State of grace

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has had a love affair with Vermont for over fifty years, but he’s never managed to live here.

(Lange) The late Marshall Dodge, famous for his tales of Bert and I, made his fortune telling stories about Maine, but he always considered Vermont the quintessential New England state. “Maine is a little wacky,” he used to say, “and New Hampshire’s kind of edgy. But Vermont is dry and ironic: the perfect New England temperament, born of chronic disappointment.

Summer fellow hired a Vermonter to dig a well. Couple hours later, the digger showed up at the house with his shovel in hand. “Say,” he said, “I got some bad news. Struck ledge.”

“Well, didn’t you know it was there?”

“Hit it, didn’t I?”

Vermont is a wedge driven between New York and New Hampshire, but it’s like neither of them. While it was still underwater, Vermont was the continental shelf east of the Adirondack Dome. It collected the minerals washed out of the Adirondacks and added limestone of its own, from the remains of coral reefs and marine arthropods. Then about 500 million years ago the Eurasian tectonic plate crashed into that continental shelf, crumpling it like a car in a crash test. The minerals concentrated into ore deposits, and the limestone converted to marble. That alkaline lime has made Vermont’s soil and its people sweeter than those of New York or New Hampshire.

When Vermont gave itself a name in 1777 and declared independence from the colonies, its constitution outlawed slavery, probably the first in the world to do that. It gave the vote for the first time to men without property, and set up the first public school system. Four score and four years later, Vermonters joined the Union Army less to preserve the Union than to free the slaves.

Sixty-eighty years after that, ex-President Coolidge wrote of the citizens of his boyhood home in Plymouth Notch: They drew no class distinctions except towards those who assumed superior airs…. They held strongly to the doctrine of equality. Whenever the hired man or the hired girl wanted to go anywhere, they were…entitled to my place in the wagon…. This gave me a very early training in democratic ideas….

To this day, it’s less important to a Vermonter what job you hold than how well you do it – not how distinguished you think yourself to be, but how good a person you have shown yourself to be. In September of 1928 Coolidge concluded perhaps his most famous speech with these words:

If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished
from the generous store held by the people
of this brave little state of Vermont.

Vermont to me is a state of grace.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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