Editor’s note: The following is from Summer 2016’s Inside VL department.
“Fossil-fueled, noisy, hell-bent and anything but agricultural, Thunder Road fits no stereotype of Vermont.” So begins Managing Editor Bill Anderson’s introduction to our photo essay on Thunder Road, Barre’s quarter-mile, highbanked, paved speedway (“Imported from Barre”). Yet, as Anderson points out, Thunder Road is an integral part of summer here, and racing roots run deep among many. Ken Squier, who founded the track in 1961, is NASCAR royalty; he is credited with convincing CBS that television viewers would actually watch the Daytona 500 in its entirety and then served as the lap-by-lap commentator for nearly 25 years.
Our cover photograph challenges another well-established Vermont stereotype — that everyone who lives here is white, and old, and a farmer. True, the state is among the whitest in the country, and we have the second-highest median age (behind Maine), but more interesting are some lesser-known statistics: Not only are we, like the rest of the country, becoming less white every day, the median age of African-Americans here is 24.7, eight years younger than the national average.
Halima Said, who appears on our cover, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya after her parents fled Somalia. Since first grade, she has spent time at Burlington’s King Street Center, a nonprofit social service agency that offers programs for low-income Vermonters, about 60 percent of whom are children of refugees. For 20 years, King Street has operated a lemonade stand in Burlington, making it a summer institution right alongside the street performers and outdoor dining on Church Street. As writer Tim Johnson (“Cool Job”) explains, the purpose of the lemonade stand is not to make a profit, but, like many other programs offered at King Street, to teach life and business skills. One look at Halima, and the other beautiful children photographed by Daria Bishop for this story, and you will want them all to have every opportunity available.
For Halima’s family, Vermont brings peace, as it does for another group of Vermonters afflicted by war: our veterans. In “Catch and Release,” Matt Crawford tells of a program at the Brattleboro Retreat, a mental health facility that treats depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Three years ago, the Retreat began offering fly fishing excursions as part of its therapy for vets and first responders. The focus required for fly fishing can help calm their thoughts, allowing them to be mindful only of the currents and the cast.
Crawford adroitly describes the motion necessary for fly fishing: “an angler’s feet must be secure and balanced while the upper body rocks to the gentle rhythm of the cast.” It seems to me that Crawford’s artful description could be interpreted as more than physical instructions for angling success. It gives a way for these damaged warriors to accept the dichotomy of their lives, proving that it is possible to be rocked by events they have experienced, yet remain secure and balanced. Fly fishing is the perfect metaphor for accepting two realities at once.
So, too, can Vermont be many things at once. We can welcome raucous Thunder Road adrenaline junkies and tranquility-seeking fly fisherman; young refugees from Somalia and farmers who live their entire lives on the hillsides of Vermont. Vermont is progressing, yet steady; ambitious, yet serene: We are in the midst of an elegant dance into the future.
Mary Hegarty Nowlan, Editor