I met with Fr. Joseph Towle in St. Johnsbury, VT today. He is a Maryknoll missionary who spent 10 years filming the video series Children of the Earth. Youth from Japan, Africa, Central America… are featured as a way of getting American youth more familiar with (and sympathetic to) what is going on with their contemporaries in other cultures. Fr. Towle travels the country talking in schools about the videos and trying to plant a new curriculum idea: Fr. Towle suggests a student in the 7th grade “adopts a country.” Then for the next six years, the student follows events in that country, writes reports, and so on… as a way of being more connected to the global community.
At the St. Johnsbury House in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, I gave an impromptu “front porch” speech, in the tradition of another Ohio presidential candidate, Warren Harding. (The only difference being Harding would do these things from his front porch.) The St. Johnsbury House is a home for seniors here. I later told reporter Rachael Morrow, of the local Caledonian Record, that our platform calls for maintaining the Social Security fund, but more… “social security should be just that: social security.” That is, instead of being pushed off in nursing homes, assissted living facilities and RV travel, the seniors should be restored to their rightful, and respected, place in our family homes and communities — like it was in the old days, and like it still is in other cultures.
In Montpelier, Vermont, the state capitol, we met with Doug Wells, a representative of Solar Works. He said across the country a type of solar system is starting to be installed where once you’ve used what you’ve needed for the month, the excess goes back into the grid. And as it does, “your meter actually starts to spin backwards,” said Wells. Wells said he got involved with the solar company because he wanted to be part of the solution toward a more sustainable world. While a philosophy major at Miami University, Wells said he came up with, well, this philosophy: “It doesn’t matter whether the glass is half full, or half empty — if it’s polluted and you can’t drink it anyway.” [A picture ran in the Times Argus newspaper here with me talking to Doug Wells. The caption said I wanted to make the country safe for kids, cut down on Federal Government, end crime, stop pollution… I mean, who wouldn’t want to vote for that? Yet the polls, surprisingly, still show we’re behind.]
Vermont is one of the most “walking friendly” states in the nation, with all sorts of “Yield to Pedestrian” signs about, including in Burlington, Vermont’s biggest city and where we headed next. With people everywhere on the street early this evening and the outdoor cafe tables full, we couldn’t help but think: “Bullhorn Country.” So we got out our $3 garage sale bullhorn, and in the tradition of the old-time campaigns, drove about the downtown slowly and told anybody within earshot (range of about 100 ft.): “VOTE JOE, HE’S THE WAY TO GO!” About the third pass through town, we came across a swank cafe, with outside tables filled primarily with couples. Couples all lost in conversation. That is, they were lost in conversation until the street light adjacent to them turned red and I trained the bull horn toward them: “VOTE JOE…” was all I could get out as people at each respective table jumped, upsetting water glasses and the like. (Our six-year-old Joseph had apparently turned up the volume on the bullhorn before handing it to me.) And there went a few votes…
We toured the National Morgan Horse Museum in Shelburne, VT today and archivist Kathy Furr told me the Morgan, which was the first horse bred in America, was yesteryear’s version of “today’s SUV’s”. That is, they were fast, could plow a field, pull a wagon… I told the Shelburne News that our agricultural platform calls for a return to the small family farm, the use of these types of horses again (like they do in the Amish communities) in tandem with, say, some “low tech,” small solar powered tractors and the like. One of the reasons for this is because the bigger, and more “high tech,” tractors, super-combines, and the like… have opened the door for corporate farming in a big way — pushing the small farmer off the land.
We met with Fr. Jim Noonan in Shelburne, Vermont today. He grew up in Shelburne, but is now a Mary Knoll missionary in Cambodia. He said in Cambodia 50% of the children are illiterate, and 50% are also malnourished. What’s more, the per capita annual income is a mere $300 there. And many of the children in Cambodia, as is true throughout the Third World, die of what are now considered “prevenatble diseases,” said Fr. Noonan. Fr. Noonan said it’s hard to say we live in a “civilized time” when a majority of the people in developed Western countries carry on with their lifestyles, spend billions on defense, and so on… while these little children are dying by the scores elsewhere.
We met with Fr. Gerard Leclerc in Vergennes, Vermont today. Fr. Leclerc was a priest in Bolivia for 20 years and said except for Haiti, Bolivia is, peerhpas, the poorest country in the world. His parish was on the Alti Plano, some 12,300 feet in elevation and where kids were hungry and barefoot, while their parents worked exceedingly long hours for excruciatingly low pay in the mines. And what’s more, the air in the mines is laced with toxic sulphuric and choleric acids. I told the Addison Independent newspaper here that if Americans, at almost any socio-economic level, would cut back some on heating, cooling (We actually used to live without air conditioning. Remember?), driving, junk food… what a tremendous pool of money, and other help, we could generate for the poor in Bolivia, and elsewhere. Note: We’ve been in I can’t tell ya’ how many towns in America, and today was a first. The backs of town city limits signs will frequently say things like: “Come Back Soon!”; or, “Thanks For Visiting!”; or… The back of Vergennes town limits sign simply says: “Farewell”.
‘The British were coming’… and they were met by the “Green Mountain Boys,” and others in the Colonial troops, at the hills of Humbardton, Vermont on July 7, 1777. It was the only battle of the American Revolution to be fought totally on Vermont soil. According to literature at the National Historic Site here, the Colonists gave the British “startling exposure to American courage in battle.” We arrived here a week after the annual reenactment of a battle that claimed 580 casualties, 27% of those who fought on both sides. And though we missed the reenactment, looking out over the expansive battlefield today, it was as if you could still almost hear the pitched musket fire of yesteryear.
We stopped in the small town of Whitehall, New York. This was the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. In 1776, Congress ordered the construction of a fleet of ships here to counter an anticipated British invasion. It came. And on Oct. 11, 1776, 12 American ships sailed foward to take on a formidable British Armada. The Americans, according to accounts, fought valiantly — under the direction of, none other than, Commander Benedict Arnold. And even though the Americans “lost,” with most of their ships being crippled or destroyed altogether, the battle forced a delay in the rest of the British invasion, which, ultimately, gave the Colonial forces more time to prepare. And the rest, as they say, is history… What history doesn’t say, at least much, I told editor Pat Ripley of the Whitehall newspaper here is that that the fleet of First Navy boats that would be launched for “freedom’s sake,” were built in part, ironically enough, by slaves. I learned this, and many other things, at a museum here dedicated to those early Navy days.
We got to Utica, New York just in time to watch the “Boilermaker,” the largest 15K (9.3 mile) road race in the country — some 10,000 runners participated today. My son Joseph and I watched most of those runners go by, including two guys dressed like the “Blues Brothers” in sun glasses, suits, ties… and boy were they sweating. These guys were followed closely by a woman wearing a rather loud pink flamingo hat, with the neck and head duly flopping about. And chugging along behind her, at a pace that can best be described as “average,” was a guy who had a t-shirt that said: “Gary: age 58.” Being ‘average,’ and all, Joseph and I cheered particularly loud for him… We then stopped at the Shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York. She is one step from becoming a “saint” in the Catholic Church. Of the Mohawk Tribe, she had suffered much persecution because of her Christian faith in the mid-1660s. She also had a quite noted love of God’s creation. So much so, she is often referred to as a patroness for the environment. And it is the environment that many are out of touch with these days I told an agricultural reporter for the nearby The Amsterdam Recorder later this afternoon. I said often the closest many get to nature anymore “…is watching the Weather Channel.”