Toni Ortner

The interior of Christopher Sproat’s Black Box museum.

A hybrid of biology and human geometry

Christopher Sproat gives a tour of his museum in the woods, where he gives shape to a world that prompts us to different ways of seeing

A black box is hidden deep in the woods in Putney.

"Black Box" is the name of a museum built by artist Christopher Sproat. The museum contains his work, and a neighbor of his invited me. The idea of a real museum sitting in the woods - a museum that I had never heard of all the years I lived in Vermont - seemed absurd.

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Saving a planet, one pollinator at a time

With the Wildflower Pollinator Project, Jane Collister is doing her part to turn the tide. She could use some help.

Jane Collister, of Westminster, the sole person responsible for the Wildflower Pollinator Project, offers an easy and simple way to do something specific to turn the tide and save the planet. According to the National Park Service, life as we know it depends on pollinators, since more than 75%

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For homeless people, gifts of supplies and resources

Most people are overwhelmed when they read the statistics that show how many homeless persons live in tents or sewers or on the streets of cities like New York and Los Angeles. These facts - combined with the shootings in schools and public places, the incarceration of thousands of...

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When plans go awry

I grew up in a middle-class family. We could pay for necessities as well as luxuries. If a washing machine broke, we ordered a new one. If an appliance needed repairs, we paid for it. We had two cars and could afford gas and repairs. We took a family vacation once a year. We had three solid meals a day. In 2014, in this difficult economy, being middle class is no longer a certainty for anyone. Middle-class families cannot pay...

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Moving out

Stopped at the traffic light on the Main Street of Brattleboro, I see a man in his 60s, gaunt with an unshaved face, bent over his bicycle. The handlebars hold a stuffed black plastic garbage bag that I assume holds his earthly belongings. He holds up a can and is spraying and combing the purple nylon fur of a large stuffed animal with big floppy paws. I try not to stare. He flips the ears over fondly and combs carefully...

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Core values

Many people in Vermont have not heard of the Common Core Standards, which the Vermont Department of Education accepted in 2010. People have no idea what the term refers to, why it has now been accepted by most states, or how it is being implemented here. Numerous articles by education experts published in major professional journals have shown for years that American students have fallen far behind students in other countries in English and math skills. The sad fact is...

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So you want to be a writer?

When I was 19 and newly married, I quit my teaching job at PS 70 in the Bronx on the spur of the moment to be a writer. For five days, I sat in front of my Smith Corona staring at the blank white page and chain smoking Marlboros. There was a pot of black coffee on the stove, and I downed it 15 times a day like an alcoholic gulps Scotch. I got up, stretched, sat down again, and...

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White daylily

A sudden summer storm. We have come to expect the unexpected - abrupt changes in weather. Wind and clouds and rain and snow are no longer predictable. One can almost feel the earth rumbling beneath us, pits of fire and sudden sinkholes in which creatures that have never seen daylight drift slowly through black seaweed and wavering reeds. I lean out the window streaked with rain and stare at the battened-down buds of the daylilies as heavy rain slashes across...

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