Dear Friends,

Thanks to all of you who wrote in response to last week’s blog. Rest assured, I am not about to change my direction–I don’t direct my direction. As Theodore Roethke said once, “I learn by going where I have to go.”  And since I’m aging, growing older, my poetry just naturally . . .

Your responses hearten me. They give me courage.

This past week I visited with an old friend, she’s 90 this year, in a parking lot of a grocery store in the rain about growing old and dying. She and her much younger friend both said what you all said, Don’t stop telling the truth about our lives and this life. Not to worry. I won’t.

A couple of people pointed out that the USA is a death-denying culture. Another said There is a tendency . . . to pretend we are not subject to aging and dying and we turn away from embracing this part of life. Ain’t it da troof! We are all caught up in the youth cult until we get old enough to understand that can’t be for us anymore.

Another person said, I share a common thread with your poems and celebrate that you put your and our fears [of dying and death]–and our amusement at the aging process–into words.

Yet another person said, [A] Happy Life is a life of acceptance. Resistance does not postpone the inevitable.

One person said, I’m in my 50s and find it very comforting to have a scout out ahead. It’s fun to think of myself as a scout out ahead there somewhere trying to find the trail. I never thought of my job in those terms.

Another person said, Hey what about the blues– isn’t that blue–‘down’ stuff really uplifting in the end?, which made me think of a note I wrote in 2010 for my latest play, A SONG FOR MY FATHER. Here are portions of it:

A Program Note




David Budbill

I was talking to a woman years ago and I said something about being blue and she said, “What if you never get the blues?” If you never get the blues, this play is not for you. If you’ve never had any conflicts with your parents, or watched helplessly as the parents you love grew old and died, if you’ve never felt guilty about anything, this play is not for you. But if you’ve had these experiences, these feelings, or if you can imagine them, then, I hope, A SONG FOR MY FATHER is a play you can relate to.

If you get the blues then you know how much better playing, singing or listening to the blues can make you feel. My goal with this play was to write a blues song, a song for my father, which would do what the blues do: look straight in the face of the way things are. . . .

A SONG FOR MY FATHER . . . is meant to do what Greek tragedies did for the ancient Greeks. It’s meant to release in you powerful feelings of sadness, foreboding and grief and in the process, like the blues, make you feel better, refreshed, lighter, happier.

Thanks to you all. More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill



Dear Friends,

I’ve got a problem. I need some advice.

In recent years, I’ve been writing mostly poems about growing old and dying. (Some people say that’s all I’ve ever written about.) I have the distinct feeling that people don’t want to read such stuff. They don’t want to deal with death and dying, even though both are inevitable.

My last book, HAPPY LIFE was on the bestseller list for 29 weeks, and here, almost a year from its publication date it still pops up on the list from time to time. I wonder if one of the reasons it is so popular is because of its title. What do you think?

Also, this: after a reading this spring, during the Q and A, a woman commented that the closer to death I get the brighter my outlook on life becomes. She thought my early poems, the JUDEVINE poems, were a lot darker than the more recent stuff, even though I now deal with death and dying more than ever.

For those who know my work, do you agree with that?

I’m asking all this because, even though I’m older now, my attitude increasingly is one of greater gratitude for this life. Take for example the poem:


I see more and more clearly

as I grow older how gratitude

is at the center of my life, at

the center of all life, how it is

the core of living. Without it

life is bitter and inconsolable.

Yet, it seems so hard to really

be grateful for this life, most

especially when we are young,

which is why we need to be

grateful for the older ones

who can teach us

how to say thank you

for our lives.

On the other hand, here’s another poem, a quite recent one:


I can feel myself slipping, fading away, withdrawing

from this life, just as my father did. When the pain

you’re in is so great you can’t think about or pay

attention to anything but your own pain, the rest of

the world, all of other life, doesn’t matter, slips away.

I think about my friends with dementia, cancer,

arthritis and how much more pain they are in than

I am, but it does no good. Their pain is not mine, and

therefore, no matter how magnanimous I might want

to be, their pain is not as important to me as my own.

My question is: who wants to read that?

Answers, responses gratefully appreciated.

More next week.


Sincerely, David

25 June 2012








An On-line and On-going Journal of Politics and Opinion


25  June 2012


To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.

Wendell Berry




In This Issue:


A review of Wendell Berry’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE


Ben Hewitt


Jeremiah Church




a review of


by Wendell Berry

with an introduction by Michael Pollan

Counterpoint, 2009

         I’ve got to get something off my chest. In the November 9, 2009, NEW YORKER, Elizabeth Kolbert (born in 1961) calls Michael Pollan (born in 1955) “the Father of the Local Food movement.” This statement is an insult to Wendell Berry (born in 1934) and to Sir Albert Howard (born in 1873) who is the father of all of this. Wendell Berry was advocating for and preaching about all the current hip topics like eating local and organic this and that for decades before Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver (also born in 1955) and so on were out of diapers. And Wendell wasn’t even in diapers when Sir Albert Howard was born. But typical of Wendell Berry, he gives full credit to Sir Albert Howard for being everybody’s progenitor. Too bad Elizabeth Kolbert didn’t do her homework and isn’t as knowledgeable and magnanimous as Wendell Berry. Both Pollan and Kingsolver are Johnny-come-latelys to this movement; they both know it and admit it. Kolbert should have known it too. Okay, that’s out of the way.

First, before anything else, anybody who wants to learn how to write should read Wendell Berry. As Michael Pollan says in his introduction to BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, “I have learned as much from the construction of his sentences as from the construction of his ideas.” Berry’s prose is elegant and simple. (Can anything ever be elegant and complicated?) It’s Biblical, which is not surprising since Wendell is too.

Second, BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE is a compilation of articles about farming, farms, farmers and food that Wendell has written over the years. Now between the covers of a single book, these essays are essential reading for any interested in food, for anyone who eats. As Wendell says, “To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.” This book is a kind of Wendell Berry Farming and Food Bible.

There, in the two preceding paragraphs, are two reasons to get this book and read it. I hope you will. It’s a pleasure to read and to think about.

I have a series of quotes from BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, which I culled from the book while reading it that I am forbidden from publishing because the quotes are too long; they are longer than the usual short quotes allowed in a review and there are too many of them. Each has a category title I made up. I would be happy to send the quotes to anyone who is interested, with, of course, a recommendation to buy the book itself. Write to me at david at and I’ll email them to you.



by Ben Hewitt

In middle March I walk the upper pasture, stumbling under the weight of a pair of five gallon buckets sloshing sap. The ground is nearly bare; the winter past was a feeble, fleeting thing, almost dreamlike in its rapid passing. Did it really happen? Was I really there? Why, I got the plow truck stuck only once, and two full rows of firewood remain in the shed. I’ll be glad for them come fall.

A gallon of sap weighs eight pounds and I carry ten of them (or maybe nine; I’ve lost some over the bucket rims). Seventy, eighty pounds. Not so much, but the far taps are a quarter mile down the field, hung from the old maples that define the border between our land and Melvin’s. Big, graceful trees, overseers of decades and generations. I think of all the cows that have loafed in their shade. I think of all the storms they’ve survived, all the haying seasons they’ve known. The horse-drawn mowers, then the old Ford’s and Massey’s, and now Melvin’s big Cat that can lay down the entire field in an afternoon. And every year, I take their sap. It humbles me to consider all they have seen and all I has taken from them, as if these somehow juxtapose each other in a way that makes me unworthy of their gift.

I am suddenly glad for the toil of it all: The trudging through the late-February snowpack to drill and tap and hang, and now the daily shoulder-burning haul up the field to the small evaporator, where we’ll boil down to the sweet essence of it all.

Halfway there. I stop at another tree, but of course the buckets are too full. I’ll have to come back.  Down in the valley, I hear the distant whine of a two-stroke engine, either an end of season snowmobile run along some shaded ribbon of snow or an early season dirt bike. I hear the change in tone as gears shift. Dirt bike. It fades into the distance and now I can hear the high-pitched bleating of the lambs in the barn and I know they are running to-and-fro, energized by the warmth and sun and perhaps some instinctual knowledge that soon they will be turned out to the season’s first tender shoots.

This spring has felt more relaxed to me than usual. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because the winter was so mild. Or maybe it’s simply because I’ve gained another year of perspective, another 12 months in which to consider that things will unfold as they unfold. To be able to work and live amongst my family and farm for another year is an honor so great it leaves me almost breathless, and I’ve come to feel as if I owe something to that honor. I’m not sure what, exactly, but to approach it with as much equanimity as I can muster seems a good place to start.

I heave the buckets off the ground and resume the slow walk home.



Editor’s Note: On August 10, 2009, I did a commentary for Vermont Public Radio called AFFORDABLE FOOD FOR ALL about the new whole foods movement and who can afford the food and who can’t. It looked back on my 40 years as part of the Back to the Land movement here in northern Vermont and asked some questions. To read the commentary or listen to it (it takes 3:06) go to:

This following essay by Jeremiah Church is a response to my “Affordable Food for All” commentary on Vermont Public Radio


Jeremiah Church

I am a student and farmer in Morrisville, a 23-year resident of Vermont.

David Budbill’s commentary raised my blood pressure because it carries an assumption that I’ve long wrestled with: that local food is more expensive than “conventional food.” I want to challenge this on a few fronts, but first, let me agree with him: it is, in most cases, more money up front.


1. Local food is not ALWAYS more expensive. To give a few examples: Ben Gleason’s Vermont grown and milled wheat flour is less than 1/2 the price of King Arthur’s equivalent. Cabot cheddar trim from Cheese Traders is $3.00/pound. Raw milk is available in my area for $4.00/gallon. Shelburne Orchards sells pickup beds full of apple drops at the end of the season for $50. Granted, these examples are specific and inconvenient, but such are the characteristics of local food. “Specific” means they each retain the character of the place, and “inconvenient” means you might have to go out of your way to meet your neighbor and enjoy better food.

2. Gardening is cheap, and has always been closely aligned with the local food movement. The recent economic downturn led to a tremendous increase in the number of folks gardening across America. Local farmers and organizations offering seed exchanges, gardening know-how, tomato starts, and community garden plots provide a support structure for gardening.

3. Local food is cheaper in the long run. Here is a short list of the unpaid bills of the industrial agriculture system:

  • Federal commodity subsidies: in 2007, the federal government paid $5 billion in commodity subsidies, of which Vermont received $1.8 million. The average state got $17 per person while Vermont got $3.  The commodity structure is so skewed towards enormous industrial farms that states with lots of small-scale ag like Vermont get very little.
    • Solution: Allow Consumers to choose
    • Source:
  • Illegal Monopoly Profits: Record low dairy prices over the past year have forced Vermont farmers off their land. Meanwhile Dean Foods, which controls 70% of fluid milk in the region, posted a 150% gain in net profits over 2008.
    • Solution:  Eliminate the middle man to give a greater portion of the food dollar to farmers.
    • Source:
  • Federal/state energy subsidies: It takes about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy in the industrial system. This energy itself is also subsidized- the federal government paid about $16.6 billion in energy subsidies in 2007. The upshot? Artificially cheap energy allows industrial farmers to continue inefficient practices on taxpayer’s backs.
  • Peak Oil, Mass Extinction, Global Oceanic Dead Zones, Obesity, and Heart Disease: all symptoms of an industrial food system; all of which we or our children will eventually pay for. Why not just eat better now?

Bottom line: local food costs less if you pay the full price for industrially produced food.

4. Americans CAN afford local food. Check out this graph:


We spend less than 10% of our income on food, the lowest in the world. The average country shells out 20% of its income on food. Many, if not most, of us can afford better food.   (

For some, access to good food is a real problem. The local food movement addresses food security through the work of Salvation Farms and the Vermont Food Bank in gleaning 88,000 pounds of food from farms in the Lamoille Valley over 3 years, among other ways.  In this way, vibrant farms contribute to food security for all members of a community.

Budbill ended his commentary with the question “How is the sustainable agriculture movement going to get good, affordable food to all Vermonters, rich and poor alike?” The solution has to cut both ways: consumers need to understand that the industrial food system is artificially cheap, and farmers need to continue to work make good food available for everyone. Consumers are waking up to the fact that they pay for their food once at the supermarket, again in their taxes, and again in their health care bills. Local farms have long been a proponent of affordable food, from EFT machines (food stamps) at farmer’s markets, to grow-a-row programs, to community gardens. The continuation of these trends will see a local food movement that serves everyone.




Here is a story that I heard many years ago and is a reflection of the status of modern American agriculture.

Lettuce—grown in California with water transported across a basin from Arizona. The field worker picks off the outer layer in the field. It gets washed where another layer is peeled before being boxed for shipment to New York City. There, the prep cook washes the lettuce peeling off yet another layer. A leaf goes on a plate with a scoop of tuna neatly placed on top. The patron eats the tuna and the lettuce is thrown out. Think of the amount of fossil fuel that was used to grow and transport a vegetable that is essentially water across the country…just to be thrown out.

And another bone I have to pick, this one involving the production of biofuels, particularly ethanol. This is a subject that sees little daylight in daily politics. Commercial ethanol production requires distillation of plant material, typically corn.

What is the energy source for the distillation? Most often it is fossil fuel. Simple laws of thermodynamics: you can’t get a net gain in energy by converting corn to a liquid energy. Think of the amount of fossil fuel energy that goes into fertilizer, herbicides, the production of farm equipment, the fuel to operate the farm equipment, the fuel to transport the product, and then the fuel to distill the product to ethanol. We could reduce our dependence on foreign oil a lot more by just burning gasoline directly in our cars than by using the fossil fuel to produce ethanol.

And would the land-base be better utilized for growing food for people? There can be some justification for ethanol if the energy used in distillation were wood or coal (I can’t burn either in my car). However, I’m not seeing the value in such a trade-off.

How often are business and personal tax incentives used to mask the true costs of our actions?

I know of no right answer for our food and energy issues, but one thing I do know is there is a place for truth and honest discourse.

Jay Lorenz



Ben Hewitt lives with his family in Cabot, Vermont. You can read more of his work at

Jeremiah Church is a young farmer who lives in Morrisville, VT. He has a portable stone oven that he hauls around on a trailer behind his pickup truck to various locations to make pizza for people.

Jay Lorenz met David while studying the ecology of the eastern coyote in Judevine in the mid-1970s. Currently, he is a senior biologist with a leading full-service engineering firm. One of his current projects is environmental permitting of a wind farm in California.

David Budbill is a poet and a playwright and editor of this cyberzine. His website is at: 


                  Coming in JME #52:

                  Something Political

                  just in time for the election



Dear Friends,

Is anyone out there having trouble with infestations of flea beetles in their gardens? Any suggestions from anyone will be greatly appreciated.

I’m a long time gardener, more than 40 years, yet I’ve spent most of this week battling the pests. I do know about reemay row covers, but I don’t use it. I’m not sure why.

Also, I’ve begun watering my garden–morning, 6:00 a.m., and night, after 6:00 p.m. I hate to do this. It’s much better to have rain, which soaks the soil much better than watering. I water a total of 30 to 40 minutes a day, but that’s barely enough, probably isn’t enough. On the other hand, it’s so hot and dry and early this year, it’s only mid-June, that I figure I’ve got no choice.

All this, I’m afraid, is yet more signs of global warming which here in northern Vermont is making itself know in many ways. There are oak trees beginning to grow in the woods around here. That’s unheard of here in the north-country. And the maple syrup producers are seriously worried about the future of their industry. Sugar maples are a sign of the north. If they fade out so will the maple syrup industry. Also there is a fear that the quality of the syrup will go down, as it did this year, the syrup getting buddy and dark earlier and earlier in the season.

I moved here more than 40 years ago because I wanted to live in the north, a cold climate. 40 years later I’m wondering if the south–or at least the mid-west, where I’m from–is coming to meet us here.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

18 June 2012


I haven’t looked at SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH in weeks. I’m beginning to wonder if that is going to be my wintertime project. That’d be fine.

I did a major hustle for A SONG FOR MY FATHER this week. I contacted 30 theatres, all places where they’ve done JUDEVINE. So far I’ve got 6 requests for scripts. Not too bad, but I hate doing this kind of thing.

I’ve written a few poems this week. That always makes me feel good, great, as a matter of fact. I feel like my week is worthwhile if I can write a poem or two during the week. I have no idea whether they’re keepers or not. That doesn’t matter. It’s the making that matters. Whether they’re keepers or not will reveal itself later.

And I actually began work on THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE #51, Part Three of the three-part Food issue. I think I’ll get it out sometime this summer.

I got back the Corrected Uncorrected Proofs for PARK SONGS this week also. They appear to be in good shape. Full speed ahead headed for a September publication date.

I’m back in the woods, now that the garden is in. I love being in the woods, running my chainsaw, splitting and stacking wood. I love those things, and the woods themselves, as much as anything.

And we went to Montreal this weekend to hear two of William Parker’s bands. Montreal is only three hours from here. One of the bands we heard was ESSENCE OF ELLINGTON. I wrote the liner notes for the CD of the big band’s concert this past January in Milan, Italy.  Both concerts were great: to hear ESSENCE OF ELLINGTON,  and also RAINING ON THE MOON and the William Parker Quartet is a rare and special treat for this gardening, woodcutting recluse.

In spite of the tarsal tunnel syndrome that makes the bottoms of my feet incredibly sore and in spite of the arthritis in my hands and right arm, it’s a good life and I’m glad and grateful to be alive.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

11 June 2012