In praise of Vermonters

Submitted by Andrea on August 30, 2011

It's been a very hard couple of days for Vermont. Not so much for Ted and me — our apartment and our building site are both well uphill of any flooding. But it's been painful to see all the damage, both nearby and throughout the region.

I don't know how much rain fell on the building site this past Sunday, but there was hardly a trace of it when we went up the next day. Much of the credit goes to Wayne Corse, owner of Corse Excavating, who graded our site. A small amount of water had pooled in the gravel bed under the house, but nothing of concern, and there was no evidence of run-off into the road. Eli's team was rather impressed by the lack of erosion, and so were we.

But we weren't entirely surprised — we've been delighted with Wayne ever since we met him. He has just the right blend of time-tested know-how and openness to new approaches. We talked to another excavator who mostly wrinkled his forehead and shook his head at our crazy notions. But Wayne has a can-do outlook and a flexible mind that likes to find the right solution to the problem. In fact, I think his attraction to doing things right is what makes him ideal for our crazy project.

He also worked hard to fit into our schedule, even though he's been flat out busy with other jobs since spring. We had talked with him last summer and had him do a little scraping, and apparently this was sufficient to make him feel like he ought to follow through and finish the job even though he was swamped. Eli had heard good things about Wayne but had never worked with him before and was skeptical that Wayne could fit us into his tight schedule, but Wayne kept his word and managed to get work done as we needed it, even if it meant coming out on a Saturday morning and operating the big machines himself.

Which brings me to another Vermonter, Eli Gould. Eli already had a solid schedule when we first called him in late April. But he couldn't resist the lure of a super-efficient house and somehow used a time-turner to design and build our crazy foundation.

Eli is a different model of Vermonter than Wayne. Wayne's family has been in the state for centuries, whereas Eli is the son of back-to-the-landers and grew up on a commune in Guilford (just down the road from the commune where a wee Ted ran around while his parents sang and performed). He went to Yale and had to convince the administration to let him double-major in Forestry and Architecture, a perfectly logical combination hereabouts but a little weird for the Ivy League.

He has been working in construction since he was a teenager, and unlike most elite college grads he skipped the 20-something urban bar scene and got right back to work in VT. The result is that he's not yet 40 but is an established expert in timber-frame construction, has his own saw mill, and employs a crack four-person crew. He and his wife (a 7th-generation Vermonter) have three children and live just up the road from his wife's family's organic farm.

Wayne and Eli are undoubtedly swamped right now. Eli was already driving around helping people with his generator and sump pump on Sunday afternoon as rain was still falling. He sounded a bit frazzled when Ted spoke to him today, presumably because he's been working like mad to help his neighbors, all while keeping our project on schedule (mostly to keep his crew fully employed). And I can hardly imagine how busy Wayne must be now, trying to replace all the structural dirt that's now gumming up the Connecticut River. If Wayne was already flat out before the storm, I suspect he'll be working non-stop until winter rolls around and it's time to start plowing.

And there's a hell of a lot of work to be done. Vermont is in bad shape. Many roads are impassable — for example, a waterway has changed course and is now running through Route 9 (the major east-west road in southern Vermont). Many towns are hard hit, and contrary to what you might think based on the ski resorts and the crazy house we're building, there's not a lot of money here.

Fortunately, there are a lot of people like Wayne and Eli: people with deep ties to the community and an unhesitating desire to take care of the people around them.

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I hasten to add that Vermont's natural beauty and the charm of its towns are entirely intact. The news coverage of Brattleboro, for example, shows a torrent where Whetstone Brook used to be and a waterlogged panorama on Flat Street, but that's only a small part of downtown. The rest is undamaged and humming with activity. So if you're looking at photos online and thinking "So much for Vermont," you are quite mistaken.