Everyone Was Well Fed

Everyone was well fed and 99% were white. Here, 50 miles south of the Canadian border in the Green Mountains of Vermont, the heat is all-consuming and the crowds are relentless. I sit on a bench outside of the general store in this town to which I have come sporadically for over 40 years. It is a vacation resort area. By western US standards, these mountains are small, but I’ve found that the climb to the top of Mount Mansfield is challenging even in what seems like ages ago to a then twenty-something.

The scene on the main street of this town is pretty amazing. Readers can picture the early 20th-century storefronts, some older, and the tall white church steeple with the backdrop of the Green Mountains all around. Ninety-nine percent of those on the street and going in and out of the shops are white and well fed. The uniformity of those on the street is fairly remarkable: Mostly couples with young children and a few people my age. Most people park along the street and exit their vehicles. I count 9 out of 11 cars as SUVs from where I sit. People’s clothes are also of a laid-back upper-middle class kind, nothing flashy and the kids appear well taken care of. One person sports long hair.

In an article in an International Socialist League publication, Ashley Smith, a Vermont resident and writer, notes that a quarter of the population experiences food insecurity (November 20, 2020). Even a casual observer would never know the latter from people passing by on this hot Vermont street.

These are not stereotypical observations, but rather careful scrutiny from training in the social sciences, particularly in sociology. It’s a kind of action research, granted, without statistical underpinnings, but accurate enough to draw valid conclusions. It’s Orwellian just how much the US reflects the society he portrays in Nineteen Eighty-Four, only the massive presence of income inequality is not obvious here and neither are the endless wars now playing themselves out. The power elite have managed to do all of this without massive repression except in communities of Black and Brown people.

The heat here hovers around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is all-consuming. I marvel, later sitting at a coffee shop a few hundred yards from the main street, at the number of bike shops and the people renting mountain bikes to take on a nature path carved out nearby. I can’t imagine trying to climb Mount Mansfield today in this heat. I’ve climbed before in 90 degree weather with high humidity and it’s not exactly a walk in the park. Even a walk in the park today is incredibly uncomfortable, but I’m not surprised as places in Siberia, far north of here, the West Coast of the US, and the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, bake, as well. Fossil fuel consumption is murdering the planet!

The US is ready to retaliate for the recent attack against soldiers and civilians outside the gates of the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. At this writing, the retaliation has begun in an unending cycle of violence. The US military is a major contributor to climate destruction in the world, but few are in the mood today to discuss US hegemony over the world, as the horrific nature of the attacks fills media outlets. Biden has always supported US militarism and world hegemony through empire. He supported both the wars in Afghanistan, which continues today, and in Iraq, the former being the US answer to al-Qaeda’s September 2001 attacks.

Back to main street and I enter into two conversations with one person who works at the general store and one person who leans his road bike against the side of the store’s old clapboard. Both people have lived in the area all their lives, with the older person having lived here well before the first time I visited the area.

He says that the crowds of summer now outnumber the winter crowds, which is kind of unusual because this area is a world-renowned ski area. This man says, amid the constant flow of human and vehicle traffic around us, that he has seen nothing like the heat of this summer and he believes the crowds reflect the reticence of people with some disposable income to board jets to travel to faraway destinations with Covid-19 still present. He works in the tourism industry and needs to leave for work. That he travels by bike in this rural mountainous area is a good sign.

The second person I speak to, also a local resident, works in the general store. She says that she likes the informal lifestyle of the area, is treated well as a worker in the store, and has no comment about the heat or crowds around us.

Our motel is one that we stayed at decades ago. The owners have expanded the motel in the decades since we first came to the area. It’s a working-class/lower-middle class motel. Pretty clean, but nothing extravagant. A conversation beside the pool is fairly mundane, but extended conversations are not the stuff of brief vacations.

We head out on the road away from this resort and spend a few hours in the capital of Vermont, Montpelier. It’s a relatively small place (7,760 people as of a 2008 estimate) with a gold-domed capitol building. There are some empty storefronts on the principal streets in the city and a huge train passes through town with loads of granite filling the open cars of the train. This is fairly close to the Granite State, New Hampshire.

Vermont was one of the major destinations of the hippie movement, and the back to the land and nature movements that was part of the Vietnam War era. People literally wanted to get away from it all after Vietnam, and during the late stages of that war, and life in rural areas had an appeal to many from the youth movement of those times. It still has a great appeal for many, but some of those have a bit more in the way of financial resources than the hippies of that era.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).