National Geographic : 1974 Jul
Climbing the crumbling lighthouse on Juniper Island, we watched white butter flies settle, like early snow, on a tangle of thistles below. "I remember rowing out here in 1932 to see old Captain Perry, one of the last of the lightkeepers," Ralph said. "He gave me some rum-soaked fruitcake made in pre-Prohibition days. I didn't know whether to eat it or drink it." Long before black limousines loaded with illegal liquor sneaked in from Canada, smug gling had been a popular Vermont pastime. The contraband then was potash and traffic ran the other way. From potash came lye soap, vital in finish ing British woolens. Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo on exports to Great Britain threat ened potash making in the Green Mountains and the cash it brought to hard-pressed farm ers. So, under cover of darkness, producers boated and backpacked their output into Canada. As Ralph points out: "Vermonters always knew-better than any President what was good for them. We were 'anti establishment' up here 200 years before the word was invented." INSTEAD OF POTASH, the problem now is people. During the past year Border Patrol agents of the U. S. Immigration Service in Swanton have apprehended 4,000 aliens attempting unlawful entry. "Lots of Latin Americans and Portuguese these days, but we get a sprinkling of others," I heard from Jack E. Gorman, Deputy Chief Patrol Agent. "They pay from $350 to $1,000 for a border crossing-in advance and no refund if it fails. It's a big gamble." In the sparsely settled, heavily wooded corner of the state known fondly as the Northeast Kingdom, the Nelson sisters of Norton have no trouble crossing between Vermont and Canada; the border neatly splits their store in two. "Canadian goods on that side; American, on this," Ruth sang out, ringing up a sale in Quebec as she reached for the phone in Ver mont. Behind an L-shaped counter, Miriam discharges her duties as Norton town clerk. Both women-single and middle-aged admit they seldom leave their hometown or Nelson's store, a third-generation enterprise. "No need to go travelin'," a customer chimed in. "They's plenty entertainment right here at Nelson's, and if you should miss church, Ruth preaches plenty every day." Vermont-a State of Mind and Mountains A bearded youth sauntered in through the south door and slouched down across the international boundary. He could have been one of thousands of young people who drift into the state each summer to live off the land. For them, welfare officials advise: "Keep Vermont green-bring some with you." "War's over," Ruth called to him, "so come on home. Besides, you can't cash your food stamps over there." The boy grinned, un curled, and reentered the United States. "Nothing new about defecting to Canada," Miriam commented, peering over her book work. True to town-clerk tradition, she knew her facts. According to an epitaph across the line in Stanstead, Vermonter Eleazer Albee of Rockingham "went into Voluntary Banish ment from his Beloved Native Country, dur ing the Reigning Terror in the Third Year of the Misrule of Abraham the First." There were defectors before Albee rebelled against Lincoln's policies. I have crawled into many a secret closet and chimney corner where runaway slaves found safety in their freedom flight through Vermont, a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment. "When civil war finally came," Joan Lan don said, "Vermont lost more of its sons in proportion to population than any other state. That's why Decoration Day retains its original importance around these parts." We were walking along Main Street in Grafton, one of many 18th-century villages that cherish a patriotic past (following pages). Beside us, wreath-bearing youngsters, un daunted by a downpour, struggled to keep step behind Grafton's century-old cornet band and a contingent of latter-day veterans still able to wriggle into wartime uniforms. Parson Charles Parsley joined us on the bridge spanning Saxtons River where-after a hymn and a prayer-two small children tossed spring blossoms into the stream. A rifle volley signaled the end of this short but solemn service for fallen seamen. In a mist-shrouded cemetery, with wreaths resting beside mossy headstones, a similar ceremony honored such heroes-I read from a faded inscription-as Myron Chapman, killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864. Taps echoed down the valley. Roy Rice spelled out his feelings about this day in fourth-grade language: "It's like slut ing the ded soldier and sluting the flag and to soldiers who fight for the country we sud pray." Grafton grown-ups agree.