Belated Presidents’ Day: Calvin Coolidge

Last year on July 4, a friend posted that she was at President Calvin Coolidge’s grave site at the wreath laying ceremony for his birthday.   I asked here where it was and she said “Plymouth Notch, Vermont.”  I looked it up and found that Plymouth is a tiny town in the center of the state; not quite in the middle, but close.

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In November, my husband and I were near by and went to visit.  Although the museum and visitor center was closed, the grounds were open for walking and the Plymouth Cheese factory was in full operation.  The views are lovely in all directions.

The Calvin Coolidge Homestead website begins the story this way

At 2:47am on August 3, 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge became the 30th president of the United States when he took the oath of office in the sitting room of this modest frame and clapboard farmhouse.  President Harding had died only a few hours earlier.  Coolidge’s father, a notary public, administered the oath by the light of a kerosene lamp; he refused to install such modern conveniences as electricity.  Located in the tiny community of Plymouth Notch in the beautiful hill country of Vermont, the house where he took the oath of office was also Calvin Coolidge’s boyhood home.

Although he grew up in Plymouth, Coolidge left Vermont to study at Amherst College in Massachusetts and later settled in Northampton where he practiced law and got his start in politics.  Coolidge was a Republican and notorious in Massachusetts for breaking up the Boston Police strike of 1919 when he was Governor.  After he became President, he established the summer White House above the family store in Plymouth.

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Cilley Store In 1924, President Coolidge established his Summer White House office above the store.

Coolidge served out Harding’s term and one term of his own before retiring to Northampton where he died suddenly in in 1933 at age 60.  He is buried in the cemetery at Plymouth.

grave

Photographs:  Town of Plymouth; Vermont Division for Historic Preservation; and Seth Mussleman on Find-A Grave.

 

A bit of Vermont women’s history

Clarina Howard Nichols’ voice cracked in nervousness. Her heart pounded. She felt faint, and she briefly rested her head on her hand. But she kept speaking, and her words — indeed her very presence — changed Vermont.

The year was 1852, and Nichols was standing behind the speaker’s podium in the Vermont House. Though the state had been founded 61 years earlier, she was the first woman to address the Legislature.

These are the opening paragraphs to Mark Bushnell’s column on Vermont history, Then Again published in VTDigger.

Nichols was speaking because a group of business men and others from Brattleboro had petitioned the Vermont Legislature.

Still, Nichols mustered the courage to stand before the lawmakers and argue for a sliver of equality for women: that they be allowed to vote in school meetings.

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Clarina Howard Nichols became the first woman to address the Vermont Legislature, in 1852.

The men in the Vermont Legislature did not grant women the right to vote on school matters after her speech.

Women wouldn’t get the right to vote in school elections until 1880, at town meetings until 1917 and in statewide elections until 1920.

Nichols was a divorced woman who supported herself and children writing for the Brattleboro newspaper, The Windham County Democrat.  She had left an abusive marriage with the support of her husband’s family at age 29.

Four years later, she married the paper’s editor, George Nichols, who was 28 years her senior.

It was a good match. George Nichols apparently encouraged his wife’s independent streak and relied on her to help produce the paper. Soon after they married, he grew sick and she gradually took over as editor, though she wouldn’t publicly acknowledge her position for years.

When she finally revealed that she was the editor, she started getting invited to speak at women’s rights conventions in the Northeast and as far west as Wisconsin.

Nichols spoke on the issues of her day:  The right of married women to own property and participate in civic affairs.  She later moved to Kansas and spoke on abolition of slavery, but she got her start in Vermont.

Photograph from the Vermont Historical Society.

Spring in Vermont

I’ve been gardening like crazy.  My husband and I have taken out 90% of what the previous owners had planted including the trees and have replaced them with lilacs, blueberry bushes, forsythia, and a serviceberry bush.  We also replaced two maples with a stewartia tree. (I put in a link because you probably never heard of one before. We hadn’t.)  Plus annuals and lots of perennials.  I figure that you can always take stuff out next year that doesn’t work.  All of this has helped take my mind off the mostly bad news that seems to keep coming.

Our young Stewartia tree with flowers.

Our young Stewartia tree with flowers.

Last week we caught a little break.  The Supreme Court made two decisions that, contrary to the dissenters, I think will be positive in the long run.  The first upheld the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act; the second, legalized marriage for everyone in all states.

Marriage equality began here in New England as all the local media have proudly told us.  Vermont legalized civil unions and Massachusetts was the first to sanction marriage.  As one news reader noted, “Today’s decision doesn’t really effect New England as same-sex marriage in already legal in all six states.”  That is a paraphrase, but a fact of which most New Englanders are very proud and contrasts to the defiant words from some of the Republican Presidential candidates.  Reminds me of the governors who wanted to stand in front of the school house door to prevent school integration.  Conservatives are always arguing that marriage leads to more stability so I can’t really understand why they aren’t pleased that more people will be getting married.

On the ACA, I wonder if some of the New England states like Vermont that are struggling with the necessary automation and connections to the federal exchange will just move to the federal exchange all together.  And I also wonder if states that never expanded Medicare will do so now.  But with Congressional leaders and most of the Republican Presidential candidates still hoping to repeal “Obamacare”, that is probably not likely.  In the meanwhile, more people are getting insurance and as they begin to get preventative care, costs should continue to drop.  Insurance companies, like most of us, like stability something the pro-repeal Republican should remember.

As spring slowly turns to summer here in Vermont, I’ve been thinking a lot about race.  As with many things we seem to be taking one step forward and two back.  Who would have predicted in 1964 that in 2015 we would need a new voting rights act?    Or that the unspoken racism of one of the major political parties would lead to a mass shooting in a black church?  Yes, I mean the Republican party with opposition to everything proposed by President Obama.  You can’t convince me that if the current Democratic president were someone like Jerry Brown or Tim Kaine opposition would be as virulent.  Race is at the core.  All those Senate Republicans who want to be president could prove me wrong by supporting the new voting rights legislation.  As the Washington Post pointed out, they once did so.

The Sunday after Charleston my husband and I drove down to Boston to attend church.  We wanted to attend his home church, an historically black church of which he became the first white member over twenty years ago.  The service is still traditionally African-American, but the worshippers are black, white, and Asian.  It was comforting to sit with people I have known for so many years as well as with the newcomers.  The young pastor spoke first about being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and went on to talk about faith.  We were all given little packets of mustard seed by the children to remind us to keep the faith.  I’m finding that gardening is another way to find a measure of peace and faith that things change.  In the garden one can see the entire cycle:  planting, growth, blooms, death.  And then it begins again next spring.  We just need to keep the faith.

Photograph:  Bob Wyckoff

The Republican obsession with women’s bodies and sex

Haven’t posted for quite a while now.  Maybe it is the end of winter doldrums (I can almost say I survived my first Vermont winter which wasn’t nearly as bad as winter in the Boston I left behind.) or maybe I’m just discouraged by the general  state of politics.   I’m becoming increasingly fearful about what will happen if the Republicans take over the Presidency next year.  But I have been aroused from my lethargy by a story and editorial in today’s Brattleboro Reformer.

I’m not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but New England has a tradition of school children asking a legislator to introduce a bill for them.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the young woman who wanted Vermont to have a Latin motto.  Another group would like the Gilfeather turnip to become the Vermont state vegetable.  The children have to do their research and come and testify before the appropriate committee of the state legislature.  Their bills sometimes pass and sometimes get postponed for a year, but along the way they learn about politics and how bills become laws.  So a group in New Hampshire wants to make the red-tailed hawk the state raptor.  The Reformer editorial compares their reception to that given to the Gilfeather turnip lobbyists.

On March 17, a dozen students from Wardsboro Elementary School traveled to Montpelier to lobby for designating the Gilfeather turnip as the state vegetable. Wardsboro was home to John Gilfeather who is credited with developing the turnip that bears his name.

Rep. Emily Long, a Democrat from Newfane and a co-sponsor of the turnip bill, said she was “absolutely thrilled to see the kids here. I heard they were really good, I saw one of their teachers, and she was glowing!”

The students were told by Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from Windham, that the bill would not pass this year, but she said many members of the committee supported it. In fact, Partridge said Gilfeather turnips had a celebrity status at her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables growing up, and she said she would make a soup from them and bring it to the committee so they can taste the gnarly root vegetable for themselves.

Members of the committee were given wool-felted Gilfeather turnip pins, one of many items handcrafted and sold as part of fundraisers for the annual festival, which benefits the town’s library.

But what happened in New Hampshire?

Now let’s compare the reception the Wardsboro students received to the reception a handful of fourth-grade students received when they went to Concord to lobby to name the red-tailed hawk the state bird. What was the reaction they got? Incredibly, one legislator likened the bill to abortion.

State Rep. Warren Groen, from Rochester (need we really name his party?) said the red-tailed hawk “mostly likes field mice and small rodents. It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds and then basically tear it apart, limb from limb. And I guess the shame about making this the state bird is it would make a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Yes, Groen took the opportunity to push his anti-choice agenda at the expense of a group of 9 and 10-year-old students from Hampton Falls.

We’ve all seen video and read stories about male Republicans at all levels of government getting tangled up in trying to figure out birth control, rape, and abortion.  Remember back when Newt Gingrich said women can’t be soldiers because they get a “disease” every month?  Or Rush Limbaugh thinking one had to take a birth control pill with every act of intercourse?  Or the guy who said women could hold an aspirin (I think it was an aspirin.) between their knees to prevent rape.  And most recently the state legislator who thought maybe one could swallow a tiny camera so a doctor could see how old the fetus was before an abortion was performed.  The list is endless.  But NH Rep. Groen really shows the totality of their obsession by introducing the anti-choice agenda during a hearing about raptors.  When the inappropriateness of his comments was pointed out and he was asked by leadership to apologize, Groen made the whole thing into a free speech issue.

What was Groen’s reaction to criticism of his comment? “Every time we’re in session the gallery is open, and there are children in the gallery. So, I don’t know, should we limit free speech or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”

Maybe the answer, Rep. Groen, is that on a day when birth control, abortion rights, or Planned Parenthood are being debated it is up to parents to decide if their children should be in the gallery.  But not when we are talking about red-tailed hawks.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

And while we are on the topic may I ask why Congressional Republican have to add an amendment about abortion to every single piece of legislation?  Today I’m talking about the bill concerning trafficking of women, the bill that is holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General.  Can we drop that language and pass the bill and confirm Ms. Lynch, please?

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Taken by Betty Lemley, New Jersey, February 2008

A proposed new state motto for Vermont

Today, March 4, 1791, Vermont became the 14th state.  It seems appropriate to write about a piece of legislation I hope will pass this year.  One of my state Senators, Jeannette White, wrote a column about it last week in the Brattleboro Reformer.

State flag of Vermont

State flag of Vermont

Vermont, like most states, has the state tree (sugar maple), bird (hermit thrush), and motto  “Freedom and Unity”, but unlike many other states, has no motto in Latin.  I’ll let Senator White explain

…[the] Senate Government Operations Committee, which I chair, has broad enough authority that it can address many of these [smaller] issues. One of them was a proposal to adopt a state Latin motto. This began last session when an 8th-grade Latin student, Angela Kubicke, discovered we are one of a few states that do not have one. It was late in the session and there simply wasn’t time to take it up. So the Government Operations Committee gave her some advice and suggested she come back at the beginning of this session. She did her homework and it paid off. She organized Latin students around the state, developed a motto that made sense for Vermont, got a bill sponsor, brought it to us and on Feb. 11 our Committee heard the testimony before a room full of about 70 Latin students from around the state, their teachers, three classics professors from UVM [University of Vermont], and other interested people.

I love the fact that the young woman didn’t get discourage and give up.  Instead she organized.

The motto is Stella quarta decima fulgeat — May the 14th star shine brightly. The number 14 has some significance in Vermont: there are 14 counties and we were an independent republic for 14 years. But even more important was that, during those 14 years as a republic, Vermonters worked very hard to become the 14th state — the 14th star on the flag. And during those years as a republic, there was a mint in Ruppert that minted Vermont coins. On the back was this motto.

At least twenty other states have Latin mottos and the proposed “Stella quarta decima fulgeat” would not replace “Freedom and Unity”.  So what happened when word got out that an additional Latin motto was being considered by the Vermont legislature?

WCAX did a small story about it that immediately riled bloggers. The comments ranged from “Stop wasting time on this” to “Latin motto? They should learn to read English” to “If we have a Latin motto it will open the flood gates for illegal aliens coming over the Mexican border (in case this is lost on anyone — apparently many Vermonters feel that Latinos speak Latin)” to “Send Joe Benning (sponsor of the bill) and Obama back to Mexico.”

I have to say, however that all the comments I saw on the WCAX  page were not negative and I think several comments were posted by some college students – who do do not go to school in Vermont – as an attempt at humor.  But some, like the ones quoted by Senator White, were just nasty and ignorant.

This being my first Vermont legislative session I hope I have this right.  We are having town meeting week and the legislature is not meeting. But Angela Kubicke’s bill is going to the House when they reconvene.  Hope it passes.  Stella quarta decima fulgeat.

Getting closer to things that really matter

Since moving to Vermont last summer I have seen stars I hadn’t seen in many year just walking out of my front door.  I have watched summer change to fall and now to winter in a way not possible in Boston.  With the leaves mostly gone, I could see the Connecticut River as I walked into town this morning.  And it is not that I didn’t notice stuff when I lived in the city.  I was a regular walker around Jamaica Pond, the Fenway, Boston Common and the Public Garden.  I lived across from a 2 acre city park.   And I did notice things.  There was a spot on Jamaica Pond where there were almost always turtles and in the spring you could see the young ones.  There were always birds to identify, plants to watch as they changed season. I could track planets in the Western sky from my bedroom window. But somehow it was different.  Perhaps it was the fact that one could rarely get away from road noise.  Or maybe it was just the feel, the pace of life clearly said “city”.  But I was still seeing nature first hand.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Review section had a wonderful article by the nature writer and essayist, Edward Hoagland.  I first came to know Mr Hoagland’s writing reading his collection of essays, “The Courage of Turtles”.  His New York Times piece begins

“LIFE is an ecstasy,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay called “The Method of Nature,” a founding document of American transcendentalism. Life is also electricity, as our minds’ synapses and heart muscles would testify if they could.

Living molecules bear a charge and thus can intersect with others of their kind, as molecules of rock do not. We marveled at electrical displays plunging from watery clouds in the sky as perhaps divine until we finally learned to manufacture and wire electricity ourselves, lighting the dark, then muzzling it for mundane use, to the point of blotting out the sky.

To forgo seeing the firmament, as many of us do, for Netflix and the blogosphere, is momentous — nature “unfriended,” enjoyment less impromptu than scripted.

He asks

Does life become secondhand when filtered through a tailored screen? Text unenriched by body language or voice box timbre, film omnivorously edited. Is our bent straightened or warped more deeply? That’s our choice in what we Google, but in the meantime, will we notice the birdsong diminishing?

I think life can become secondhand but that doesn’t stop any of us from watching the news or movies or internet streaming of important events.  I am addicted to NASA videos of events in space that I know I will never experience first hand.  But Hoagland fears that we are becoming more and more estranged from live experiences.

I live on a mountain without utilities for a third of every year, so for nearly half a century I’ve swung back and forth to and from electrification. In the summer, living by the sun couldn’t be simpler. There’s more daylight than I can use, and I revel in the phases of the moon, the conversation of ravens, owls, yellowthroats and loons. The TV and phone calls resume before winter, though life itself does not seem richer than when I listened to the toads’ spring song or watched a great blue heron fish, amid the leaves’ ten-thousand-fold vibrancy.

The difference of course is that leaves, heron, loon and toad would not remain as glories when I returned to electricity. They are “electrifying” only when Vermont is temperate. I appreciate the utility of power in the winter, but many people seldom see a sunrise or sunset nowadays; they’re looking at a screen. What will this do? The Northern Lights, the Big Dipper — are they eclipsed like the multiplication tables? There was a magnetism to aurora borealis or a cradle moon, to spring peepers’ sleigh-bell sound or spindrift surfing toward shore under cumulus clouds, that galvanized delights in us almost Paleolithic.

Are we stunted if we lose it, a deflation associated with migrating indoors to cyberspace, Facebook instead of faces? It’s lots of fun, but will ecstasy remain in play in front of a computer screen? With microscopes and telescopes we are able to observe unscripted reality, or (if you prefer) Creation.

Dried Queen Anne's Lace seen on a recent walk.

Dried Queen Anne’s Lace seen on a recent walk.

 

Something is lost when everything is experienced secondhand. Unfortunately most of us do not have the kind of double life experience Hoagland has had.  Most of us live in urban or suburban areas.  But we can be more mindful of the small things,  get off our phones and our computers,  turn off the television and experience things first hand for some part of everyday.  You can do this no matter where you live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph by FortRight.

Hitting reset

A few weeks ago, my husband and I both noted an article in the New York Times Week in Review section called “Hit the Reset “Button in Your Brain.”  The authors argued the need for a true vacation from work.  In other words not one like President Obama had where according to a news report I heard he talked to at least 9 foreign leaders and held at least 4 press conferences.  This would be in addition to the normal routine of daily briefings, etc.  Some of the rest of us call work and read email while ostensibly on vacation.  They argue

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain). The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.

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So what helps us reset and overcome the overload?

Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.

Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment. Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.

I suspect that by moving to Vermont with cleaner air, quiet, and lots of space to walk and appreciate nature even within a few blocks of our house, we have hit our reset buttons.  Being able to sit on the screened in porch and watch daylight fade as I did last night or taking a walk to see the stars tonight provides time to think and reflect.  We did try to do this in Boston by walking around Jamaica Pond for example, but even there you could hear traffic.  I used to walk over to Boston Harbor at lunch and look at the water.  These are urban dwellers solutions which people in cities can employ.  But they need to do so without cellphones and other devices.

I know it is a privilege to be able to retire to a place where we can so easily hit reset.

Illustration by Matthieu Bourel