Another Shade of Green
A portly gentleman dressed in an olive green National Park Service uniform led us onto the veranda of a brick mansion with expansive views of the mountains. Ranger Tim introduced himself and unlocked the front door.
In the large entry foyer my eyes immediately settled on an original Thomas Cole painting of Niagara Falls. The artist belonged to the "Hudson River School" of painters who popularized realistic scenes of North American landscapes, often with dramatic lighting. Ah ha, Vermont, gotcha. No denying that this painting and artist originated in New York.
Tim explained that Frederick Billings purchased the farm and mansion from the Marsh family in 1869. Billings was a collector of Hudson River School paintings and in the dining room I passed by a moody scene of Yosemite painted by Albert Bierstadt. But more importantly, Billings read Marsh's book and took its dire warnings to heart. He set out to reverse the environmental damage that had been dealt to Woodstock. Planting over 10,000 trees to help restore the barren hillsides, he developed one of the nation's first forest management programs.
Billings also completely renovated the estate, expanding the farm from 270 acres to nearly 1,000 acres and turning it into a model agricultural operation that pioneered the latest farming technology. He imported and bred premier cattle from the Isle of Jersey in the British Channel Islands and consistently won agricultural awards including top honors at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Earlier I had walked through the meticulously kept barn and pet a baby Jersey calf, only two months old.
The environmental stewardship of Frederick Billings lasted a lifetime and fortunately the interest carried through three generations of Billingses. In 1934, Frederick Billings' granddaughter, Mary French married another like–minded conservationist, Laurence Rockefeller who himself descended from a lineage of land preservationists. (The Rockefellers donated land for the establishment of twenty different national parks, including Acadia and Yellowstone.) In 1992, Laurence and Mary Rockefeller donated most of the Woodstock estate, thus establishing it as the Marsh–Billings–Rockefeller National Historical Park with the mission of telling the story of conservation history in America.
During the remainder of my stay in Woodstock, I toured other venues representing environmentally sustainable businesses. I watched glass blowing operations powered by a hydroelectric turbine on the Ottauquechee River, visited a family–owned maple sugaring farm, toured a potter studio, watched furniture craftsmen create chairs and tables, and even attended a bread–baking class.
This entire hippy–dippy, granola–eating, log–cabin–dwelling attitude seemed to generate its own synergy in the most liberal state in the nation. Or was it the other way around? Did the openness and receptiveness to alternate ways of thinking allow Vermont to lead the green movement? OK, Vermont, whatever. You made your point. But I still had one more ace up my sleeve.
When I returned home I checked on the solar panels that had generated several days' worth of power in my absence. Guilt free, I threw on all the lights and fired up my computer. I had an e–mail message waiting from a friend and former student who had sent pictures of her newest baby, Celia.
My own "children"—who never cried, slept all night long and never wandered away—deserved names, too. Kelly suggested one of the photovoltaic units might be called "Chakra," derived from the human body's little spinning energy centers that helped to keep one's own total energy in balance. It was perfect… I loved it. I needed two more names and did what any other new parent with questions would do: get on the internet and do a Google search. Soon I settled on "Khorlo," the original version of the term chakra from Tibet, and "Radiance," to give it a modernized American New Age twist. As I aged, my three children, Chakra, Khorlo and Radiance would be there in my golden years supporting me with free, solar–generated power. There Vermont, top that.
If you go:
For information on planning a trip to Woodstock, Vermont, see www.woodstockvt.com.
David Lee Drotar's travel stories appear in Mountain Living, The Globe & Mail, New York Post, The Buffalo News and numerous other publications. He is the author of seven books including Steep Passages: A World–wide Eco–Adventurer Unlocks Nature's Spiritual Truths (www.brookviewpress.com).
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