Archive for the ‘A Lifetime of Vermont People’ Category

Carroll Shatney“I had no idea,” says Peter Miller, author and photographer, that my book A Lifetime of Vermont People, would have such an effect on its readers.”

The book is a collection of 62 written profiles with black and white photographs of Vermonters taken over the last 60 years.

The author wrote a summary of those years and the changes he noticed—The interstate, gentrification, the banks, the direction of the legislature and small changes, such as posted land, the Vermont accent, and…the end of a classless society. Most of the comments and letters received by the author, discuss their inability to cope financially and a rising anger about the legislature and the state government.

“They are not out friends anymore,” said a cleaning lady and she practically shouted it.

 “I feel violent,” said an auto garage owner when thinking about the direction the state is moving towards.

 “Our pensions don’t cover our costs,” said a recently retired couple, we would like to leave but can’t find a buyer.”

 “We have given up on our dream of building a house on our land in Walden. The state legislature’s two bills concerning a carbon tax are what really scared us into that decision. I don’t see how the older population in Vermont will survive the push for more wind and solar farms and the costs associated with migrating off fossil fuels. We just wanted to live out our retirement years in peace and quiet, staying warm, enjoying nature, family and friends. Looks like we’ll be doing that in Maine.”

“I cannot tell you how much your new book (A Lifetime of Vermont People) means to me. I was moved to tears after I bought a copy in St. Johnsbury and pulled over at a rest stop and began to turn the pages. This sudden release of emotion surprised me and when I thought about why, I think it was because of who and what we have lost here in the state I call home.”

Some Vermonters now realize their home is not an asset but a liability because of the property tax, student tax, and the cost of energy and upkeep.

And it is ironic that Vermont will welcome refugees from other countries but there is no comment about the Vermonters who want to leave Vermont. They are refugees from one of the most expensive states in the union.

I have spoken to so many that I plan to do a book called the Vanishing Vermonter….An Endangered Species. I will interview a bunch of them and let them tell their story. I will also have a section where Vermonters can comment about what to do about bringing Vermont back home.

The more I think about this anger the more I realize it is about the cost of living, for sure, but embedded in their souls is that foreboding anxiety that we are losing our way of living—the culture—that has made our state so unique.

The book A Lifetime of Vermont People is available at independent Vermont bookshops and at Peter Miller’s website, http://www.silverprintpress.com.


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Peter Miller self portraitI mentioned in my last post that I am creating a book project with the working title The Vanishing Vermonter…An Endangered Species.

This book will be a witness to how our state is being reshaped. The Vanishing Vermonter is your book—you the Vermonters who made our homeland what it is with your hands, mind, humor and morality.

Over the past year the concept of The Vanishing Vermonter simmered in in my mind. The idea too shape one afternoon as I reflected on the email, telephone calls and conversations I had with folks who had read my latest book, A Lifetime of Vermont People.  After heavy taxes, energy and food costs, and so many fees, these Vermonters have little expendable income, if any at all. Recently retired Vermonters find their pension does not cover their monthly budget and younger Vermonters know that career jobs are as rare as a catamount sighting (they are a few in Vermont-jobs and catamounts).

Many Vermonters have migrated to other states where expenses, especially taxes, real estate and energy costs, are so much lower and good jobs are available. Sometime this “forced migration” splits up families. The other factor is that the last two winters have been cruel with dipsy-doodle temperature changes. Vermonters don’t like the idea of having to wear cleats to prevent an unwanted trip to the ER.

The undercurrent rippling beneath these financial woes is how our culture is morphing. Vermonters by tradition are frugal. As one veteran of the legislature in the 1970’s recalled, “The legislators were often from farms and small towns. They treated every bill as if they were spending their own money”. There was no need for fancy houses, trespassing signs, public tennis courts and hockey rinks, new civic buildings.  They were not familiar with the term “politically correct”.

No true Vermonter would think of replacing the sacred purity of our ridgelines and mountains with 300-foot tall wind turbines and large solar farms, all built in a hurry to garner rebates. These state and federal rebates brought in out-of-state corporate carpetbaggers eager to play the energy market.

The usual suspects for our high cost of living are the towns and the state legislature for over appraising and taxing and  perhaps being too green in their attempt to lower energy costs. There is over-gentrification, many claim. Trust funders and financially comfortable people have secured political positions and are more at home with lawyers and lobbyists than they are sitting down in a garage or country store and discussing the issues with average Vermonters. So people tell me.

We are finding our homes can become a liability due to the high property and education tax and maintenance expense.

“We have no life line left,” one Vermonter said to me, who runs a small business and has several real estate properties. He could not get a loan from his bank. A resident in the NEK had a lumberman cut trees down on his property so he could pay the property taxes. Then he received a higher property appraisal because without the trees, he had a better view. “You just can’t win,” he said. “Can’t win…”

What I am saying is that a number of Vermonters, some native, some who moved here, who made this state what it is, who brought such integrity into our mountains and valleys, do not feel they belong any more. The Vermonter replacing them are often well funded and well versed in working the political system. Are we becoming a state of glitterchucks, or woodcharles? I personally believe some gentrification is good for I know of wealthy people who have given generously to their communities. Even so, Vermont is on the edge of a cultural shift towards homogenized living. I never have seen Vermonters so furious at our government. Let’s lay it out. Vermont is changing and not to the liking of the average Vermonter.
All of my books tell stories through photographs and interviews. My job is to interview and photograph Vermonters, listen to what they have to say about their state and communicate to others their opinions.
The Vanishing Vermonter is their book—more than any other book I have published. I have divided the book into three sections:

A. How did this happen to our Vermont? This is an essay I would write based on my interviews and research.

B. The core of the book will be photo portraits and interviews with maybe 25 Vermonters. I already have a list—a garage owner, book store proprietor, doctor, restaurant owner, retired couple, someone who has moved out of state, farmer, newspaper editor, legislator, economist and others I will include a subsection without photo portraits but with quotes from people who have written about how this change in Vermont has affected their lives. And sure, I would run comments about how the changes in this state are good for all of us.

C. A series of interviews with Vermonters who have the expertise (or I should say experience) about what can be done so our state can regain its equilibrium. I will talk to politicians, economists, business people and just plain, common sense Vermonters.

This book is a Muench scream about saving what is dear to our hearts—our homes, our state, that sense of being a Vermonter.

1. Hard cover about 8×10 although it could be square.

2. It will be designed with photographs and text and airspace, similar  to my other books. They say a photograph is worth 10,000 words. I disagree. The photograph is a key to entering a person’s inner space; writing reveals how they shaped their lives. Yes, the book is political. Yes, it is also a book about Vermonters struggling to retain their culture.

3. Those who pre-buy The Vanishing Vermonter or make a donation will receive a signed and numbered book with a photograph. This edition will be limited to those who pre-bought or donated to help publish this book. The other copies of the book will not be limited but offered through bookstores, at events or through my website. Those who give most generously will receive a large print of one of my photographs.

4. The Vanishing Vermonter will be sold through independent Vermont bookstores and directly by my website, gallery and at events. After the book is published I will set up a speaking tour that includes a light show of images that illustrate what this book is about.

I hope you will help me shape this book. I need to fund raise to pay for the book (In the past my photography that was licensed internationally by agents covered most of my publishing expenses. Now, due to business practices and the digital revolution, that stream of revenue has disappeared.).

I have set up a bank account solely for book sales and donations at the VSECU. The account is called The Vanishing Vermonter. The money will be used for:

A. Transcriptions of interviews. I find hard copy is best for editing and also for archiving.

B. Design of the book. My usual attempt at simplicity will be to balance photographs with airspace and text.

C. Postage.

D. And, most important—raising the capital for the initial printing.

When those costs are met, then overhead and royalties for the author (me) will be paid. I have to say that with all my books I have covered expenses but little has slid into my pocket. You could say that I have a calling to do these books; it is my responsibility in my lifetime. I have now written, photographed and published four coffee table books on our state.      Yes, I work alone on this project, I don’t even have a Webmaster. I need your help. I will post  photographs I have taken, and portions of interviews I have written. You can comment on them on my blog and I hope you do. As I said, this is your book.

To Preorder The Vanishing Vermonter or make a donation:
1. Send a check to The Vanishing Vermonter, c/o Peter Miller, 20 Crossroad, Waterbury, VT 05676. You will receive a receipt concerning your gift.

2. Use Pay Pal: peter@petermillerphotography.com

Later I will set up a shopping cart.
Status of the account will be posted on this blog and Facebook.

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USA-VT-Cambridge panoramic-1 copy

Mt. Mansfield broods about the end of summer in Cambridge, Vermont. peter miller photo


$32,350 is what Kickstarter funded to finish and publish A Lifetime of Vermont People. Many others bought the book at a discount before it was published. This was almost two years ago. One of those years was a seven-day a week whack at photographing, writing, editing, researching and polishing. I put on weight, hurt my leg from being cramped with a computer for a partner, was stressed out…and obsessed with this book.

I sat down to write 60 profiles of Vermonters. I became driven to finish the book, and do the best work of my life. Writing is difficult for me and it is as hard to write and polish 300 words, as it is 3,000.

2013 was putting the book together and having it printed in Italy. What marvelous printers they are, how awful they are at communication! So the book was late. I even drove to Bayonne NJ to pick up copies when we were late for an opening. You might have read of that trip on my blog!

Finally, in late July 2013, I had a pig roast for the official opening—almost three months behind schedule. I spent the next two months fulfilling and supplying bookshops with Lifetime and mailed out those books I pre-sold at a discount.

All of you—my extended family—helped create this book. Total cost for the book was $43,000 for 2,500 books. That sum was for printing, shipping, mailing, promotion, a short film, scanning, the design and marketing, office supplies.

One part of the equation was not paid…ME! I lived on sales of photography and some writing. I increased the mortgage on my house by $30,000 to cover me during the two years spent full time on this project. It’s the only way to go. Bills and correspondence pile up. Projects are deferred. Relationships blow up. Luckily, smoking and drinking lay dormant. And the sale of the book kept the fisher cats at bay.

I sold out the first printing.  I gambled and ordered another 750 for $14,000 including shipping. All I would dare to order.

I had saved $6,000 for reprinting and planned to borrow $8,000 from my life insurance. But the high cost of living in Vermont—gas, fuel oil, propane and let’s not forget taxes, put a big dent in those plans. I downsized my gallery to one room and will rent out the six small  rooms I vacated. I’ll get by. At one point my $2,000 was all I had in my checking account. Gambling like this at the age of 80? But I will squeak through.

Squeak through? An angel and a miracle! A friend who who helps his friends sent me a check large enough to pay for the 750 books. And a few other friends donated. I breathed easier, stress was in abeyance, at least for a little while.

Was it worth it? Lifetime is a beautiful book, as many of you know. It is the most elegant black and white photography book I have created. In the last year Lifetime has won two gold medals as the best photo/art book from New England and it also was voted the best non-fiction book from New England by another book publisher association. Good for the book. I am proud of it particularly so for the writing which caused me such concentration and anguish. But it worked. The book takes top ranking as the coffee table book of choice in Vermont…Once you pick it up you’ll find yourself reading it from cover to cover, and going deep into the faces of 60 Vermonters I also photographed. I did my job to the best of my abilities.

I did not know it at the time, but it appears that my book is a swan song to the end of a Vermont that was shaped by individuals working with their hands who were independent and self-employed. They never made much money, most of them. They had their communities, their neighbors, their animals, the superb flow of the valleys and mountains—the incredible beauty of an August day or the pure whiteness of a landscape layered under 12 inches of new snow, as seen from a hillside farmhouse, facing south south-west. There was this vibrancy we Vermonters shared with the purity infused in us from our mountains and valleys. That intangible soul of Vermont is waning.

So I now have books to sell. Go to http://www.silverprintpress.com. You can read my blog but also order this black and white coffee table book, A Lifetime of Vermont People.

Time for me to start on my next projects—two large size photo books, Paris in the 1950’s and Margaux Vendange 1957—the wine harvest in the most famous village creating Bordeaux wines.

And no, I don’t have the funds to produce these new books so I’m out there again, creating magic on a wing and a prayer.


Diane St. Clair produces hand churned butter from her Jersey cows on The Animal Farm in Orwell. She is one of 60 Vermonters  profiled in a Lifetime of Vermont People.

Diane St. Clair produces hand-churned butter from her Jersey cows on The Animal Farm in Orwell and ships most of it to The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, one of America’s elite restaurants. Diane is one of 60 Vermonters photographed and profiled in a Lifetime of Vermont People.

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A review of my book, A Lifetime of Vermont People, was recently published in the winter/spring issue of Vermont History (volume 82,No. 1). It is the last article in the journal and begins on page 85. Tom Slayton wrote it. He is Editor Emeritus (that means he is retired with honor) from the state magazine Vermont Life. Tom spent 22 years working as editor and publisher of the magazine. He was a fair-minded editor and did much good for Vermont Life. Tom learned how to tap dance around and with the politicians and bureaucracy of the State of Vermont. He was the one who introduced advertising into Vermont Life and he is perhaps the last editor who maintained the quality magazine subcribers expected —beauty resonating with nostalgia rather than an undercurrent of reality. Now VL is morphing into something peculiar, not always appreciated by readers, and it is not paying for itself.

         The 60 Vermonters who I photographed and profiled in my book grew up in a rural environment and made this state what it is. I write about them all—rednecks, woodchucks, or like me, flatlanders by birth who love Vermont and have become Vermonters.

         Sounds like Tom, writing in the first paragraphs, is suggesting the book is a nostalgic trip to what was known as the last stronghold of the Yankees. Lifetime is not that at all; rather, it is a history book (all non fiction books become so quickly history) and it is about the people of Vermont who work for themselves and are proud of it. It is their words, not mine, that make this beautiful book so important

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March 20, 2014

Hi Folks, just heard about this last night. Not too shabby.

From: Silver Print Press/Peter Miller. peter@petermillerphotography.com

Peter Miller’s A Lifetime of Vermont People wins New England Society Book Award

A Lifetime of Vermont People, a 208-page book of photographs and articles by Peter Miller, has won The New England Society in the City of New York award for the best New England photo and art book of the year.

The photographer-author, who lives in Colbyville, self published the book that was printed in Italy. The beautiful and lavish book has 60 portraits and written profiles of rural Vermonters that the author photographed and profiled over the past 63 years. NES honors annually books that celebrate New England.

“This is a well deserved honor and truly confirms what Vermonters have know for decades, Peter Miller is a Vermont treasure, and we are fortunate to have his great talents documenting our people and way of life.” said Rob Hunter, the director of the Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center in Burlington, who has set up a statewide lectures series and slide show by the author at major libraries throughout Vermont.

“What is so special about this book are not only the distinctive photographs but superb writing, commentary and Yankee observations. Peter does an amazing job of not only capturing the look of our disappearing heritage but gives these people a venue to communicate their strong insights and voices.”

A Lifetime of Vermont People, said the author, documents the self employed people who have made Vermont what it is, and are called by some a “vanishing species” as the state becomes gentrified.”

The Society is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1805 and is one of the oldest social and charitable organizations in the country. NES was established to promote “friendship, charity and mutual assistance among and on behalf of New Englanders living in New York.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain and William F. Buckley, Jr. have spoken at NES gatherings.

The awards, which are also given to books on fiction, non-fiction and history and biography, are to be given out at a luncheon on April 16 at the Grolier Club in Manhattan. Tickets for the event are available at www.nesnyc.org.

Peter Miller’s book may be viewed and purchased through independent Vermont bookshops or at his website www.silverprintpress.com. The next library lectures will be in St. Johnsbury, Derby Line, and Barre. Go to www.froghollow.org for more information.

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Senator Pat Leahy loves photography and is very good at it. He has a unique vantage point for creating images of political activities and has had a couple of exhibitions of these photographs and of Vermont scenes near his home.

Senator Pat had read Peter Miller’s new book, A Lifetime of Vermont People, and considered it an exceptional, and very important book, to the culture and history of Vermont. So he stood up on the floor of the Senate Chamber, got the nod from the speaker, and made the following speech, that was recorded in the Congressional Senate Record on November 20 (keyword Peter Miller):

TRIBUTE TO PETER MILLER — (Senate – November 20, 2013)

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, for generations, Vermonters have contributed to our national culture, through art, music, film and prose. Peter Miller is one such artist whose impressive work throughout his life as both a photographer and author has showcased Vermont and its residents and enriching us all.


As an amateur photographer, I have followed Peter’s work for decades with admiration. From his early beginnings as a U.S. Army photographer to his travels across Europe with Yousuf Karsh, he has channeled his passion and energy into a remarkable art. Over the past 20 years, his unique ability to capture the Vermont spirit has been well documented and his consistent approach to producing authentic depictions of the Vermont way of life is unparalleled. He shuns the commercialization of art and instead creates his work solely to share and promote the values of our small and community-based State. This attitude was evident more than ever when, being honored as the Burlington Free Press “Vermonter of the Year” in 2006 for his book “Vermont Gathering Places,” he frankly said “I don’t shoot for galleries. I shoot for myself and the people I photograph.”

His appreciation and respect for the traditional culture that defines Vermont is readily evident in his work. He has photographed farm-dotted landscapes, village communities, and generations of Vermont families. When writing the forward to his 2003 book “Vermont People,” I noted that “the Vermont faces in this book speak worlds about living in the State that gave them character, wrinkles and wisdom ….. through their faces, you can see Vermont.” Peter’s most recent work, “A Lifetime of Vermont People,” is another testament to his tenacity and tact as a Vermonter. A product of over a year’s worth of photography, fundraising, and self-publishing, this book is truly a labor of love. His addition of background stories helps provide greater insight and meaning to the photographs included and through his photography and the recent addition of writing to his repertoire, he gives a face, and a voice, to Vermonters.

Diane St. Clair, Animal Farm, Orwell, VT. butter maker

Diane St. Clair, Animal Farm, Orwell, VT. butter maker

Peter lives the lifestyle he captures in his photography. A Vermonter for over five decades, he has embraced the way of life that makes the State so special. Like his black and white photographs that draw focus squarely on the subject of the piece,  rather than relying on flashy colors to convey a message, he is not interested in glitz and glam. His books have themes that exemplify Vermont: farm women, gathering places, small communities. He laments the waning of iconic farms, the erosion of small town values, and the fading of  the once impermeable Vermont way of life. His resiliency is remarkable and his uncanny ability to display the beauty of Vermont in a way words cannot do justice serves as an inspiration for photographers everywhere. I ask unanimous consent that an article in the VT Digger that highlights the lifetime of accomplishments of this extraordinary man be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:


[From VT Digger, Nov. 10, 2013)

In This State: For photographer Peter Miller , a Wonderful Life in Black and White, and a Future Colored with Gray. Written by Andrew Nemethy

Photographer Peter Miller has spent a lifetime seeing the world in black and white while portraying it in all its colors, both with his pictures and writing.

It’s a mysterious gift that has blessed him with a distinguished, adventurous career that spans close to 60 years. His latest book, “A Lifetime of Vermont People,” is a 208-page paean to the art of black and white portraiture, capturing not only remarkable faces and places, but through sheer passage of time, vanished landscapes and passing eras in the Green Mountains.

Peter Miller

Peter Miller photo by Andrew Nemethy

Published in June, the cloth-bound coffee-table book and its impeccably printed photos should be the capstone of his illustrious life. But as he wanders closer to the threshold of 80, Miller acutely feels part of a vanishing era himself, his view of the world not unlike an old snapshot: a bit faded and worn, its luster dimmed by the years.

After putting his heart and soul and significant money into his latest book, he honestly admits he’s at loose ends: filled with ideas, beset with projects left to do, wondering how he’s going to find energy to do them, let alone pay for them. “Lifetime,” for all its striking portraits, just about killed him. It sapped his strength, and if you talk with him a while, you sense, some of his spirit.

“Sitting behind that computer for a year, seven days a week, finished me. I had a lot of stress. I put on weight. My right leg swelled up because I was in the same position, and I could hardly walk,” he says. He also had to raise the money to self-publish and print 2,500 copies of the book, using his own funds and a Kickstarter campaign.

“I ended up with $2,000 to my name, and I said to myself, `I’m getting awfully close to the edge’,” he says.

Having put some distance between the book’s release and having sold around 1,000 copies, he can now breathe a little easier and look back on the past 18 months with a sense of perspective.

“I’m not depressed about life,” he says, but there’s no doubt he feels things have changed in ways he doesn’t like and doesn’t respect–Ben & Jerry’s, gentrification, Stowe-style luxe tourism and massive trophy houses are ripe topics, for starters.

In looking askance at change, Miller is not unlike many others whose life trajectory has spanned 79 years. But it seems particularly poignant irony that after six decades of exceptional artistry, painting lives in film and then digital pixels, he’s come to feel as much a historical artifact as his portrait subjects–trappers, farmers, hunters, lawmakers, auctioneers, iconic Vermonters all–who have now passed on.

What chafes most is that his old life, where you could make a living as a “stock” photographer selling your work, is no longer possible. People tell him his photos are in calendars and are even used as screensavers in Russia, yet he never sees a penny. He is miffed at markets that have vanished. Recalling an interview request with the Associated Press, he told them, “I don’t know if I want to talk to you people, all you do is steal stuff.”

It’s tempting to wield the label curmudgeon after talking with Miller , but if you listen a little harder, more likely words like honest, opinionated, frustrated and baffled come to mind.

“All these things are being taken, and frankly, I don’t know how to make a living,” he explains.

He was raised in Weston, where his passion for photography blossomed in 1950 as a 17-year-old, when he started capturing the way of life he saw around him. After school at Burr & Burton and college in Toronto, he became a carefree U.S. Army photographer, footloose in Paris with a 35mm Leica, a Rolleiflex twin-lens camera, and a young man’s energy and budding sharp eye. Then came travels across Europe in the mid-1950s as the set-up man for famed Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, meeting people like Pablo Casals, Picasso, Pope John XXIII, Christian Dior, and Albert Schweitzer, soaking up culture and the good life with food and wine.

Wanting to write, he then had a dream stint as a reporter for Life magazine, but disliked the constraints of corporate life–he’s kind of a “loner,” he admits–and struck out on his own path. It took him all over Vermont and America, producing acclaimed books such as “People of the Great Plains,” and “Vermont People,” which was rejected by 13 publishers. So he took a radical, then almost unheard of step and self-published it in 1990. It eventually sold 15,000 copies.

His “Lifetime of Vermont People” expands on the idea, with 211 photos and 60 profiles of ordinary and extraordinary Vermonters.


Will and Rowena,  Vermont Icons, died in the early 1960's.

Will and Rowena, Vermont Icons, died in the early 1960’s.

Why use black and white?

“I think you can get inside a person more in black and white,” he explains, saying it’s more abstract. and not having a color background distracts less. His talent in distilling the essence of a person in a photo is something that he still doesn’t completely understand, along with where his “drive” and persistence comes from. He does know he doesn’t just shoot, but “visits” with people, putting them at ease, which is something he learned from his mentor, Karsh.

“I don’t quite understand the whole process,” he admits, calling it “something magical.” Miller is gracious and full of tales as he ambles about the second floor of his pale yellow, rambling, much-bigger-than-he-needs and way-too-trafficked house. It’s in Colbyville, a Route 100 hamlet swallowed up and masticated into something indistinguishable by the voracious maw of tourism development at the I-89 interchange in Waterbury. What got lost animates “Nothing Hardly Every Happens in Colbyville, Vermont,” a book of essays that riffs with trenchant humor on bird hunting, tourism and life before and after the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream theme park up the street.

The smell of smoke from two wood stoves permeates the slope-roofed rooms as he shows a visitor around his house, its walls rich with photos he’s taken and art–especially paintings and sculptures of woodcock, a bird he loves to hunt. Are they good to eat? Oh yes, wonderful, he says.

With a ruddy square face younger than his years, a still-full mop of white hair and small round eyeglasses that gives him a look of constant curiosity, Miller moves more cautiously than the vigorous outdoorsman he once was.

“I went out bird hunting yesterday,” he says. “I was slow, man. I wasn’t too stable in the woods.”

A self-admitted “loner” with two daughters (in England and Peru) from a former marriage, he lives by himself moving between an airy studio, a bedroom, small office, living room and kitchen. Downstairs is a little-visited gallery and sparsely heated shipping room stacked with boxes that hold just under 1,400 copies of his latest book.

“I hope to sell a lot over Christmas,” he says, noting he still has a living to make. Despite the ordeal of his last book, he has more he wants to do, like an exhibit or book of photos he took in the 1950s of Margaux, France, in the famed Bordeaux wine region.

That period, that landscape, he says, “is completely gone now.” But he wonders if he can find the time and energy and if there is a market for the photos. After a lifetime of black and white, life seems to offer only a lot of gray areas.

“I don’t know what I am anymore,” he says.


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Almost four months to move my book from the Italian printer, across the Atlantic to New Jersey to Vermont. It was more than a slow boat. The printer had to reprint the edition because of a singular mistake (their mistake and they made good on it). I missed signings, lost sales, came close to losing the shallow grip I have on this world.

Here is the tale of one of our escapades. We are on a mission to pick up 15 boxes of my new book A Lifetime of Vermont People that docked in Bayonne, the town known, at one time, as a good place to dump wrecked cars and dead bodies. We need them for a talk in 8 hours in Manchester, VT.

The books were transported to a a warehouse in Jersey City where we were lost at midnight amidst cars unloaded from boats, regiments of tractor trailers, warehouses and neighborhoods crumbly and empty, the type where muggers would be if there was anyone to mug. The air at midnight is a suffocating, the heat close to 85. Not a place to go for a vacation.

My assistant Kyle backed out of the hotel room on the 7th floor of the Ramada Inn at the Newark Airport. It was 1:00 AM, 12 July and we had just checked in for a twin bed room.

“There’s someone asleep in our room,” he whispered. “A black dude!”

“Jeezum Crow we could have been shot! Or worse.” I whispered back as we rushed to the elevator and dropped back to the lobby.”

“There’s someone in our room, “ I said to the man at the front desk.

“No problem,” he said, like it happens every night and he assigned us a twin bed room on the 10th floor. Kyle is unhappy. He does not like heights in hotels. Shades of Die Hard.

We carefully check our room. No one is hiding under the bed or in the shower.
We head back to the bar. We need a drink.

Some big men in khaki shorts and shirts sit in the lobby working computers on their laps. Patches are all over their shirts. They are Boy Scout leaders chaperoning their young charges out of Jersey City, we hope as fast as possible.

We enter the bar. There’s a ham fisted but friendly Puerto Rican bartender—Roberto is his name—who shakes our wimpy hands. We get shots of Maker’s Mark. Down the hatch. Roberto pours another. “On me.” He says. It’s not the last one he pours.

Next to us is an elderly couple from Ireland, caught between flights. To his left is a couple of Maineackers, as we say in Vermont, whose flight is delayed. In the corner is a cute black woman who is with a Hispanic. Kyle asks him what he does for work. “Numbers” he says.

“And for fun? “ He signals with his thumb his lady friend. Hooker or mistress, she is cute, just 22 years Roberto says because he checked her ID. He gives us all a shot of something I don’t know what it is. Finally, about 2:30 AM he closes the bar and we stumble to the elevator.

Hung over, we again drive to Jersey City and call the warehouse. The GPS works but the warehouse has been surrounded by new buildings and the entrance is hidden. Tony is the dispatcher and I call him and he talks us in.

Well, he said, after we found his office that is furnished with beat up desks and cubby holes and old photos and painting of ships gone to graveyards, a movie set from a noir film shot in the 1950’s. The customs has not released our books.

The broker visited customs and because of good relations in the past, our 15 boxes were released—150 books. 2,000 plus will follow in a tractor trailer. We need the books now because we have that lecture and slide show and book signing to do in Manchester in the evening.

The IPAD has a great GPS for leading us out of Jersey City to the Garden State Parkway and the New York Thruway north. The device did not tell us about the monsoon downpour that caught us 20 miles south of Albany and followed us to Manchester and obliterated our vision and I assume buried downtown Troy just as we left it plus socking me with a smashing headache from driving blind.

We had an hour in Manchester before our show and changed to decent clothes and just hoped nobody picked up our Jersey City body perfume.
I talked for an hour and can’t remember what I said. There were no real objections although I became a little testy when a woman asked why I had more men than women in my books. So I explained and talked about men and women and gays and said my books were about Vermonters not their sex.

We sold ten books and did not quite pay our way to Jersey City but the audience was pleased, we had books to sign, we fulfilled our obligations and drove back to Colbyville dead tired. Next week we unloaded 230 boxes from a tractor trailer, moved them into my studio.

I started to write the book January 8, 2012 and most of the year worked seven days a week to research, write, edit, scan, proof and everything else a book takes. We received the books July 15 2013. That’s a year and a half and a handful of days. It’s the writing that took the time — that and the stress of not knowing when the books would arrive.

It all ends with a pig roast at my home in Colbyville on July 27th.

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