Vermont Almanac celebrates connection to the land | Weekend Magazine

It’s almost become a forgotten pleasure to sit down with a printed book, and yet, here on my coffee table, ready to settle among its pages, is the brand new “Vermont Almanac: Stories From and For the Land , Volume II. »

“There’s an old-school quality to it,” says David Mance III, one of the team that created the publication, which includes three writers and editors, a businessman and a designer. “I like the fact that it’s a book, a printed book. You can smell the ink on it. It is a respite, he says, from some of our modern ills.

The cover is thick paper with a simple and timeless image of old hand tools. The wood of the tools is oiled, and they appear to be sharp and well cared for, ready to do the work for which they are needed. Opening the book cover reveals the same combination of artistry, sensibility and purpose found in these tools, as well as our state: this almanac is filled with data, history, stories, of practical skills and images that tell of a lasting connection to the land.

The almanac has several purposes. Part of it, says Mance, is part of the yearbook. Readers can use it to look back on the year, like remembering a particular snowstorm. But it’s also part of the manual, he explains, filled with the stuff needed to live a rural life, including skills like building garden fences or cleaning a sheepskin.

“It’s also a love letter to state and nature,” Mance says by phone from his home in Shaftsbury.

The 288 pages of the book are divided into chapters for each month of the previous year, starting in October. Each new chapter is associated with one of a series of paintings that show birch trees through the seasons. Painted by Amy Hook-Therrien, a Windsor-based watercolor and pen-and-ink artist, the images are rooted and put in place.

As for the writing, each chapter includes an opening essay that is illustrative and poetic, and serves to further establish the connection to the place. These are followed by shorter articles on weather, nature, and history – you know, the things Vermonters like to talk about. Weather updates, for example, recall seasonal details, including the “sort of normal” October 2020, the “best mud season in years” during the following March, or the warm and hot June dry, unprecedented rains in July and September without a frost. The stories are told by the book’s 72 contributors, which include well-known voices like Virginia Barlow, Scudder Parker, Dr Terrance Bradshaw, Dr Heather Darby and Chuck Wooster. But there are also new voices, like Wendell Durham, a 12-year-old from West Corinth, who has written about apple tree grafting.

There are also plenty of numbers for data lovers: the chapter on November, for example, includes a log of the weather on the opening day of the deer season for the last 20 years. There’s also a full tally page for the 2021 deer season, including stats such as the number of deer killed, number of hunters allowed, and the average number of hours they each spent in the field for the season.

Among these data points are journalistic style reporting. These include deeper dives into the dairy industry, including the announcement in 2021 of the termination of many organic dairy contracts with Horizon Inc., as well as articles on logging, mushroom farming, the winter hibernation, bird watching, wild foraging, floriculture and adapting to a new future. when it comes to managing ash trees in Vermont.

The chapter on December includes a piece that I particularly liked, called “At Work with Traveling Feller Mary Lake,” which was written by Mance. It chronicles the trajectory of Lake’s career, during which she worked long, hard hours to prove herself in the field and how, after mastering the craft, she began working independently for farmers and amateur producers. It also tells of the human side of animal slaughter, how sadness can wear it down, but how its role also uplifts it as it contributes an important part of our own food culture.

Then, in the middle of the winter chapters, is a stand-alone photograph that I found particularly moving: it shows the winter landscape of nearby hillside farms from the window of an old farmhouse. The image is bounded by the window frame; through the windows is a view that I imagine many previous generations of Vermonters have seen.

In the July chapter, Chuck Wooster, a farmer from White River Junction, wrote a poignant piece, sprinkled with a bit of dark humor, about the realities of growing vegetables and the ongoing problems with other animals that want to eat them. Titled “All Food Comes from Somewhere,” it humorously and wittily points out a common misunderstanding that vegetables aren’t actually vegan.

Mance, who had the idea for the almanac for several years before putting it into production, told me over the phone that the writing would stand up to any other nature writing coming out this year. Flipping through the pages, I could see that he wasn’t wrong. In addition to Wooster’s essay, Mance personally loved a piece called “It’s the People You Know,” by Paul Lefebvre, in the November chapter. Several of the opening essays also stood out from him, such as those by Sydney Lea, Mary Mathias, and Brett Ann Stanciu, in the January, April, and June chapters, respectively.

“They’re rich and deep and heavy, I think they’re all this time in a way that’s both thoughtful and transcendent,” says Mance.

As a result of these many contributions, the almanac has the feel of a stellar collection of contemporary nature writing, but with the added benefit of featuring names and faces Vermonters will recognize, and content specific to our way of life.

This is the second edition of the almanac, which hit independent bookstores across the state in December 2021. The first edition, produced a year earlier, sold out in 30 days. After going through the first 3,000 copies, the team reprinted another 4,000, and these also sold out.

“It felt like we had something,” Mance says of selling out so quickly, “and it gave us the momentum to get into year two.” This year, 5,000 copies were printed and they continue to sell out quickly.

At Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, co-owner Rob Kasow says the store has sold 106 copies of the “Vermont Almanac” since its arrival in early December, and he can’t believe the rapid pace of sales. “Anything with that Vermont grounded ethos sells well,” he said, “but these are really flying off the shelves.”

“It’s been really encouraging,” Mance says to see that kind of response. For him, it goes beyond just producing something entertaining or educational, and the almanac is both of those things. It also reinforces a way of life for many of us who live in Vermont that is tied to the land and the seasons.

“If we do it right,” Mance says of telling these stories from the land, “we’re helping natural communities and we’re helping the world. I don’t mean to sound grandiose, but we all have to do our little part.

As for its place on my coffee table, the book holds a dominating place. I predict he will stay there through the winter months as I continue to learn of his stories, which are beautiful and practical, just like the old hand tools on the cover and like our condition.