by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
April 19, 2007
DEAR, DEAR DUMMERSTON
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Last weekend I - along with every other Dummerston resident - was invited to count the ways during the Y2C (Your Two Cents) event at the Evening Star Grange.
"Y2C offers Dummerston residents the opportunity to work together
to imagine, envision and strategize about their town," the flier said. The
event, supported by the Vermont Land Trust and facilitated by Delia
Clark of Shelburne Farms, was supposed to be an opportunity for us to
discuss what we like, don't like and want to change in our little town.
When I say little, I mean only 796 precious households in 2000, up from 714 in 1990, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. And only 1,915 people, most of whom are tucked in bed by 10 p.m. (if the darkness on the roads when I occasionally come home late is any indication.)
Population density? It's 62.9 persons per square mile, which means lots of room, lots of trees, lots of privacy. The median household income? It's $46,121; in this Republican-led world, where the rich get richer and the rest of us get screwed, it will come as no surprise that's only $641 higher than in 1990 (adjusted to 2000 dollars.) And thanks to the Windham Regional Commission for putting together all these facts.
I went to Y2C with some alarm. For me, Dummerston is close to perfect. I don't want to see it changed.
Before I decided to put down permanent roots in this area, I had been covering town government for more than four years. I knew the distinct identities of the different towns and how well or poorly they were being run. At the time, Dummerston had just decided to renovate its beautiful covered bridge rather than replace it with a steel one which would increase traffic. Since the bridge gave me a tiny historical thrill every time I crossed, the decision made sense to me. Despite the high taxes, I knew Dummerston was the place for me.
Jump forward more than a decade and Dummerston still makes sense. In the April 6 issue of the Brattleboro Reformer, for example, a front page story describes the latest argument on the Brattleboro select board - they can't even decide how often to meet. On the Towns page, the Dummerston select board was searching for a new roads foreman to replace the retiring Wayne Emery, whom chairman Tom Bodette rightly called "a force of nature."
They were thinking five years down the road about a new gravel pit, even though the new one they bought - with great forethought - is already saving the town money. And they were putting away money for future repairs on the bridge. Conservative? Progressive? Liberal? Right? Left? Horsepucky. It's about common sense. It's about running a town tight and right.
So on Friday night, I wasn't eager for change. Luckily, my feelings seem to be shared by a great majority of the more than 150 people who showed up - artists and writers, farmers, bankers and educators, newcomers and people whose families have been in Dummerston since before the town even got its name.
Clark allayed many of my fears by describing the purpose of the meeting as "knitting together" residents and getting them to discuss their vision of the future before "the craziness of the world tries to come in and divide and conquer us." It isn't about power. It's about "what kind of community we will leave for our children and our children's children."
Clark asked us to describe Dummerston. Some of the words and phrases we used were "great," "peaceful," "a lot of talent," "independent," "very white," "no coffee shop," "no general store," "not enough high speed Internet access" "lots of history" "rural," "three zip codes" and "60 miles of dirt road."
When we brainstormed about the future, we thought in terms of adding a hospice, more affordable housing and senior housing. We wanted more organic farms, safe bike trails and less pollution. We wanted high speed Internet access and more inter-town communication. We wanted to preserve Dummerston's natural beauty and open lands.
Most of all, we wanted to party. Among the things we suggested were a school fair, a town fair, more contra and square dances, concerts, community pot lucks, street fairs and a book club.
You never know what good things will happen when people get together. We live on a sparsely settled dirt road, and for a long time I didn't know my neighbors. Then one day an invitation from the woman next door appeared in my mailbox. At the party I met the single woman who lived down the road. We became friends. Eventually, I introduced her to my ex-husband, who was grieving over the death of his second wife. The next thing I knew, the two were married. They're still happy together, and when they moved out, we became close friends with the family who bought the house.
I came away from the meeting relaxed, refreshed and reassured. I'm not alone in thinking Dummerston is just about perfect. And the changes people want will make it even more so.
I'm not being a Pollyanna here. I go to Town Meeting. I know about friction and contentiousness. I know change makes people nervous and they act up. I know taxes are way too high. But I think Jack Manix, who owns the historic organic Walker Farm on Route 5, was right when he told a reporter he came away feeling that residents understood the history and values of the town and were committed to preserving them.
"What's really encouraging is the diversity of the people who came," Manix said. "It's encouraging to me but also to the older town fathers that their way of life is appreciated."
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available at www.joycemarcel.com.