Shall her mountains die?
It seems as if a dream: a time when noble women and men stood up for the Green Mountains and Vermont was a place of resistance to an advancing phalanx of profiteers and promoters with hungry appetites for our hills.It was a time, as interstate highways uncoiled like snakes across the land and threatening changes were at hand, when Walter Hard, Jr., Vermont Life's editor, challenged the booster mentality and pointedly asked, "Shall her mountains die?"
It was also a time when Charlie Morrissey, head of the Vermont Historical Society, invited author Wallace Stegner to warn that Americans were devouring the continent and we Vermonters were in danger of desecrating our "green sanctuary of peaceful meadows and painted woods." It was a time when small groups coalesced around courageous leaders such as Hub Vogelmann, Shirley Strong, Bob Spear and Fred Mold, refusing to placate powerful politicians and, in the process, saving Camels Hump from ski areas and chalets and Victory Bog from the waters of a George Aiken-endorsed dam.
Yes, it seems as if a dream; so different then than now. For in the 1960s, the early shoots of Vermont's environmental spring emerged. Then, a Vermont Governor went to Windham County, witnessed the destruction and the devastation on the Dover Hills and put his foot down; now, a Vermont Governor from Windham County signals with a thumb up or a thumb down which ecosystems might live and which must die. Then, a conservative Republican who chaired the House Natural Resources Committee that passed Act 250 rose to defend the Green Mountains; now, a liberal Democrat who chairs that same committee stoops to destroy them.
Yes, we boast of those old victories, but today, Vermont's mountains are once more at risk. The land barons have only been hibernating; like gypsy moths, they have invaded our hills again.
Near the Massachusetts line, Haystack Mountain is being walled off by money, turning into an economically gated citadel for only those with enough cash to pony up the lofty initiation fee. "Take a good look, boys," said a local fire official inspecting the property with his crew, "this is the last time you'll see this place unless there's a fire."
Near the Canadian border, the amusement park posing as Jay Peak continues its descent into whatever Canto of Hell Dante might have reserved for lobotomized mountains. "Smile," said the photographer to the grey-haired politicians in dark suits, standing beside its owners like merry morticians presiding over a funeral.
Now, in between, the people of Grafton and Windham are learning what the people of Albany and Lowell, Sheffield and Barton know: They are merely pawns to be sacrificed in the Great Game of Power.
When the early Vermont pioneers treated the Green Mountains as inexhaustible, they were acting out of ignorance.Today, we know our land is limited, our high elevations fragile; yet, we persist in our destructive ways as if we can keep blasting and bulldozing our way to Paradise.
Kurt Vonnegut's poem on the death of Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, teaches a lesson we need to learn.
"True story, Word of Honor: Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.
I said, 'Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel 'Catch-22' has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, 'I've got something he can never have.' And I said, 'What on earth could that be, Joe?' And Joe said, 'The knowledge that I've got enough.' Not bad! Rest in peace!"
Then, Walter Hard, Jr., asked, "Shall Her Mountains Die?" and many Vermonters replied, "No. Enough!" Now, it is time for us to answer for ourselves ... and for Vermont.
As for me and my house, we, too, say, "No. Enough!"
Bruce S. Post, a longtime congressional aide, now writes and lectures on Vermont environmental history.
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