Left in Andover: Home in the hills of Vermont

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Due to the pandemic, scores of non-resident property owners have worked remotely from area ski and vacation homes. Many will choose to remain as full-time residents. And even more will continue to find their way here as air travel becomes increasingly problematic.

I believe future leaders of our state will arise from among this wave of new Vermonters, including the returning native born.

Vermont survived and ultimately benefited from its last  — at the time widely feared  — “invasion.” Those thousands of young counter-culture types in the late 1960s.

Finding home in the land, Susan uses a scythe in 1979.

These idealistic baby boomers changed the demographics and culture of the state forever. Today, they are well-integrated public servants, business, medical and legal professionals, teachers, farmers and artists. And they have raised their first-generation Vermonters here and may be on to nurturing their second.

Concerns that affluent residents will leave Vermont in search of lower tax rates elsewhere can be laid to rest by the Covid-19 pandemic. What could be more luxurious, and essential, than our natural socially distanced green spaces and an unspoiled environment? Luckily, these perks are available to virtually all Vermonters regardless of social class or race: that is, as long as we can afford to pay our rents and mortgages.

Vermont legislators should seize this moment to pass living wage and family leave laws, and finally provide a path to affordable housing for all. This ongoing need was painted in stark terms back in 1973 by the Vermont Media Collective. A trailer for its provocative social justice film Vermont Speaks for Itself can be viewed by clicking here. (By the way, the filmmakers did raise the money to make it into a DVD.) At the time, the film was widely shared within state social service organizations, “becoming an influential component of what helped make Vermont the progressive place it is today.”

‘Vermont Speaks for Itself,’ back cover of film.

Although Vermont’s natural attractions were strong and my identity with the land strong, I grew up with conflicted feelings about being a Vermonter. I always had the feeling of being an outsider. But then I was given some family land and I decided to stay.

As a young parent, I worried about trying to raise my own children here. Would I be cheating them of the chance to grow up citizens of the world by raising them in a homogeneous backwater? What sort of an education could they get in our local schools? Should I follow my own parents’ lead and move away?

In 1997, my mother absolved me of these concerns in her ethical will, a traditional Jewish document transmitting values to the next generation, that noted that, “Northampton is an interesting place to live for a family, but gradually the air is becoming polluted, while the air is super in Andover and VT is slowly becoming more cosmopolitan.”

The medieval scholar Judah ben Saul Ibn Tibbon left the following advice in his famous ethical will:

“Make thy books thy companions, let thy bookcases and shelves be thy gardens and pleasure-grounds. Pluck the fruit that grows therein, gather the roses, the spices and the myrrh…”

In these uncertain times, most of us older folk have wills to transmit our valuables. Consider an ethical will as well. It can be shared immediately with close friends and family. No need to wait to pass on your wisdom and life experience until after you die.

A great joy is picking blueberries with the grandchildren.

One of my great pleasures is berry picking with my grandchildren every summer. If we exhaust my own patch, we are lucky to have a blueberry farm just down the road. And oh, the kids’ excitement at making their own jam!

But my own mother declined the joys, along with the burdens, of grandmother hood. She left this poignant justification in her ethical will:

“Keeping up with five talented and beautiful grandchildren would be a full-time grandmother occupation if I chose it. But I chose to further my own personal interests, apparently as a reaction and self-reward for spending all my time on family in the time up to 1988, when Herby passed on.“

The rest of ben Tibbon’s ethical will might have re-energized her: “If thy soul be satiate and weary, change from garden to garden, from furrow to furrow, from sight to sight. Then will thy desire renew itself, and thy soul be satisfied with delight.”

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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