I often write about how we, as a civilized society, need to keep striving towards equilibrium. As in many times in our history, we live in a highly polarized world where those with a limited worldview or sense of history believe absolutely that their way is not only the right way, but the only way forward. The heaviest person on the seesaw wins. These mentally flabby adherents to political or religious absolutes deny the very complexity of the human spirit which is in turn reflected in our communities and our own imperfect lives.
Here at home, we are faced with achieving a balance between our rights as individuals and our responsibilities to the wellbeing of our communities, the delicate balance between absolute democracy and visionary leadership, regulation and free trade, big dairy and artisan farmsteads, the left and the right and so on.
Our biggest challenge as Vermonters, however, may well be balancing our rights as property owners and our responsibilities as stewards of a landscape that will long outlast our short-lived ownership of it, posting vs. sharing land, understanding the long-term economic, aesthetic, environmental, and health benefits of our working landscape vs. just defending our rights to it.
Many countries around the world have moved aggressively to forge this balance to preserve the independence and safety of their food supplies, the lands on which they are grown or raised, and the economic prosperity that it produces. It’s an impossible balance to achieve without wise leadership, calm discussion and a shared vision.
We Vermonters have made clear that our most valued asset is the working landscape in which we live, for the last century defined by its small hill farms, open pasture lands, and forests for hunting, fishing and logging. An outdated milk pricing scheme has put dairy farms at risk, but new forms of agriculture are diversifying the farm landscape. A forest products industry is being reborn here that understands the terrible loss of its saw mills and the diverse light industries that added value to its harvest.
Vermonters are coming again to appreciate and understand the economic underpinnings of its now celebrated landscape and the small communities that punctuate it. But will we have the courage and intelligence to forge a balance between our roles as both owners and stewards of this landscape that National Geographic and others have cited as unique in the world?
This will be our test as Vermonters. We must elect leaders who can lead us to a fulcrum that balances these rights and responsibilities and doesn’t lapse into the easy absolutes of the right and the left, mine vs. ours, my way or the highway.
But most of all, we Vermonters must understand and balance our own temporal roles in our enduring and self-healing landscape, our responsibility to future generations and the many opportunities in front of us to harvest and use wisely the fruits of the land in which we are lucky to live.