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Over the past 2 wks my family had the opportunity to host Janyl Ramirez in our home. Janyl is 16 and attends the High School for Environmental Studies in NYC . Janyl spent her days in VT writing and working at Shelburne Farms as a scholorship student for a UVM / Shelburne Farms (Marshall Webb) Environmental Writing course and her nights and weekends with the Murphy family, playing games, meeting friends, discovering what younger brothers and sisters are like, climbing Mt. Philo and experiencing real maple syrup. On the last night of her stay, she along with all the other students (mostly UVM undergrads) shared their reflections. Janyl's very cool story is below. Enjoy.
Quips of Disdain, Disdainful Fondness, Of Hills and Edifices, Cement, OMG Are Those Really Cows Grazing Near A Corn Field? All The License Plates Say ‘Vermont’, Green Mountains Are Not A Suitable Backdrop For an Empire State
In New York City it’s too easy to grab a Danish in the morning because there’s a Danish stand on every corner. In Vermont it seems there are fewer places to buy food and more time to eat it, so people care more about what they eat. Where I would grab a bag of cheez-its a Vermonter would grab a bag of organic Kashi cheez-its.
In Vermont there is no convenient Museum Mile for the buses to drop you off, stop by stop, at museum after museum on the same straight route. In fact I haven’t seen any buses at all. Vermont feels like a huge park interrupted by roads and miniature Monopoly houses.
I’m staying with a host family in Charlotte and I can’t believe how white and small and pristine the post office is, how very coloring book the firehouse looks. Like it was built for postcards and was never intended for actual use. I imagine the graffitied firehouses of New York that I’m just so accustomed to and enamored by wiped clean and free of grit and relocated onto a green lawn. I imagine more Monopoly houses distributed systematically around the lake. I imagine roads carefully constructed in and around the area, and someone naming the whole mess exurbia. Such perfection leaves no room for sanity.
I guess no one here cares for graffiti?
The distant vistas that surround Shelburne Farms are a pattern of proud green mountains. Around Central Park the views consist of steel and stone – also proud, but of its control and domination. You need me, the buildings say. We need each other, the mountains say.
Everyone here seems to have a mentality to move quietly enough to hear those mountains and be grateful for them. If you go fast on the New York freeway, as is the custom, it’s easier to overlook things. If you go slow enough to calculate environmental damage, as Vermonters do, you might find yourself more willing to do something about it.
I heard “paper or plastic?” for the first time a few days ago. I’d always believed it was a phrase reserved for punch lines and pimply boys on TV. screens. Paper or plastic? I had never been asked that question. Do you go with the reusable or do you go with the biodegradable? Or do you just go?
And if you do go, wherever you go, it’s a Yankees fan’s nightmare. In my host family’s home alone there is a Red Sox Monopoly game, Red Sox deck of cards, Red Sox can opener, drink holder, book, autographs, and even a sample of Fenway dirt. I see Sox banners on the inside of cars, flags waving from pizza shops, purple sox shirts for girls too young even to understand the game, cap and shirt Sox combos on dudes young and old, and in a friend of the family’s house, a cap reading “Yankee Hater.”
Gimme a break, I think. And those breaks come in the mornings.
The mornings are never hazes or whirls. They are smooth as velvet and every scene folds into the next with the ease of ascending notes played on a violin. There are hills and winding gravel pathways. Today there was propaganda on the radio, long and droning voices, frustration and repetition.
Gimme ear-splitting speaker-thumping music.
I came here thinking, I want romance, I want intrigue. I want to see something different. Well at least I’m seeing something different…
I don’t appreciate fake smiles, and I don’t see them on many people here. Marshall Webb knows his ancestry. It was in his and the minds of others that it was decided this place should be saved. The importance was evident in their history, in their hearts, in their blood.
And the same old elegance that runs through their blood also runs throughout the property. Been there, done that, it tells us. It’s been through more than imaginable. And yet it still stands, ready to stand by the people who care about it into its next and newest adventure.
The story could have been completely different.
The movies of the time of the original Webbs would have been grainy. No camera could have recorded accurately what grace and stature their land held.
This place smells green. I think about the Farm barn and how old it is and then I look at what contemporary things it’s being used for, its camps, bakery, wood crafting.
I notice the people distributed evenly around the place. Wind-up dolls that do nothing more or less than their pre-determined business. There are people who appreciate the history and people who don’t, people who scurry into shade and people who don’t.
The tractors are running. There’s no thinking here, only being.
The birds won’t stop singing. Are they actually happy or do they just want people to think they are? Maybe they want to be in a higher place. It’s what Webb strived for when he built his palace on green hills and it’s what people strive for when they put pen to paper. I’m inarticulate. Paper gives me a chance to sing a little bit if I feel like it.
On the day we pruned Whimsy Meadow the trail was long and the rogue branches and shrubbery were stubborn. My gloves grew hot and I took them off and lost them twice. We didn’t finish but still got to pick berries. The process is as much fun as the end result. I got through the thorns on the bushes bursting with berries bursting with sour juice. There are raspberry bushes in a wooden box growing on my school’s rooftop, but there’s a difference between sunbeams drawn on concrete and sunbeams drawn on grass.
The sun frames the cloudy blue sky outside the Farm Barn. There are sun hats and sunglasses. Fields are close and bread is baking, everything gleams and my squinting eyes see only so far. All around there are feet shuffling on to their cheese making, table building, children tending endeavors. Our feet shuffled on for two weeks to our classroom in the barn, where on days of guest speakers we have our feet flat on the floor lending attention to those who deserve it. There is a wooden floor and there are people, the one common denominator among variants of smell, sound, and variety of annoying insect. It’s all here and so am I, one person with bitten legs outstretched, pen in hand, hair worrisome and flying, drawing, watching a chicken crossing, hearing an engine roaring. I am one person in the space many share, and this is a place that exists because of us poets.
I wonder where Shelburne Farms keeps all the souls it’s stolen.
by Janyl Ramírez