By Katie Antos-Ketcham, a member of Mother Up! and our new Writing for Climate Justice group
When people ask, “Are you doing anything for February break?” I’m really never sure how to explain the beauty of something that doesn’t involve a passport, air travel, or, quite frankly, even a car (well, we did drive 15 miles to Ferrisburg once; more on that in a bit).
Right after lunch, when the sun is its warmest, we head out to check our sap lines, getting ready for the upcoming sugaring season, peeling off our hats and gloves as we go. I know many tourist locations lure visitors with promises of being able to avoid crowds, and while we have to weave our way through the maples, ash, beech, birch and cherry, we welcome their company.
And while I’m keeping my winter boots on rather than going barefoot on a beach, I keep falling in love, again and again, with wild. Two days ago, after a fresh dusting of snow, one of my kids and I discovered tracks of deer, rabbit, wild turkey, grouse, and some type of cat. When we came across what he explained as the the tell-tale tail drag of the fisher, he stopped and said, “uh-ho,” thinking about the vulnerability of our 34 chickens. We know these tracks represent our neighbors, which, to me is better than anything I could find at a national park or zoo (as long as that fisher stays away from our flock, however).
We were still out in the woods at twilight, and the sunset was a brilliant, deep orange. Framed by the foothills of the Green Mountains, through the gap, we could spot Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks farther west. We stopped to take it all in, despite the oncoming darkness. I reached for his hand, promising myself to remember this moment.
I feel so lucky.
In the past, during February break I’ve flown off to Colorado to hut-to-hut ski and, later, once we committed to not travel by air, driven to northern Maine to do the same. Over the years, my family and I have localized more and more intensely, as a way to shrink our carbon footprint. We haven’t set a firm limit on our mileage radius by car, but we often ask ourselves if the distance would be possible without a car and use that as our general guide. We usually make a couple of exceptions within a year, notably a trip to Acadia National Park, which we do take by car, and a trip to the Midwest to visit family, for which we take Amtrak. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on something, but the wonder and awe of nature and the memories to cherish, I am coming to realize, can happen anywhere.
That said, we did leave home this vacation. Once place we ventured was to the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburg, which is open on Sundays during Black History month. We toured the exhibit “Free and Safe: The Underground Railroad in Vermont” and heard a talk called “Finding Jesse” by former museum director Jane Williamson.
Williamson showed us historical records that help us, nearly 200 years later, understand the story of a man named Jesse, one of the more than 2 million slaves in the US during the 1830’s. Jesse sheltered in Vermont at this Merino sheep farm owned by the Robinsons, who were Quaker abolitionists. Jesse lived and worked on the farm for a year, saving every dollar he earned in order to buy his freedom, which we know because of letters exchanged between Rowland Thomas Robinson and the North Carolinian man who had owned Jesse. Despite Robinson’s letter, his former owner refused to accept Jesse’s $150. He wanted $300. Both of my kids were unsettled to learn that nobody really knows what happened to Jesse, for it’s clear he left Rokeby when the Robinsons refused to give him $150 more as they staunchly opposed the idea that it is possible to buy another human being, even if it meant assuring Jesse his freedom.
I left Rokeby inspired. Inspired by Jesse’s courage. Inspired by Rachel Gilpin Robinson keeping their home free of slave-made goods. Inspired by Rowland Thomas Robinson’s early antislavery work, although, I wonder, if he should have flexed and given Jesse the money. I left inspired by how Jesse, Rachel and Rowland resisted the great injustice of their time, as well as a yearning to believe that Jesse did make it to Canada.
Still, I have no straightforward answer to what I’m doing for my February vacation. But this I know: I’m doing more than staying home. Like Jesse and like the Robinsons, I’m resisting. And while my life isn’t completely fossil-fuel free, yet, my carbon footprint has shrunk considerably, and localizing my travel is one way I can help protect the places and people I love. Nearly 200 years after Jesse left Ferrisburg, we, the people, must still resist, not only the exploitation of people for profit, which continues despite the abolition of slavery, but also the exploitation of our planet and its resources as a result of our personal consumption. And not just in how we vacation, but always.