Was great to be at yesterday’s town meeting at Mount Mansfield Union High school. I was there with fellow transitioner Dave Clift to table for Transition Town Jericho, to see friends and neighbors and catch bits and pieces of the meeting around the corner in the auditorium.
Tabling at the yearly meeting isn’t as newsworthy as the actual town meeting, yet is energizing for many of us, as it garners conversation around the numerous things happening in Jericho. Town committees like Planning and Conservation are represented there, as well as grassroots groups promoting everything from transition towns to native plants to youth empowerment.
I personally love town meeting as the one day all year you get to see everyone you know in town. Or shall I say, everyone you know in town seems to show up. I talked at length with a young activist from the Montreal area who was there with a group of Canadians. They were observing Vermont’s town meeting as a model for their own communities.
At one point, I poked my head into the meeting in time to join the yays for one of this year’s big items, creating a Conservation Reserve Fund (helping preserve more open space in Jericho). Even though this item seemed to have a lot of support, there was still the discussion, debate (and quibbling!) that seems a necessary part of the process.
At some point people were abuzz over the fact that a New York Times reporter had shown up at the meeting. Later in the day, someone sent me the article:
Gratifying to celebrate our beloved town of Jericho with each other, and the great beyond!
Nice turnout of 33 folks at yesterday’s climate change talk, given by Roger Hill. Roger has been a meteorologist in Vermont since 1987, working mostly as a private forecaster and more recently, much in demand as a speaker on climate change.
Having lived in various places, Roger says that with the varying seasons and changing climate of Vermont, we ‘live the weather’ here. A murmur of agreement was heard from audience. Largely spared from the most dire consequences, Vermonters are nonetheless affected by worldwide patterns; for example, melting arctic ice has contributed to wetter winters; less ice cover in the Great Lakes adds more cloudy days to Vermont via prevailing westerly winds.
Roger began by stating the problem, saying February 2020 is the 421st consecutive month with global above average temperatures. He added we’re presently at 414 ppm carbon dioxide (co2), and if you consider methane and aggregates, we are nearing 500 ppm. Regardless, levels are the highest they’ve been in three million years.
Roger explained that co2 works like a thermostat. Sunlight causes the molecules of co2 to ‘dance’ which creates more heat, causing temperatures to rise. He said as the earth’s atmosphere heats up, it holds more water vapor. Thus when it rains, it rains harder; when it snows, it snows harder. Dry areas such as deserts get drier and wet areas are more prone to serious flooding.
He added that surprisingly, earth would be in a cooling phase right now if it weren’t for human impact. He showed pictures of tar sands and off shore drilling, saying what we know intuitively; we need to stop it at the source! Ironically since 2011, carbon emissions from energy use have been rising at the fastest rate ever, with humans stuck in an ‘anti-change bias’.
Roger stated emphatically that it’s the speed of climate change that’s a major concern; earth’s inhabitants simply can’t adapt quickly enough. Patterns are hard to decipher, he said; climate change is not linear and is more like a staircase. The overall picture is clear; the last five years were the hottest on record, globally.
As far as as solutions go, Roger talked about the oceans (which take in a whopping 94% of earth’s heat) Adding quantities of iron to the water would stimulate more phytoplankton which sequester carbon. Or pulling co2 from the atmosphere, and burying it until it becomes solid and can be used as cement, for example. Frankly, these sounded like pie-in-the-sky solutions; Roger himself promotes electric vehicles, having just purchased his own electric hyundai kona a few days ago!
Asked about his predictions, Roger said Vermont is in a ‘sweet spot’. Through at least 2040, we shouldn’t have too many extremes: expect continued changes in first and last freeze dates, increases in snowfall. He added we should be ready for unexpected variables.
Globally, Roger predicted Greenland could become the next polar vortex once the Arctic completely melts and said places like Australia and California are currently ‘canaries in the mine’ for abrupt climate change.
Dave and Laura, here:
On Monday January 27, Transition Town Jericho welcomed Nancy Patch, Franklin-Grand Isle County Forester, who presented "Creating and Maintaining Resilient Forests in Vermont: Adapting Forests to Climate Change". Nancy shared her vast knowledge of forests, exhibiting a keen passion for her work.
Some of the facts she shared:
• We live in the most intact broadleaf forest in the world, extending from Vermont, New York, Canada, and Maine into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia- overall, a globally significant forest.
• Climate data shows a warming trend, and fluctuations are very large; generally, more warming in the winter than in the summer here in Vermont.
• The growing season is increasing, while freezes are shorter. Flowering trees, such as apple, are flowering before the last frost. The frosts are killing the flowers, thus inhibiting healthy fruit harvests.
• Growing zones have changed from zone 3 to zone 4 in northern Vermont
• More frequent, heavier rainfall (increasing 67% compared to the rest of the country) having added impact due to Vermont’s steep slopes and narrow valleys.
• 15-20% increase in rainfall overall (as illustrated in a study Nancy cited, from 1958 to 2007).
Changes we can expect in the short term here in Vermont:
• Longer growing seasons
• Shorter winters
• More summer heat producing potential droughts
• Extreme weather events such as heavy single rain events that cause flash flooding
• Windstorms that are more frequent, sometimes leading to saturated soils will not hold the trees in place.
• Ice Storms – also more frequent and causing more damage.
What we can do to help forests:
• Leave larger trees in place, as they are wind-firm. Big trees sequester and store more carbon than smaller trees, and are better seed producers.
• Stagger tree heights at the edges of fields.
• Encourage age and diversity in the forest so that no single pest or disease can adversely affect the whole forest, ideally mixed sizes and ages with 10-12 species.
• Allow trees to die and be left standing, as that allows the forest floor to supply nutrients to the next generation.
During the Q & A, there was some discussion of deer, how they feed on new growth and thus pose a serious threat to regenerating forests. On the other hand, Nancy called blue jays “climate change heroes“ since their habit of burying acorns is so good for the forest.
Here’s a link to Monday’s event:
Maeve Kim wrote up a wonderful report on the gathering, and you can find a link to it here: (Thanks to Maeve, and Bernie too for the great pics!)
Great to be one amongst a crowd of twenty five plus people at the October 28 Transition Town gathering at the Jericho Community Center. Featured speaker was Fred Wiseman, an ethnobotanist, who started Seeds of Renewal in 2012, same year the four bands of Abenaki obtained official status in the state of Vermont.
Fred states that the mission of Seeds of Renewal is to encourage the Abenaki tradition of seed saving and indigenous gardening by tracking down rare or long lost seeds native to Northern New England.
While most people are aware of the three sisters in native agriculture, corns, beans and squash, the seven sisters of the Abenaki adds sunflower, jerusalem artichoke, ground cherry, and tobacco to the mix. Seven sisters references the Pleiades constellation which reflects nature’s cycles, as it appears at sundown in the fall; harvest time, and appears at sunrise in the spring; planting time.
Fred seems to take as much pleasure in the hunt for seeds as in the findings. He found a source of East Montpelier squash in Orange, Vermont, a variety so prolific “it could feed a village”. Problem is that over time it had cross pollinated with blue hubbard squash. Seeds of Change engaged in a program of selection; having participants eat from the purest ones and saving/planting those seeds. Fred showed pictures of the ‘evolving’ squash, a work in progress.
There seems to be a story around each of the discoveries, such as the white-seeded Morrisville Sunflower, carefully saved by a Mennonite family that had obtained it from natives.
Fred said he often drove his car by a large stand of Jerusalem Artichokes near Morrisville, and decided to trace its origins. With the help of time trials, it was traced back to four hundred years ago. Jerusalem artichoke is still found along many of the riverbeds in Vermont, as it was a great source of starch for the Abenaki.
Once seeds are found, they need to be planted and/or properly conserved. For this purpose, Seeds of Renewal has collaborated with Shelburne Farms, Abenaki Heritage Garden in the Intervale and independent Abenaki gardeners.
All of these efforts have helped to encourage a revival of native ways and ceremonies. For example, in September 2014, Seeds of Renewal collaborated with the Koasek Abenakis in their Green Corn Ceremony and in October 2018, a large intertribal celebration was held in Burlington, complete with ceremony, song and harvest.
Most recently, the Ethan Allen Homestead built a simulated Abenaki village, reconstructed an authentic kitchen and hosted a harvest dinner.
Fred also talked about the “mound on mound” system of Abenaki farming, akin to hugelkultur or raised beds. (Interestingly the Abenaki used fish for fertilizer called “kikomka” or garden fish). He showed pictures of 140 currently maintained mounds in the Abenaki Heritage Garden.
Dave and Irene reporting:
How can humans address global challenges while maintaining a quality standard of living? David Maynard, a homesteader from East Montpelier, looked at this and other questions in “Living With Less: Getting from Here to There.”
On September 23, David presented his philosophy and personal experience living as a homesteader in Vermont.
He explained that humans have experienced three distinct paradigm shifts over time: the hunter/gatherer transition to agriculture 10,000 years ago; the transition from agriculture to industrial age, spanning more than 400 years; and the transition from industry to the current computer age, in the last 50 years. He noted these transitions are happening more rapidly and each requires more energy and other resources than the prior way(s) of life.
In more recent years, we have seen an efficiency push that has resulted in a high throughput system. This high throughput system is supported by the ability to find resources, which leads to the building of factories, which in turn, manufacture things. What has not been reconciled in this push to efficiency is the law of diminishing returns: it takes more resources to get less output as resources grow scarce. We are also facing Jevon’s Paradox: when efficiency of production increases, driving down costs, consumption picks up. The exponential growth in population has led to even faster resource depletion.
David has conceived of a new paradigm, which includes teaching the next generation how to understand that living with less can be achieved. His paradigm-changing concepts include:
-How to use the land without releasing carbon from the soil
-How to feed the soil (including adding carbon to it) rather than deplete it of nutrients
-How to use land in ways that promote the land holding the water instead of enhancing runoff
-How to use the science to support heating water with the sun
-How to live with limited resources
David advocates for traveling via bicycle to minimize pollution and attain its health benefits. Learn more about his philosophy and bicycle journeys at lifecycling.net.
At Jericho Community Center’s quarterly Board meeting on August 13, Eric Bachman was invited to speak about Repair Cafes. Transition towners here know Eric from his talk in July ‘17 on timebanks; specifically, the Onion River Exchange in Montpelier.
Eric compared a Repair Cafe to matchmaking, in that repair people are paired with people who need repairs. He simplified the process of organizing a Repair Cafe, saying you first look for people who like to repair, find a location, then plan for some Saturday afternoon to run it.
Of course many organizational details followed, and Eric offered himself as an ongoing resource.
No money is exchanged at a Repair Cafe, and the only rule is to bring items you can actually carry in. Torn jeans, clocks, computers, and gadgetry of all kinds may line the tables. The cafe element makes for an enjoyable, social experience and provides food for the volunteers. Donations before and during the event help pay for tools, supplies and food.
The first Repair Cafe was held in the Netherlands in 2009. Other tidbits of its colorful history can be found on repaircafe.org/en. There are now over 1,500 Repair Cafes in at least 33 countries, bringing people together in fun and learning, while making some dents in our throwaway society.
Vermont’s first Repair Cafe was held in Charlotte in 2017, and Charlotte organizers have since thrown three more, including the most recent at Champlain Valley Union High school, with students doing the repairs and being mentored by older fixers.
Central Vermont Solid Waste has helped organize additional Repair Cafes in central Vermont. Taking place in Montpelier, Barre and Hardwick so far, these events support SWMD’s mission of eliminating landfill trash.
C’mon Jericho, we can do it too!
Last weekend four of us friends and organizers of Transition Town Jericho attended Healing Turtle Island at Nibezum Farm, on tribal lands in Passadumkeag, Maine. The event drew over 300 people, including indigenous from around the world.
Brainchild of Penobscot Sherri Mitchell, this was the third annual gathering in a twenty year cycle; future meetings will ultimately take place in the south, west and north. As many indigenous believe we’re now living in a time of prophecy, the east symbolizes birth and creation. The hope is humans will make the choice to return to a more sustainable path of being on the planet.
Indigenous peoples were the leading speakers and the rest of us witnesses; the days were filled with ceremony, ritual and storytelling. A common thread was the struggle to reclaim lost heritage; language and ways of life that contrast profoundly with the modern world.
The learning was as much in the how as the what; we camped out, brought along our own eating utensils and for a few days, tread lightly on the earth. As a free event, the gathering relied on produce and food donations which seemed to be delivered nonstop. Volunteer cooks put together tasty meals and volunteer labor on all levels kept things running smoothly.
Opening night, native peoples were invited to introduce themselves by presenting songs and stories from their culture. Starting with the resident tribal drumming group and progressing to the eye popping Maori troupe to the plaintive song of an Abenaki woman, presenters and attendees alike shed the first of many tears.
The days were filled with sharing knowledge, everything from personal loss to exaltation of earth's riches. Whether standing in line for food, or sitting at the lodge in between ceremonies, attendees were friendly and also swapped life stories and learning. Evening activities included social dancing (fun!), a sweat lodge, a women’s teaching tent and drumming. With hardly any technology apparent, a kind of utopian village was created.
On Sunday morning, as a Mohawk leader and educator was relating a particularly vivid story, there was a crowd murmur as an eagle was sighted, circling overhead; a turkey vulture was soon spotted, even higher in the bright sky. As the eagle and condor together signify unity within native tradition, it seemed a meaningful omen for the gathering.
Back home now, the gathering’s effects are surely unfolding with each participant: how do we tread the earth differently after such an experience?
Sue Morse, a true emissary of mother nature, spoke to nearly fifty folks at the Jericho Community Center on June 12, offering a colorful narrative to accompany her outstanding slide show, Animals of the North: What Will the Global Climate Change Mean for Them?
This was a first for TTJ, collaborating with Jericho’s Conservation Commission on an event; lovely to work with such dedicated folks.
Sue warns that with one third of our wildlife at risk, we can easily become overwhelmed and passive. Ironically, she says, we’re living at a unique time on the planet, when the animals need us more than ever.
Heart breaking to see and hear of the sad plight of the dwindling moose population. Many of us recall nostalgically our sightings through the years, as their annual migration brings them to this part of the state for the mineral salts of our wetlands, Sue explained.
On a more hopeful note, Sue described the reintroduction to Vermont of the lynx, which she referred to as the “ultimate northern cat”. After an explanation of how to tell the difference between the lynx and bobcat, she showed a fascinating skeletal display of how similar the lynx is to its prey the hare, effectively demonstrating, “you are what you eat”.
Sue defies stereotypes throughout the talk, for example calling the wolverine a warm loving creature, and her pictures indeed brought out a lovable quality in that animal.
Sue uses an array of techniques to get her photos of animals in the wild, sometimes imitating them to get their attention and hopefully a photograph or two. When she let out an occasional wolf or coyote howl to color her narrative, I did a double take each time, thinking it was a recording of the real thing.
Sue expanded on a Jane Goodall quote, saying “my reason for hope is the beauty of it all”. Indeed, when viewing Sue’s breathtaking pictures of the flora and fauna of the Arctic region, the audience seems united in a feeling of awe; one feels that anything is possible!
While the footage of thin polar bears is depressing, Sue mentioned the iconic animals have been observed expanding their diet to berries; the hope is they’ll find alternative sources of food and survive a changing habitat.
On the other hand, photos of grizzly bears feasting on wild salmon show creatures self satisfied and playful; indeed, Sue is convinced they were showing off for her.
Photos from the air were haunting in different ways. Images of migrating caribou on land and water were spectacular. Sue also showed a picture of hundreds of fracking operation units in Wyoming on public lands that have been co-opted by the oil industry. It was utterly jarring, but nonetheless important to see the reality of the world we live in.
After the talk, Sue enthusiastically carried on conversations one on one, situated at a table with wares to raise funds for Keeping Track, her organization based here in Jericho. Check it out at keepingtrack.org
On May 20, we had a great talk and discussion as 28 people joined Chittenden County Forester, Ethan Tapper to discuss the importance of trees’ contribution to the climate. The presentation delved into the question of carbon sequestration and why it’s important as we address climate change. Decisions about trees on our properties can help mitigate our changing climate and add to ecological sustainability.
Trees trap and store carbon from the air, cleaning the air and sequestering it from being released for many years. Ethan talked about how forest management fits into the transition town vision of creating strong, connected, self-sufficient communities.
Vermont is 75% forested and of that forested land, 80% is owned privately. Ethan’s job is to advise landowners on how to best care for their tree lots and keep them healthy. Some of the challenges in Vermont’s forests include: large die offs, over browsing by deer, exotic pests attacking the trees, and higher temperatures that are not suited to Vermont species.
Ethan explained that Vermont forests were almost eliminated in the early 1800s from lumbering and opening up land for grazing livestock. While much of that land has been re-forested, too few varieties of trees, or too many similarly aged trees make for an unhealthy forest. Forests need several die-offs to support the regeneration of new growth from the decomposition and natural reforestation. This process takes decades, if not a century.
Also, many forest areas consist of mono species of wildlife, whereas a forest thrives better with multiple species living together. Forests are more resilient and will stand up better to climate change by providing a variety of species of both trees and wildlife. As an example, Ethan cited the maple sugarbush, a prime location for tent caterpillars. A forest where maple trees predominate will have more problems with tent caterpillars than a forest that has multiple species of trees. Interestingly, the caterpillars use the sap lines to go from tree to tree.
There was a lot of discussion around invasive species of plants that take over the underbrush in a forest, such as garlic mustard, buckthorn and Japanese knotweed. These plants can poison soils, cause stream bank erosion, and crowd out native plants. Somewhat apologetically, Ethan recommended using an herbicide to eliminate the more aggressive invasive plants like buckhorn. He said he’ll advise anyone on the best products and techniques.
Ethan said people tend to look at their forested lands as investments. Problems may arise when people develop their property and build corridors into the forest, causing breaks in the forest continuity. This is detrimental to wildlife, as larger mammals such as bear and moose tend to live in the deeper parts of the forest. So while a forest is an asset to the ecological community, it may not lead to economic gain.
Finally, Ethan said that healthy forests should be messy. A forest floor littered with tree limbs, dead fallen trees, and native underbrush provides something to rot, and establishes areas that support wildlife. So avoid the hard work of clearing the forest floor and...keep it messy!