Sunday, August 2, 2009

TRUE TALES FROM THE EAST - 9. Friends (Part 2)

From Rick's island I headed northeast along the St. Lawrence River, across the top of Lake Champlain to about as far north in Vermont as you can get where David and Micha live. The hospitality was just as warm, their property nearly as remote as Rick's place, but the architecture changed dramatically.

Like Rick, David had a dream of living in the place he loved. So after a couple of marriages and a DC political career while living in Arlington, he built his dream house in Vermont. Exquisite is the best way to describe it. Beautiful craftsmanship throughout, the house sits on 70 acres looking south into the valley of Lake Willoughby. It's a fiord-like glacier-carved lake, 300 feet deep, flanked by Mt. Pisgah on the east and Mt. Hor on the west.

I last had visited their home when he and Micha got married there the autumn before I moved from Virginia to Oregon. A major remodeling had made the house even nicer. And not one dead mouse or flying ant did I see. They have their own milliondollar view, this one including immense thunderstorms rolling across the mountains and valley, then engulfing the house in sheets of lightning and rain.

As with Rick, I first met David through my Great Lakes environmental work in the 1970s. He was the head guy at a U.S.-Canadian commission that deals with cross-border pollution. I soon learned that David has superb political skills and instincts.

David & me -- Rainbow Range, British Columbia -- 1981

No one person ever did more to move the political agenda forward on Great Lakes toxic chemical pollution -- you know, the really bad stuff like PCBs, dioxins and hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment.

It's not that he, personally, got any laws or rules passed. Or got a bunch of money to clean up pollution. What he did was choreograph a new public and political awareness of the issues. He got his staid, conservative institution, the International Joint Commission -- created in 1909 but largely invisible prior to David's imprimatur -- to issue reports that were revolutionary. Not surprisingly, one of his closest allies was Greenpeace's Jack ("never trust anyone over 30") Weinberg. The IJC's meetings became focal points for cutting edge, sometimes raucous debates about social costs of pollution, burdens of proof regarding harm to environmental and public health, responsibility for pollution, and on and on. David's name isn't on much of anything but his marks are on much good that came out of that era.

Today David travels the world for the U.N. trying to get foreign countries to protect their special places, like Africa's Lake Chad. It's a mystery to me how it does it, both the work and the constant travel.

On my visit David told me he had hiked to the top of Mt. Pisgah at least 300 times. He liked to do it really fast. It's seven miles up and back, plus 1,500 feet of elevation gain. But what a hike! To Micha's relief I insisted on walking slow and stopping a lot -- there was much to see. Along the forest trail we caught toads and what I later learned was a hairy-tailed mole. My dawdling let me enjoy close-up and personal a breeding pair of black-throated blue warblers. Atop Mt. Pisgah peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs swooped below.

Some kind of next-door-to-Canada paradise, eh? Well that depends. You say you don't need nice restaurants, libraries, art galleries, cinemas? You're ok with frost in June? A tiny rural supermarket is good enough for your food shopping? You love shoveling snow from your roof? Minus-30 degrees is invigorating? How about horse flies, mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums; you consider them friends?

No, you say?

Well then why on earth do you live in northern Vermont?

We had that conversation and even talked about an alternative -- western South Carolina near a university, where David's brother recently relocated. I know. The state with the "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" Governor. Confederate flags. Eeew! But everything comes down to this: compared to what?

For me almost any reasonably warm place north of Florida or west of Texas would be better than northern Vermont. But that's just me.

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