Sounds of Vermont: Vermont Voices

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(Host) Today and in the coming weeks, VPR will explore the “Sounds of Vermont” and what they mean to us. The first sound of Vermont is the sound of our voices and what they say about being a Vermonter.

VPR’s Steve Zind explores this identity in part one of our series, “Sounds of Vermont.”

(Zind) Vermonters have differing lifestyles, varying tastes, conflicting opinions and diverse backgrounds. We’re connected by soil, not blood. What binds us together? Fishing off the Floating Bridge in Brookfield, Dave Reinhardt of South Barre contemplates this question.

(Reinhardt) “I would hope that if there is common ground, it would be the joy of just living here and having a nice outside, fresh air, a lot of scenery.”

(Zind) Love of the state’s natural beauty is certainly one of the personality traits of a Vermonter. It’s the first thing that comes to mind for a group of boys playing basketball in Montpelier.

(Boys’ voices) “Uhh. Snow. Nice Mountains. Not a lot of people. Not a lot of murders and stuff. Low crime level.”

(Zind) A love of the environment, but also a desire for a little space and peace and quiet. Someone else points out that Vermonters are always ready to lend a helping hand.

(Man’s voice) “I stopped in a filling station. I see this guy working his car and his starter wasn’t kicking in. I got a nice, hopped up Firebird, fancy sports car. He’s got an old junk worth $300 bucks, probably. I went and got my cigarettes, bought a couple of lottery tickets and I says, ‘Do you want me to give you a jump?’ And he couldn’t imagine that I was going to put booster cables on my Firebird to start his old junk car.”

(Zind) Carol Dawes of Northfield says we have to go deeper than those obvious traits to find the true nature of a Vermonter.

(Dawes) “I think there’s a tenacity, a willingness to put up with a lot. I think there’s a little bit of a gruffness, which I think is great. But deep down inside, there’s an incredible sense of place.”

(Budbill) “I don’t think we know who we are, we have some idea of who we were.”

(Zind) That sense of place, the feeling of community is something Wolcott writer David Budbill says is changing:

(Budbill) “As the disparity between rich and poor gets greater and greater in this state, we’re becoming something that we may not want to become. That is a place for an elite wealthy class of people to live out their bucolic, sylvan dream.”

(Zind) Budbill says the debate over Act 60, pitting wealthy towns against poorer towns is an example of a breakdown of the sense of community that has made Vermont unique.

(Budbil) “From feeling about the environment, but also from a commitment to a kind of social contract, which makes it different from New Hampshire or New Jersey.”

(Zind) Any discussion about who we are as Vermonters inevitably leads to that mythic figure: the “Real Vermonter.” If the Real Vermonter has a name, it’s George Aiken, the former Governor and U.S. Senator.

(Lola Aiken) “He was very laid back all the time. He never got overly excited about anything. He was so calm.”

(Zind) Lola Aiken says her husband epitomized Vermont values like tolerance and plain speaking.

(Aiken) “The governor had a way of talking. He cut out all the words you didn’t need. And I think that’s typical Vermont really.

(Zind) George Aiken probably didn’t spend much time talking about being a Vermonter. Rusty DeWees says if you’re a real Vermonter, a native Vermonter, there’s something vaguely un-Vermonter about this kind of analysis.

(DeWees) “They don’t even care about this type of stuff. I’m talking about the real thing. Know what I mean? The real thing. They ain’t going ‘Oh it’s great living here, I get to go fishing!’ They just fish.”

(Zind) Young people are growing up in a different Vermont than the one their parents moved to or were born in. But even among children there is an awareness of the qualities long identified with being a Vermonter. And, still, indelibly, there is the image.

(Kids) “Well Duct tape everywheres. And they do a lot of hunting and fishing.” (Plop of sinker and click of reel.)

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind at the Floating Bridge in Brookfield.

(Host) “Sounds of Vermont” is a production of VPR. The production engineer for our story on the Vermont voice and character is Chris Albertine.

Tell us your favorite sound of Vermont!

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