Young voices on Vermont's future (Brattleboro Reformer)

What it means to be a Vermonter
By ABBY EMMONS


It means taking pride in living in the only state in the United States of America that doesn't have billboards.

It means mocking tourists for driving too slowly, getting lost and taking too many pictures… haven't they ever seen a chicken before?

It means drinking ice-cold lemonade in the summer, fresh apple cider in the fall, hot chocolate in the winter and maple syrup in the spring.

It means enjoying hay season even though there are a million other things you'd rather be doing than getting hay chaff down your shirt and dust up your nose.

It means sitting out on the porch at sunset during peak foliage and watching the last lingering rays light up the leaves and create the illusion of a forest fire.

It means eight months of what feels like winter and four months of whatever's left.

It means never having to worry about mowing your lawn because the cows do it for you.

It means going over the river and through the woods to cut your own Christmas tree and stopping at Grandma's for cookies on the way home.

It means waking up on Monday morning and seeing that it snowed three feet since Sunday night and watching Channel 31 to see if school's cancelled.

It means five seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter, and mud season.

It means hiking up the tallest nearby peak to get the best cell service.

It means not caring that the state bird is the mosquito and the state flower is the satellite dish.

It means having tractor races in the fall and lawnmower races in the summer.
It means seeing all the locals with "Got Milk" and "Gut Deer" bumper stickers on their cars.

It means driving a Subaru - "no, that's not dirt, that's an off-white paint finish…"
It means knowing that your supply of Ben & Jerry's ice cream is never going to run out.

Abby Emmons is a student at Woodstock Union High School.


"You're From Where?"
By DUSTIN FINER


"Yes, I'm from Vermont, and yes, it is a state."

As soon as these words left my mouth, the true definition of my upbringing flashed before me. It was a warm, sunny day in southern Florida and I was in the middle of a painful explanation to some beachgoers about what it meant to be a local where I'm from: Vermont, VT, the 802.

While I had a strong, personal way of defining where I was from, trying to explain what being a "Vermonter" truly means to a pair of blondes who thought I was Canadian was a difficult task. I tried to start simple.

"Maple syrup, bright fall leaves…snow?"

I hinted as gently as I could, trying to conjure some primitive, stone-age picture in their indolent minds.

"Oh, like Mrs. Butterworth's!" the more eloquent of the two attempted.

"No! Mrs. Butterworth's is fake syrup! Vermont is real!"

Real. That was the first resounding hit I made on what it meant to hail from the Green Mountain State. While the Sunshine Twins may have missed it, I had just sent an entire history screaming through my brain.

Vermont has always been a land of genuine products, people and ideas. Whether it was the maple syrup I had boiled on my own stove last winter, or the fifth-generation farmer who talked at my school a week ago, lies and masquerade have no place in my home state. Truth is all that matters. At times we may be excruciatingly blunt, but it always leads to a better, more pure outcome.

Clearly, based on their fake tans, there was no point in explaining this idea further to my new beach buddies. I tried an even simpler approach.

"You gals like fashion right?"

"Oh yeah…like it's like the best," they bubbled.

"Right. Well Vermont is all about color. In summer we have rolling green hills that reach as far as the eyes can see. In fall all of the leaves on those mountains become crisp rainbows of red, orange and yellow. In winter everything is an effervescent white."

"What about spring?" one of them, who had learned her seasons, asked.

"In spring everything is mud," I replied in my blunt, yet honest, Vermont fashion.

"Ew…you can keep your mud," they told me, turning up their noses.

Of course I would keep it, it's my mud and I'm damn proud of it.

Pride. Vermonters have an overwhelming sense of pride and admiration for the land we live in. While people travel the world to witness the colors I described, they sat just outside of my window every day. That wasn't enough for me though. Having so much pride in the land that surrounded me, I dedicated myself to spending almost an entire summer deep in its heart on the Long Trail.

Should I try and explain to these girls what such a meaningful connection to the land meant? Brag about my achievement? No, Vermonters are filled with pride, not hubris. As I began to grow frustrated with their parochial knowledge, they began to be annoyed by me and snickered, "You're so weird."

"I'm not weird; I know a whole state full of people like me. We're a unique group, but we stick together."

And there it was: the true definition of being a Vermonter. We may be the state with the smallest population in the Union, and some people might think we don't exist, but even with all our quirks, we stick together.

Dustin Finer is a student at Woodstock Union High School.

Aichan
By BRIDGET IVERSON


After almost two years of living in Japan, I had gotten used to the stares. The pointing fingers. The whispers. Even the small child who once burst into tears when I smiled could not surprise me.

I was the American; I was the foreigner. I was different. I was weird. I was the walking oddity of Isahaya, brown-haired and blue-eyed and utterly, completely strange.

First conversations always began the same way. A knot of girls would huddle, glancing over at me sitting at my cramped desk or on a park bench or, sometimes, halfway up a tree. One would walk timidly over while the rest giggled from a safe distance. Her English would be halting and uncertain, but proud.

"What is your name?"

"Bridget."

The Japanese head-bow had become instinctive almost immediately; to this day I appear to be constantly ducking when I'm nervous. I must also reluctantly admit to bowing while on the phone.

The girl will try to fit the awkward Irish syllables into her mouth. "Ba-ri-ji - Bari-jye-to - "

"Aichan." My Japanese nickname.

"Where…where are you from?"

"Amerika." I try to use the Japanese pronunciation.

"Ooooh." Giggles. "Where in Amerika?"

"Vermont." No reaction. "Bamonto-shu."

A slow dawning of recognition. "Oh! You have…ah, choto ma-te kudasai. One minute."

She confers briefly with her friends; I mentally review the possibilities. I have … what? Trees? Maple syrup? Ice cream? Cows?

She returns with apologetic bow. "You have apples!"

Apples?

"Yes, we have apples."

"What kind of apples?"

Edible ones? "Um, MacIntosh, Granny Smith…" Is this a test? "Red Delicious."

"Delicious?"

"Yes?"

I look at her. She looks at me. Awkward giggles eventually replace awkward silence. Finally, she bows.

She returns to her gaggle; I to my tree. Eventually I found out that there is a popular packaged meal sold in the area known as "Vermont Curry." Displays of the slim white boxes grace every Japanese store in the city where I lived. The curry is unique for containing honey and apples.

Apples. In Japan, that is all they know about us here in Vermont. That is what's most important. Apples.

Bridget Iverson is a student at Mount Mansfield Union High School.

A love that is not human

By SARAH LEVINE


I have never been asked what it means to be a Vermonter, but if I were, I would look that person right in the eyes and answer:

It means sparkling winters when the snow is whiter than my grandmother's hair and taller than her, too, and golden summers that the word "beautiful" comes nowhere near describing.

It means civil unions and no death penalties.

It means the smell of wood smoke constantly wafting into your nostrils.

It means cow's milk and two-room school houses, swift rivers and Bernie Sanders.

But most of all, it means hope. Hope that we can all be so much more than we promise ourselves we can be, and hope for the perfect life, whatever your definition of that is.

We all worry about the future once in awhile; after all, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. Will next week mark the time when we secede from the union? What's going to happen to our farms? Will the economy always be this bad in our state that is in need of so much more?

All we can do to make sure that the outcome is what we hope for, is to keep on working and coming together as we always have - but also work and come together more than ever. And I know that because of who we are and what we stand for - freedom and unity - we can - no, we WILL - go forth and live as a people connected by peace and a common dream for the future.

No one can ask you to fully understand this world; it is far too complex. But we can all begin understanding one little bit at a time, starting with our own love and wonder for this state. Sing to the rolling mountains and smile to the bright blue sky, and maybe, just maybe, one day we will be able to spread our love to the entire country, and then to the continent - and then to the world.

I'm already seeing the beginning.

Sarah Levine is a student at Brattleboro Union High School.