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Archive for November, 2012

THE EARLY SHIFT AT DC

Next spring will mark ten years since Vermont Quarterly published then President Daniel Mark Fogel’s “Ten-Year Vision for the University of Vermont: 2012-2013: A Picture of the Future.” With a couple of exceptions—the long-sought arena and the, well, head-scratching “transparent cylinder wrapped around the water tower” that would house the Admissions Office and the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics—it’s a vision that has come to fruition in many ways across a transformative era for the university.

The Davis Center is easily the most visible and highest impact change of those years. President Fogel wrote in 2003: “But none of the additions to the physical campus have had the transformative power of the University of Vermont Commons, a vital student union that seethes with activity from early morning to late night. It is more than a physical change. The Commons has rewoven the fabric of community at UVM in ways that all agree are highly positive. It is the place to congregate, to see and be seen…”

True and true and true. As both a staff member and a UVM parent, it’s taken an important place in my own life personally and professionally—it’s the place we went to see both of our daughters on their ways when they hiked off for TREK to begin their freshman years; it’s where we went for our older daughter’s December graduation reception last year; it’s where I’ve spent large sums of money on textbooks and small sums on Atomic Fireballs; it’s where I’ve gone for the announcement of Tom Sullivan as our new president, for Diwali Night, and to see my wife perform with the UVM Orchestra. It’s where I greatly regret not being on the day Bruce Springsteen and family were spotted as they college shopped with son Evan. Damn. (Evan chose Boston College. Double damn. If only I’d been there.)

But I will respectfully take exception with the vision that the building would “seethe” with activity all-day long. Around noon, seethe it does. But at 8:30 a.m., seethe it does not. There aren’t many people there to see or be seen. And I’m appreciative of that. I love a quiet DC, a cup of coffee, a pad of paper to start roughing out a story draft, get some future issue planning done, or, lo and behold, come up with an idea for a new blog post. 

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HERD MANAGEMENT

Cattle and pigs should be moved in small groups; sheep can be moved in larger groups. Distractions cause balking in cows. A lone animal is often the most dangerous animal. These are not facts that I expected to consider today.

Truth be told, I never would have considered them if I hadn’t been swayed from my original lunch hour plan (ice skating at Gutterson) by my colleague Elise. She asked if I was going to hear Temple Grandin speak. After I got over the initial embarrassment of  not really knowing who Temple Grandin is (OK, yes, yes, I remember) and the secondary shame of not planning to attend a big campus event, I decided to go. The ice will be there tomorrow.

We currently tend one head of free-range cockapoo on our .07-acre ranch.

Temple Grandin—professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, innovator for humane handling of animals in agricultural settings, leading thinker on the ethical treatment of animals, author, inspirational role model and voice for individuals with autism, and subject of a movie starring Claire Danes—spent a full day in Burlington through the efforts of the local humane society. UVM’s Animal Sciences Department helped bring her to campus for the talk and other events.

It wasn’t hard to spot Grandin as she ambled down the aisle of the chapel before the lecture, dressed in denim pants, an embroidered Western shirt, and a red kerchief around her neck.

A no-nonsense black-and-white slide titled “Livestock Behavior and Handling” was displayed on the screen as the chapel filled up. Not exactly a topic you would think would fill a chapel in Burlington, Vermont with a crowd that appeared to be largely students. Likely, Grandin’s bigger picture thoughts were what drew many, rather than matters such as closing up the slats on livestock chutes to avoid shadows that spook cattle or advice to avoid getting too excited when using a flag to direct cows (“people are always flappin’ and flippin’ these things around”).

Yet, while I didn’t find a lot at the talk that was directly applicable to my own life, given that the livestock at my home consists of a dog, a cat, and a Vietnamese fighting fish, time spent in the presence of this singular individual felt like time well spent. I wasn’t alone, as shown by the many who quickly rose to applaud at the end of her comments.

It’s good sometimes, I think, to get these glimpses into worlds we know nothing about. Universities are great for offering ample opportunity for that. Scan the calendar, choose your talk. With that in mind, I was struck by this comment Grandin made during the question and answer session that closed the event.

“I’m concerned that we’re raising a generation away from ag,” Grandin said. She cited a recent study in the UK that found 50% of young people “couldn’t connect the bacon with the pig.” There’s the good sense to know where one’s food is coming from, but there’s something more. “People are growing up totally away from practical things,” Grandin added. “Practical things teach practical problem solving.”

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NEW VIEW FOR THE MARQUIS

Among the statues at home on the UVM Green, Ira Allen gets all the love. He has the lake view down College Street, the Old Mill backdrop, the sidewalk nexus high-profile site, and even gets to dress up for commencement each May. This is all fitting for a founder, no doubt, but where does this leave the Marquis de Lafayette? Well, for nearly a century, it has left him at the north end of the Green, where he stands with hand on hip looking a bit vexed, casting his gaze in the general direction of the Mathematics & Statistics Department offices. Aside from his location, a thick bank of evergreen shrubs behind him has long conspired to make Lafayette the decidedly #2 statue on the Green.

The Marquis de Lafayette

Things looked up for the Marquis a week or so ago when the UVM grounds crew cleared those shrubs and opened up a 360-degree view around him.

While Ira Allen’s business on the UVM Green is plain; it’s a little more mysterious what the Marquis de Lafayette is doing there. Quick history lesson: A French aristocrat and military officer, Lafayette was a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington. Among the heroes of the American Revolutionary War, Lafayette distinguished himself at the battles of Brandywine and Rhode Island and Yorktown. In 1824, U.S. President James Monroe invited the Marquis de Lafayette to visit the United States where he traveled to all twenty-four states of the union in a victory tour of sorts. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

There are Lafayette monuments in many places in the United States, but there’s a special significance at UVM since he was in Burlington at the opportune moment when the cornerstone was set for the university’s brand new building that would come to be known as Old Mill. The Marquis did the honors of making the dedication. While that 1825 moment is remembered with words chiseled into redstone along the building’s foundation, UVM donor John Purple Howard would reaffirm Lafayette’s memory when he commissioned John Quincy Adams Ward to create a statue of the Marquis to complement the renovation of the Old Mill, which he also funded in the early 1880s. So it was that UVM’s Marquis de Lafayette monument originally occupied the spot—wait for it—right where Ira Allen stands today.

The Marquis made his move north in the 1920s when UVM mega-donor James Wilbur made a facility/statue gift of his own—Ira Allen Chapel and the statue of Allen that would usurp Lafayette’s command post on the Green.

Do statues harbor grudges? While the Marquis de Lafayette will never get his original prime real estate back, there’s some poetic justice in that this military leader—whose hero CV, let’s be honest, outstrips Ira Allen’s—now gets to pose, thanks to some judicious pruning, with Ira’s chapel as his backdrop.

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The sound of an organ is inherently frightening—its volume, tone, supernatural ability to turn a minor chord into pure evil. For me, personally, this traces back to the 1966 Don Knotts movie “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” in which a haunted organ terrified Knotts’ character Luther Heggs and me, six or seven years old, sitting in the Cinema Theatre in Urbana, Illinois.

So, it took some courage on my part to walk with my wife into Ira Allen Chapel last night for the annual Halloween organ/choral/light show that Professor Neiweem masterminds with the help of many—notably The University Concert Choir and Catamount Singers, students costumed as everything from Mel Gibson in Braveheart to the sexy ladybug/rabbit/whatever favored by many young women.

Though Professor Neiweem brought it with the sinister “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” and cast an imposing shadow while conducting the choir, it really wasn’t too scary there in the chapel last night. This was attested to by the little boy in a lamb costume in the row behind us who took it all in without a whimper. It was a show in which a reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s haunting “Anna Belle Lee” could exist side-by-side with Neiweem’s organ rendition of the campy “Cantina” number from “Star Wars.” And the singers even dipped into Gilbert and Sullivan, UVM junior Bruce Barger putting his strong voice (and the plastic hammer that accessorized his Thor costume) to impressive effect on “A Wandering Minstrel I” from The Mikado.

Video snippet of David Neiweem’s performance of J.S. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”

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