One hint of spring in Vermont is the unfolding of an aluminum chair.
On the second Tuesday in March, shortly after dawn, one chair is assembled, then another, and another, and soon a chorus of aluminum screeching fills gymnasiums and town halls throughout the state, as chairs are passed from hand to hand and set in rows which soon embrace the bottoms of neighbors, taxpayers, all gathered to participate in their town’s governance.
As two thirty-forty somethings, a demographic found less and less often in the seats of our Town Meeting, my sweetie and I were no exception: we skipped out. But with (semi) good reasons. Howie was manning a video camera at Hardwick’s town meeting for Hardwick Community Television, our local community access station, and I was front row center with thermos of coffee and notepad reporting Barton’s town meeting for the local newspaper.
We compared notes at the day’s end. Howie said he had the main camera trained on the podium, and his sole duty was to keep whomever spoke in the frame. He claimed on the whole it was “pretty boring.” Notable moments included the fire chief wanting more fire trucks and a citizen wanting better road conditions in front of his house. Over in Barton’s town hall, where I was based, there was no discernable heat. “Does this mean there’s no hot issues?” a man with a handlebar moustache quipped to the moderator.
Perhaps they were numb from the chill, or more likely, they were prepared, informed and amenable as the articles rang out i.e. “Shall the town appropriate a sum not to exceed $10,000 as requested by the Crystal Lake Preservation Association for the purpose of managing, controlling or eradicating Eurasian water milfoil infestation or other invasive species in Crystal Lake and direct the Selectboard to assess a tax sufficient to meet the same?” Mr. Moderator, William May, would ask sweetly, “What’s your pleasure?” And then, using the more official language of Robert’s Rules, he’d ask, “Any Discussion?”
The ensuing silence was so complete, you could hear a knitting needle drop. When he asked for all in favor, the “Ayes” of a hundred voices in unison could be felt viscerally, almost like a distant rumble of thunder. And when he asked for those who voted “Nay,” for all the 28 articles except two, only soft coughing broke the quiet.
After concluding the town’s business for 2014, Selectman Robert Croteau made a final announcement celebrating the parents of the town’s two Sochi Olympians, Susan Dunklee and Ida Sargent whose exuberant athletic photos graced the cover of the annual report. A round of applause was offered not only for the young women, but “For the parents that raised them.”
And corny as it sounds, as we all drained out of the town hall, leaving behind the folding seats, I felt so much warmer than when I’d first sat down.