free Press.

Melissa's article about the road trip came out yesterday, and what an awesome article it is - the Sunday Feature, with 5 full pages of story and photos.

Here's an excerpt:

Just a few blocks from the live market on White Plains Road under the elevated subway tracks, the smoky scent of charcoal filled everyone's nostrils, and a stoplight halted the van conveniently beside a large barbecue rig parked just off the corner of 234th Street.

Within seconds, Patterson and a few students had jumped out with one of the goat carcasses...

If you live in VT, try to find a print copy of the Free Press - otherwise the article is available online for a limited time here:

Great Goat Road Rally of 2011

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Young People Moving to the Northeast Kingdom

Annie Myers, full-time farmhand, part-time reporter and all around rockstar, recently interviewed me for an article about young people moving to the Hardwick, VT area. It was a pretty comprehensive interview, and only a couple of lines made the Gazette, so I'm posting the whole shebang here. (FYI, Annie keeps a sweet blog - Thoughts on the Table.)

Craftsbury is a great place to call home.

Where are you from originally?

I'm a flatlander, born in Durham, Connecticut. My parents moved to Vermont in 1994, when I was eleven, and I started 7th grade at Craftsbury Academy. I loved fishing and hunting, so it wasn't too hard to make new friends at school.

When you came to Vermont, where were you moving from?

Well, central Connecticut, originally. My grandmother's family owned a farm there - Lyman Orchards, which is mostly golf courses now, and my grandfather ran a box factory. My parents loved Vermont, though, and when I was a baby they started a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut called Craftsbury Christmas Trees. They first bought land up on Eden Mountain, and we would camp out there in a big tipi every summer, planting Christmas trees. A few years later, they bought a house in Mill Village, and soon we were Vermonters.

Most recently, I moved home from Boulder, Colorado, where I was working for an educational travel company called Where There Be Dragons. Prior to Boulder I worked as a teacher, travel writer and guide for about 5 years, mostly in Southeast Asia. A year ago I was embedded as a journalist with a rebel army in northern Burma; 6 months ago I was on scavenger hunt around Damascus at 2 in the morning. It was an exciting life, but I felt the pull to come home and put down roots and devote myself to one place and one community. The most important thing I've learned in my travels is that the Northeast Kingdom is one of the best places anywhere to settle down.

How long have you lived here?

Two years ago, I bought 2 acres just west of the Common, in Craftsbury. That's when I knew I was coming home. It was last August when I found a good job in Craftsbury and moved home full time.

Who is your employer?

Sterling College. I actually saw the employment ad in the Hardwick Gazette, which I subscribed to while living out in Colorado.

What is your position with them?

Director of Advancement. When people ask me what the job entails, I like to say, Moving Forward. Basically, I need to get the word out about Sterling.

What attracted you to the position itself?

This is a big moment for Sterling, and for all of Vermont.

Bright young people from all around the world are way ahead of the curve when it comes to appreciating the concept of sustainability in an authentic and grounded way. They don't want be work in cubicles and live in boxes. They understand that there are real problems with our society, and they want to do their bit to fix those problems. Some of these young people are idealistic, some are cynical, some are naive, but all of them are ready to roll up their sleeves and work.

These young people are reading Ed Abbey and Khalil Gibran, and, believe it or not, they're reading Ben Hewitt, too. They are gaining new respect for hard work and the sort of practical values that are rooted in a deep sense of stewardship. Sterling is a college where they can live in a community with strong values and a healthy working landscape, and where they can study things like Permaculture, Wilderness Stewardship, and Ecology. And they study at a college that's right down the road from people like Pete Johnson and Steve Gorelick, who, whether they like it or not, are both leaders in the sustainability movement.

Sterling - and the whole Northeast Kingdom - has a chance to showcase a form of success that's much more meaningful and lasting than any short-term economic boom. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of support to make it happen, and I want to help.

What aspects of the Northeast Kingdom attracted you?

Geez, where to begin? The seasons. My family. Concerts on the Common. Robert Linck's farmstand. The April Fool's Edition of the Gazette. Hardwick Men's Night at Mountain View. Barr Hill and blueberry pie. Deer and turkeys in the yard. Riteway. The Church on the Common. Claire's. The Outdoor Center. The accessibility of state government. Sonny Sweat's carvings of trout. Lake Willoughby. Duck Pond. I could go on.

What aspects of the Northeast Kingdom made you hesitate to move here?

I thought I would miss the excitement of traveling, and the energy of larger cities and towns, and I do. Winter is long and hard. The cost of living is high. In Thailand I once helped build a small adobe house for $300, start to finish. My house in Craftsbury has been more expensive. The cost of healthcare is ridiculous.

I did not look forward to needing a car to get around. America is hopelessly addicted to cheap energy, and I think the addiction is deeply unhealthy in a physical, spiritual, and economic sense.

Give me some highs and lows. What has surprised you about living in this place?

I'm surprised by the increasing gap between wealthy and poor in Vermont, which seems more pronounced than it was ten years ago, when I last lived here full time.

I'm surprised by how many incredible people live up here, and surprised by how hard it is to get to know each other sometimes. Everyone is busy, and focused on their own lives, their own battles.

How long do you expect to live here? Could you keep your current employment indefinitely?

I don't have any plans to leave. I'd be thrilled to have the same job 5, 10 or 20 years from now.

Besides your current job, are there other opportunities in the area that interest you? Don't laugh at that one. It's important.

Oh, sure! I would love to help connect Vermont with Asia in some fashion. I speak Japanese, and some Chinese, and have spent years working in Southeast Asia as well. Quebec has poured a ton of resources into marketing maple syrup in Japan, for example, and it's paying off for them, big-time. I'd love to do something like create a premium market for Vermont sugar-makers in Asia, or develop exchange programs between Sterling and colleges overseas.

This September I'll be leading a global field study program to Japan for Sterling, a program that's partially sponsored by the Freeman Foundation - it would be cool to have more of those opportunities.

Have you been able to meet people in the community here, outside of home and work? How? Has it been easy? Hard? Not a priority?

Hmm, sometimes easy, sometimes hard. People are friendly and approachable, but everyone is really busy. I've barely had a chance to see some of my best childhood friends, because we're all working so hard.

I think it will be easier to meet people in the summer and fall, when we're all outside in the fresh air.

Could you imagine yourself living here forever? Starting a business here?
Why/why not?

Yes, yes, yes. Because this is home.

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