Three for Christmas

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange gets a lot of free books and tries to read them all. Sometimes he finds a real nugget.

(LANGE) For some reason, people have always given me stuff – old skis, furniture, even a couple of cars. And books! I don’t know how many have appeared in our post office box, on the front porch, inside the storm door. They pile up on my bed stand. It’s nice to have a choice to select from before a nap or at the end of the day. But the stack has risen high enough to block the light.

All this is most kindly meant. But I harbor a lifelong antipathy to evangelism. I hate it when a friend recommends something I must read, because I’m going to have to lie to him later, and tell him how much I liked it.

However, there are always a few nuggets hidden in the carloads
of ore. This year there’ve been three. You may have someone on your Christmas list who might appreciate them as I have.

The first is Salt Pork & Apple Pie, by Ethan Hubbard. Hubbard lives in Washington, Vermont, and began visiting with rural Vermonters over forty years ago. They’re farmers, loggers, and traders. There’s a cedar oil distiller; a sawyer; a pulp cutter; a newspaper columnist for the old White River Herald. The photos are black-and-white, with a short essay beside each.

Many of those old-timers are no longer with us. The Vermont they made unique is passing, as well. There’s an elegiac air about this book that reminds us that the real wealth of Vermont has always been what Calvin Coolidge called “its indomitable people.”

The next book is Sea Room, by Adam Nicolson. Nicolson owns three tiny islands in the sound between the Scottish mainland and the Isle of Lewis. Besides their romantic appeal, which could pale in the course of three hundred seventy pages, he goes at their geology, archeology, and history with all the zeal and attention
to detail of a microbiologist on the trail of a gene, and finds that his islands have been inhabited, off and on, since at least the Iron Age.

The last book is Intimate Vermont, by photographer Jon Gilbert Fox. It’s over one hundred pages of color photographs: A tired-out front porch hung with men’s underpants; Cats snoozing in the sun; a kazoo band parading in kilts; an elderly basket-maker sitting in a barn door; a boy painting a picket fence – images we’ve seen hundreds of times, but never with such poignant clarity.

A large cow has taken a drink and, nuzzling the small boy who loves her, drips water onto his bare arm. A pickup truck rusts quietly in a gravel pit. An old man stands beside his scarecrow.
All images that remind us why we love this place so much.

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 from our studio in Norwich.

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