Optimism for Vermont’s future

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(Host) In spite of recent events, commentator David Moats says that spring in Vermont has rekindled his optimism.

(Moats) Where is Vermont going? You can come up with all kinds of answers. It is going to become a giant suburban wasteland. It is going to become a stagnant, impoverished backwater. It is going to become a paradise of renewable energy and organic farming.

I was asked to consider this question at a gathering a couple of weeks ago. What I learned, as I thought about it, was something about myself. I’m a journalist. So I am confronted every day by all the worries that people have, all the crises, and all the dire predictions. So I am aware of the numerous and varied stresses and strains of our time and place.

What are they? Farm income is so low that more and more farmers are going out of business. The deindustrialization of America is hitting Vermont, and jobs are going down the tubes. The stagnant economy is affecting a lot of people, and prospects don’t look especially good.

Can I think of more bad news? Sure. The continuing pressure of people from down-country buying houses in Vermont is making it harder and harder for Vermonters to buy houses for themselves. Lack of money for health care, education, highways, the environment is hollowing out the public sector.

It’s easy to come up with this stuff. A lot of it may even be true. But when I was asked to think about the future, this was only part of what I thought about. I found my mind instinctively took a different route.

Our fears of suburban blight are justified if we look at Chittenden County, but as I think back over my 28 years in Vermont, Vermont has not been paved over. Vermont is still beautiful. The town where I live has a few new businesses and a few new houses, but the beautiful village and the beautiful countryside are still there. That’s the way it is in a lot of places.

I’m not so hopeful about the larger economy, but Vermonters have a way of making do. The dairy business is feeling the strain but other farmers are growing specialty crops. Vermont makes excellent chocolate, excellent beer, excellent cheese. In our little towns, we have theater and music as sophisticated and accomplished as you could find in many big cities.

My son visited a friend in Massachusetts, and he came back saying, “Hey, now I understand the rat race.” Down there, in order to live in a decent house in a decent neighborhood, you have to earn a lot of money. People get on the treadmill. Here people get by and they enjoy themselves a lot more.

What it comes down to is I’m an optimist. I look on the bright side. Sometimes looking on the bright side might be a bit delusional. Monty Python gave us the most cheerful crucifixion in movies, if you remember “The Life of Brian.”

Maybe exposure every day to the news has convinced me that if I’m going to cope, I’d better not take dire predictions too seriously. I know all the predictions. I want to enjoy life. And as spring finally takes hold in this beautiful place, there is much enjoy.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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