Monday, September 18, 2017

I lassoed a goat in Jericho, Vermont

Having recently moved to Jericho from South Burlington, I am finding living in a small town can be different than living in the big city (although all things are relative; after all this still is Vermont!).

Upon returning from a trip, being a bit tired and red-eyed, climbing the last of a seemingly endless series of hills – they apparently are cheaper by the dozen here – I spotted a sheep walking along the sidewalk as rightfully as skate boarders, rollerbladers, bicyclist, and walkers might do in the city. (Yes, some of us use two wheels and our legs for travel.) After taking a double take, I confirmed the critter did indeed have not only long hair, but four legs as well. I yelled to my companion to stop the car, there was a sheep on the sidewalk, and we just had to do something. She, my companion, did not seem to be a bit surprised by the sighting, though she and the sheep were both a bit shaken by my loud outcry. It is usually much quieter here, what with fewer airplanes and only an infrequent and minor noise barrier broken by the military. Military folks only motor through town with camouflaged vehicles instead of taxi down the runway in jets that stop conversation for miles. Here I can hear my self ‘think’, and I did. I thought: What am I going to do IF I CATCH HIM?

Long story cut short, Christa Alexander from Jericho Settlers Farm, owner of the sheep, and not surprised by the lonely homesick ram, came by and wrangled the now somewhat ornery critter by herself. That is one strong lady farmer. Small diverse farms I had heard of (we do have Farmers Markets in the city), but this was a real close up and personal farming view new to me. The ram bleated me farewell and I, feeling like I was now becoming an integrated part of this rural town, added that I might pay him and his gals a visit sometime as part of my goal of meeting more of my new neighbors, including the four legged variety.

A few weeks later, not far from my new home, as we drove up another hill (flat is an unknown term here), we spotted a goat standing along the side of the road as though it was perfectly normal for such a four- legged domesticated creature to be hitchhiking. Being from the city, and a flatlander at that, I thought it best to stop and see if the poor fella needed directions. After all, though I was raised and grew up in the shadow of the metropolis of Burlington, mama did raise me with the good sense of neighborly etiquette.

Now being of sound mind and body, but not as fit as the local woman farmer, I decided even a goat was a bit much to wrestle with, so, yup, you guessed it, I LASSOED A GOAT IN VERMONT. Well sort of - writers and storytellers are allowed a bit of rope. With some help from a friend and the fortune of the goat wearing a collar, I led the very friendly creature back to its mate and its home in a large fenced in backyard. I felt like I too had come home to new friendly and caring folks, including the four-legged variety.

Bernie Paquette wrote a monthly column for many years published in The Other Paper of South Burlington, and now resides in Jericho, Vermont.

Published in the Sept. 7, 2017 issue of the Mountain Gazette.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Saving The World, One Backyard at a Time

Saving The World, 

One Backyard at a Time

Guest posting: by Christy Erickson (

Did you know that you can help save the world in your own backyard? It’s true.

By creating a pollinator garden in your own backyard, outdoor patio, or even the balcony of your condo or apartment, you can help support native honey bee populations. These honey bee populations help our economy and global ecosystem.

But how, and to what extent?

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), honey bees are responsible for an estimated 15 billion dollars in added crop value due to their function as chief pollinators. This equates to nearly 84 percent of crops grown for human consumption--or one out of every three bites you eat. In other words, bees are performing the manual labor that allows us to have our bowl of cereal in the morning, our sandwiches at lunch, and our pasta for dinner. Not only that, but they are also responsible for a good deal of cotton that we wear and use daily. If we add it all up, around 250,000 species of flowering plants rely on the transfer of pollen, a function that bees dutifully serve every year.

But these hard working invertebrates dressed in black and yellow need our help. A recent article by Time has reported that nearly 700 North American bee species are headed toward extinction due to the use of harmful pesticides, the loss of habitat and climate change. According to the cited study, 1 in 4 native bee species are in duress, and 40 percent of insect pollinators are currently threatened. According to another study done by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, bee populations have declined by 30 percent over the past decade.

The Environmental Protection Agency has given other reasons for this decline in bee populations, one of which is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the majority of worker bees abandon their queen, resulting in the collapse of the hive in the following winter. While harmful pesticides are cited as the number one cause of CCD, other factors such as the parasitic varroa mite have also been cited as a contributing cause.

Regardless of these adverse conditions, a simple pollinator garden can help your local bee populations to thrive.

The Forest Service recommends using a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall, and to use plants native to your area. Native plants have adapted to your specific climate, soil, and region, and have a higher chance of success. There are several ecoregions in the United States, and many options for blooming native plants, so be sure to do your research to find the best fit for your situation. Just remember, a little effort goes a long way—250 honey bees are enough to pollinate an entire acre of apple trees!

It is also advised not to use any pesticides when planting a bee-friendly pollinator garden. Weeding by hand provides the least harmful alternative to pesticides, and also allows you to get the benefits of exercise. If you must use a pesticide, consider an organic alternative. Read the instructions carefully, and use them at night when bees and other pollinators are inactive.

If you enjoy year-long color in your pollinator garden, consider planting a few evergreen shrubs or trees. Evergreen trees have leaves throughout the year and are always green. Some examples evergreens are pine, hemlock, oak and red cedar. These can also serve as habitats for your honey bees.

Leaving dead trees or limbs in your yard offers a home for bees to nest. It is also possible to use a hose or irrigation line to create a nesting site for bees. By adding a bit of sea salt to a muddy area in your yard, you can create potential nesting sites for honey bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies.

Just remember, you (with a little help from your backyard and some care!) can help save the world!

Author: Christy Erickson (

Monday, July 17, 2017

Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge - Schoolchildren decry litter


Sampling of posters created by schoolchildren after visiting the MISSISQUOI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE on Tabor Road in Swanton, Vermont.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Life of a Vermont Bee

Bee Pollinating a Flower

The Life of a Vermont Bee

By: Gabe Andrews 
Guest Posting with permission from Gabe.

Back in November, Politico ran a story about the first all-renewable-energy city in the U.S.: Burlington. As I read about the Intervale, the McNeil Plant, and the Winooski River, I felt a pinch of pride living in such a distinguished place. With her determination to confront climate change and cultivate local food, the Queen City leads the path towards a more sustainable future. Thanks to the foresight of Burlington Parks and Recreation and engaged citizens, this future looks a little brighter for our native bee species. It’s a city fit for a queen…bee.
Vermont is home to about 275 of the 4,000 native bee species found in the U.S. and Canada. Some of these have recently vanished from our state (e.g. Rusty-patched and Ashton’s Cuckoo Bumble Bees). Reasons for extirpation range from habitat loss and climate change to pesticides poisoning and disease from captive bees. The city and its partners are tackling three of these directly through renewable energy policies, organic practices within community gardens, and pollinator habitat provisioning. The last of which will be on full display all summer long.

Bee Pollinating a Flower
Photo Courtesy of: Pimthida

I’ve frolicked through Mackenzie Park, paddled to the Sea Caves, and watched the sun set at Oakledge, but have often wondered what Burlington looks like above floodplain forests and historic neighborhoods. How would a bee see this city? Would she find it more suitable than others?
To explore these questions, I planned a day in the life of a bee. I mapped out the 14 community gardens spread throughout the city, hopped on my bike, and went to investigate the local nectaring holes. As a generalization, bees can travel up to six miles from nest to forage, but the closer the better. The greatest distance—as the crow flies—between two gardens, is the six miles that separate Starr Farm and Wheelock gardens; by bike, it’s a bit further. In between are another 12 patches of ground to feed from. Add in the countless backyards and raised beds tended by the green thumbs of Burlingtonians and a bee is unlikely to require that 10k journey. So, what’s for dinner?

Calahan Garden

For bees, the answer is always vegetarian fare. These industrious insects feed on pollen and nectar from spring to early autumn, depending on the species. European honeybees are a bit of an anomaly—they stash food for lean months. However, our native bees rely on Vermont’s brief growing season and don’t have the luxury of winter storage (at least the adults don’t). This is an important bit of bee ecology. Though different bees emerge at different times, constant forage is a necessity.

In mid-June, we are welcomed with the violate blossoms of Ohio spiderwort and wild lupine (currently blooming in multiple community gardens, including Lone Rock and Calahan). Other important natives decorating Burlington’s gardens this time of year include self-heal, beardtongue, wood mint, and columbine. These early-season blooms will give way to mid-season milkweeds and lobelias, which set the stage for turtleheads, coneflowers, and goldenrods that mark the end of summer. In all, an adult female bee will collect pollen and nectar from these sources for just three to six weeks before she deposits her eggs and dies. Her offspring will hatch and pupate in the darkness of her nest chamber and wait out the long, cold Vermont winter out of sight. Their only sustenance is a packet of pollen and nectar left by their late mother.  One of the best ways to support native bees is to plant native species of flowering plants that bloom throughout the season, providing resources                                                                for a diversity of bee species and their offspring. The other? Help them with habitat.
Many of us think equate bee homes with beehives. While bumble, honey, and some sweat bees are led by queens in a eusocial society, most species are solitary and nearly three-quarters nest in the ground. Mining, squash, sweat, and cellophane bees are a few of the ground-nesters. Green metallic bees nest in rotting wood, leaf-cutter bees make their homes in hollow stems, bumble bees favor abandoned rodent burrows, and mason bees occupy cracks in walls or even the occasional snail shell. These assorted habits provide ample room for diverse habitats in backyards and community gardens. Leave the dried stems of perennials (e.g. elderberry) to welcome overwintering mason and leaf-cutters and stack a few rotting logs to encourage the stunning metallic sweat bees. A patch of sandy soil facing south or east could attract an array of bees—just visit Greenmount Cemetery on Colchester Avenue in April to witness bees emerge from the well-drained soils typical of cemeteries.
Where would Burlington be without her pollinators? Certainly, our local food producers would suffer: the Intervale would lose its luster, community gardeners would fail to produce tomatoes, eggplants, and melons, and our apple orchards would stand idle.  Our native flora would wait in vain for the fertility of spring and our soils would be still without the emergence of the ground-nesting majority. We keep or standing as an all-renewable-city, but our mission towards sustainability would take a hit.
Fortunately, optimism buzzes alongside the furry flight of our bees (all bees have branched hairs somewhere on their bodies). I returned from my bike ride encouraged by the efforts of our city and our people. In many of Burlington’s community gardens, kale, garlic, and strawberries were flanked by plantings of native wildflowers and shrubs. The urban wilds that surround these gardens provide further refuge and forage for our native pollinators. Together, the mosaic of carefully cultivated and intentionally wild landscapes help to ensure a city that is more sustainable and bee-autiful.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Heart of Jericho Center - Remembering Lil Desso, Storekeeper

Folks gathered around the Jericho Center Community Green on May 6, 2017 to dedicate a rock play area in remembrance and appreciation of Lil Desso, Storekeeper (along with her husband, Gerry) of Desso's General Store (Now known as the Jericho Center Country Store) for 30 years.  

  Lilian Desso was a large part of making Desso's Store, the heart of Jericho Center.

Publicity poster for the event designed by Tracey Campbell Pearson, author of The Storekeeper.

                                                       The event program.

Tracey Campbell Pearson

Bob Schermer, President of Jericho Center Preservation Association, thanking the audience,  Gerry Desso and his daughters - Kim and Karen and the many volunteers who constructed the play area. 

Chris Cleary
took time on short notice to engrave 

the large stone facing the general
store in remembrance of Lil Desso.

Charlie Siegchrist and Nate Ely, designer and contractor for the project, who along with Jim Bedell, Dennis Beloin, R.J. Wheel (contractors), volunteered their time and equipment to move large rocks from nearby Bolger Hill Road and construct the play area.    

Tracey Campbell Pearson and Bob Schermer read Tracey's book, The Storekeeper.

Terry Hook, Secretary of The Jericho Center Preservation Association,
assists with the reading of The Storekeeper

"Who would like a copy of The Storekeeper
 by Tracey Campbell Pearson?" "Me, me, pick me!"

Gerry Desso and his wife Lillian were not just owners of Desso's General Store for 30 years - they were also stewards of the small Vermont community.

Linda St. Amour - current Jericho Center Country Store owner -
who with her son and their staff 

carry on the proud community country store

Poem read at the dedication.
Lighting the Green

 It is the usual gray of a late November sky
settling into a day-long dusk by late morning,
making it slow to move
around the maze of what must get done
in a Vermont day already an abbreviation of yesterday--
the walk to Desso’s General Store at noon
to fetch the mail, a late fall journey.

In the center of the village green, as if standing guard
over the white clapboards of the Jericho Town Library
and the plain red brick Congregational Church,
a towering spruce inches its way skyward as Gerry Desso
and men from the village road crew swing aloft,
hanging ropes of outdoor lights already aglow
in reds, greens and blues against dense green branches.
In not so many years from now,
Bunk Bedell’s bucket loader
may fail its reach to light the topmost branches
of Jericho Center’s Christmas spruce.
          What then will send out ribbons of light
          through branches steadily accumulating snow
          to undo the darkness of these days?

Across the street from the tree
with its growing glow of lights,
Lil and Nancy, Judy too, move around the front
and sides of Desso’s General Store
where they find spaces to hang wreaths
from every surface, red velvet bows
blowing into the winter wind.   Balsam firs,
freshly cut, lean against the clapboards, trees
to celebrate the Yule, thick
with pungent green aromas.

Before I push against the door
to wind my way toward the rear wall
of postal boxes, before I edge
sideways through aisles narrowed
by racks of mittens and children’s boots,
I pause in the gray cold, caught in the sudden throb
of warmth for these rituals of preparation
that mark our days around this village green.

Mary Jane Dickerson

Excerpts from a letter about Lil Desso.
I had major surgery. The day after I got back from the hospital, there was a knock at the back door. Two men I’d never met were standing there holding boxes full of milk, muffins, juice, ice cream, fruit, instant pudding, soup and other goodies. “Lil thought you might need these.” 
To me, she [ Lil ] embodied kindness, dignity, an amazing work ethic, and a strong sense of responsibility to her family, neighbors, employees, co-workers and the entire town. I heard someone describe Lil as the “heart of Jericho Center” – and that was truly what she was.
~Maeve K.

Read about the current store and its history on the Jericho Country Store website.

Guestbook obituary postings in

Lilian Desso Obiturary in Burlington Free Press

History of Jericho Center Country Store - BFP article. 

Jericho Store still thriving after 207 years. Article on Happy Vermont blog.