Home Arts Book Review: ‘Vermont Almanac: Stories From & For the Land, Volume IV’

Book Review: ‘Vermont Almanac: Stories From & For the Land, Volume IV’

Today, the majority of Vermonters live and work on paved roads in urbanized or somewhat urbanized areas, and lead very contemporary, 21st century lives. As we drive up or down Interstate 89, we admire the views and are grateful to live in such a beautiful, rural state. Many of us, however, are detached from the land and natural world around us and are unaware of how much is going on in those scenic hills.

 “Vermont Almanac: Stories From & For the Land, Volume IV,” edited by Dave Mance III and Patrick White, aims to change that. Published this month, this beautiful, engaging book celebrates rural Vermont and those “who are preserving and pioneering a rural way of life in an increasingly urbanized culture.” The book contains some history, but it is not a nostalgic look at how Vermont used to be, and there are no listings of sunrise and sunset times. Highlighting rural Vermont today, the almanac is about people, stories, and making and maintaining connections to the land and the natural world. Rural Vermont is much more dynamic than some may think.

The fourth in an annual series started in 2020, the almanac follows the natural rhythms of the seasons to take readers through the year, month by month, from October 2022 through September 2023, following the harvest cycle that some traditional cultures use to define the year. 

Each month is a chapter that includes some details about natural events that happened during that month, but most of the chapter is more general. October includes a photo of a dug-out underground yellow jackets nest taken after the wasps had died; another, of a large, 500 million-year-old trilobite fossil found that month in Bennington; and an article about asters changing colors and why it matters. There are stunning companion photos: one of a wild, banded adult peregrine falcon in Brattleboro, and a second of the same bird when it was banded as a hatchling in Maine the year before.

Other months include pieces about snowflakes, skunks, tea herbs, floodplain forests, snowshoe hares, and climate change, and a fascinating piece with photos and descriptions of 10 different wildflowers in winter.

Each month there is also an at-home section, which like the nature notes, covers a wide variety of topics, from making cider from crabapples and replacing your lawn with a pollinator garden, to recipes for maple baked custard, frittatas, and polenta.

Feature articles cover such topics as Christmas tree farms (Vermont has about 200 of them), a farm family that diversified by building a creamery, and small-scale wreath makers. There are a few articles related to cannabis, including growing it, marketing it, and how it was made legal in Vermont.

July is dominated by the flood, with several articles and photographs, including a two-page dramatic State Street photo that Montpelier writer and naturalist Bryan Pfeiffer took from a kayak on July 11. 

As an example of how the book bridges the past and present, there is an informative article about the history of Vermont barns, with descriptions, dates, and drawings of seven styles from different eras. So that’s why they don’t all look the same! That article is followed by “New Life for Old Barns,” about a Middletown Springs company that restores old barns, and “A Vermonter in Paris,” an interview with a Lincoln timber frame carpenter who spent six months in Paris using his traditional skills helping to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral, which was lost to fire in 2019.

Personal stories and reflections are interspersed among the general articles and shorter pieces. In “The Magic Shoes,” Abenaki writer Shirly Hook shares memories of growing up poor in Chelsea and a rebellious incident at school, and in “Ephemerals,” Calais writer Rowan Jacobsen writes about spring peepers, tiny short-lived spring flowers, the constancy of change, and the uniqueness of each moment.

If this book is beginning to sound like a magazine, there’s a good reason for that: It was founded by four people who used to work for Northern Woodlands magazine. The two editors, Dave Mance III (a sugarmaker in southern Vermont) and Patrick White (a Christmas tree farmer in Middlesex), were the editors of Northern Woodlands, and they brought some of the popular features from that magazine to these books. During the recent book launch at North Branch Nature Center, Mance and White said that one reason for creating the Vermont Almanac was that it allows them to focus completely on Vermont; Northern Woodlands focuses on the northeastern United States. 

Vermont Almanac is a high-quality book with over 60 contributors from around the state, beautiful photography, attractive block prints, and paintings from Lyman Orton’s collection, the largest collection of Vermont art. 

As a nonprofit publication, the book depends on grants and sponsors; there are unobtrusive sponsor pages that are kept separate from the articles. With grant support, the publisher, For the Land Publishing, Inc., has gifted copies of some volumes to all of Vermont’s public libraries, high school libraries, and conservation commissions, as well as to other groups.

“Vermont Almanac: Stories From & For the Land, Volume IV” is available at Bear Pond Books, other independent booksellers across the state, and at vermontalmanac.org. The first three volumes can be ordered through bookstores or the website.