Peace, Irene

Steve Roberts color photo: carved bear giving peace sign

Hurricane Irene beat the snot out of Vermont in August, 2011.  The most destructive natural disaster in the state’s history, they say.  A few lost their lives.  More than a few lost everything else.  Everybody lost something, if only their attachment to what is and isn’t possible in their own backyard.

Living on the side of a mountain, we were among the fortunate who missed the flooding that caused so much of the carnage.  We lost only a thousand trees, maybe two, over our 200 acres.  Trees of every species, size and age were snapped, ripped, flung, twisted and toppled like so much straw.  Among them, the ancient grandmother maple that stands by our mailbox.  She may very well have been planted by the original farmers who built the first section of our home nearly 200 years ago.

Long before we arrived, she was known as “the champion,” delivering sap with sugar content far beyond that of any other tree on the mountain, legend has it.

Irene took half her crown, obliging us to take the other half in the name of prudence.  But before we did, my wife, wise grandmother herself, said, “How about creating a bear from the remaining stem?”

Sun Bear Farm is the name we gave this place upon assuming its stewardship in ’95.  Sun is the symbol for God.  Bear the symbol for introspection.  Life being a celebration of the God within.

But more than that motivated us to call Marvin Chamberlain, the wonderful Vermont chainsaw sculptor of Marvin’s Carvins.

How could we honor this tree?  How could we honor the generations of neighbors, mail carriers, snow plowers, leaf peepers, bird watchers, family and guests whose lives this tree––her presence, her grace, her shade, her sugar––has been part of…for some since birth?

And beyond that, how might we symbolize the depth of resilience seen and felt throughout Vermont in response to Irene’s punch in the gut?

What bear would give passersby beyond our lifetime reason to smile?

How might we bow to Irene and say, “Peace”?

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth