I had been feeling really low after traveling to Vermont and seeing the horrendous damage done by Hurricane Irene’s flooding. Roads and bridges were swept away and more importantly, people’s homes and livelihoods destroyed. I saw countless acres of crops destroyed by polluted flood waters, home after home disgorged of all their former occupants’ possessions, just pile after rotting pile.
In some ways the flood – which came on top of record unemployment and political paralysis – reminds us why we need strong public services managed by competent professionals and why our national treasury must step in to help. In the Catskills, my brother reported being astounded by the resolve and competence of the Army Corps of Engineers who literally flew in bulldozers with giant helicopters and made short work of cleaning out the creek bed in front of his house and rebuilding the washed out road that had left him stranded in his cabin.
And yet, in Washington, the disaster touched off a new round of partisan fighting rather than a unity of purpose. And the bickering continues today.
There are some points of hope, though. On the Saturday after the flood – a beautiful sunny day – we went to the weekly farmers’ market in Montpelier, Vermont’s quaint and yet vibrant capital and the smallest state capital in the US.
Despite the recent disaster, dozens of stands were set up as usual, populated by amazing smiling young people who had brought stores of gorgeous healthy organic produce, cheese, baked goods, honey and meats displayed with signage trumpeting the virtues of healthy eating and environmental protection. Buckets were set out to collect contributions for flood victims. Musicians performed.
As I looked around, I found my spirits lifted by the energy and dedication of these intensely creative people trying to build a lasting livelihood out of the simple, virtuous act of growing pure foods. I can only imagine the time and learning that they invested in raising livestock; making and bottling honey mead (think Beowulf); or becoming a cheese maker. They aren’t doing any of these things to get rich and perhaps that is what makes what they are doing so important. They are actually creating something of lasting value – a healthier planet with healthier people – and in so doing creating a different form of wealth than that we are taught to value.
In Montpelier, people are working in community with others, meaningfully engaging with their friends and neighbors in a way that is neither mediated by high-tech gadgets nor afflicted by Wall Street’s “values.” I think there is something there for all of us to learn from, even our political leaders in Washington. There is another way to live and work that can transcend the vagaries of current events, the devastation of natural disaster and the tyranny of the marketplace.