Local author who’s been around tells why he settled in Vermont

BRANDON — “Why Vermont?”
It’s a simple question Brandon resident Gary Meffe and his wife, Nancy, were often asked when they announced they were making the move from Florida to Brandon seven years ago. It’s also the title of the first essay Gary Meffe wrote that sparked his new book, “Van Cortland Chronicles — A Celebration of Life in a Small Vermont Town.” The book of 33 essays explains in detail the answer to that seemingly simple question across a variety of planes — sociological, cultural, political, environmental — and highlights Meffe’s love for Vermont in general and Brandon in particular.
A conservation biologist by trade, Meffe is no stranger to the written word, albeit with a more scientific bent. He is the author of two college textbooks in several editions and more than 80 scientific publications. He is also a former research professor in evolutionary biology and conservation biology and for 12 years was the editor-in-chief of the international scientific journal Conservation Biology. But “Van Cortland Chronicles,” self-published through the Northshire Bookstore’s Shires Press in Manchester, represents Meffe’s foray into the realm of nonfiction essay and a refreshing change in genre for this retired scientist.
“To be a good scientist, you have to be able to write, because it’s publish or perish in science,” he said. “For this book, ideas would just strike me and I would think ‘There’s a story there,’ and I would get it down.”
During an interview in the Meffes’ cozy log cabin home on (where else?) Van Cortland Road in Brandon, Gary Meffe said the anchor essay “Why Vermont?” was published in Vermont Life magazine about five years ago, and it led to other essays and the inevitable idea that perhaps there was a book there.
“Funny things or unusual things would happen and I would jot them down,” he said. “It’s important to ground a book geographically and this book is about love of place. I tried not to make this all about us, but I wanted to share the story of relocating to Vermont. It’s about Brandon and Vermont through our eyes and our experience.”
If there is a lot of the collective “we” in Meffe’s conversation, it’s because he and Nancy have been together for over 30 years and are going strong. And despite several cross-country moves and career shifts, it was Nancy’s bout with breast cancer 12 years ago that represented the couple’s greatest challenge, and one that led them to Vermont. They discuss it in tag-team style.
“Our decision was informed by that experience,” Nancy said. “You know life is short.”
Gary agreed.
“Cancer recalibrated our lives,” he said. “We learned to say ‘no’ to a lot of things.”
“It took us to Ground Zero and we regrouped after that,” Nancy said.
At the time, Nancy was 51 and Gary was 47. They had settled into a life in Florida, with a house and a circle of friends in a community they were fond of, and were prepared to live out their days in the Sunshine State. But a few trips to New England and then specifically Vermont and Gary began to ponder the “what ifs” of a move to the Green Mountains.
After months of discussion and several trips, Nancy agreed to the move.
“It was a big decision, to start over as two individuals, and as a couple,” Nancy said. “It’s often very hard on a marriage.”
“But ours just got better,” Gary chimed in.
Nancy explained:
“We’ve always been a couple where we would diverge and then come back together. Moving here was a completely fascinating experience. It was like stepping off a cliff.”
And even though they thought they knew what community was and had experienced it, the Meffes readily admit that they didn’t realize that it has layers and Vermont’s is the deepest.
“We knew we were looking for a community,” Gary said. “But we didn’t realize the depths of what that meant or the importance of it until we got to Brandon.”
While at its core, the book is a lesson in what’s good about Brandon in particular and Vermont in general, Meffe does take time to expound on some of his personal pet peeves; for instance, the rise of hyperbole in American slang and what he deems is the misuse of words like “awesome,” “amazing” and “incredible,” as well as the phrases “you guys” and “no problem” and the overuse of “like.”
Meffe not only expounds on the satisfaction he and Nancy have found in Vermont living, he also challenges those readers who may not be enjoying the same connection to place. And that challenge extends to what a person gives back in return.
“If your home is merely a postal address to you, then you may be missing out on a much richer and more rewarding life,” he writes. “To live well in a place, to have it work well for you, to become part of the fabric of the community and the state, you have some obligations and responsibilities … Good and rewarding citizenship and living well in a place requires greater effort than that. Just like any chosen home, you will get out of Vermont what you put into it. Offer little, and little will be returned. Give of yourself and engage with the community and you will be rich.”
There are also essays on the discovery of buying local and the importance of knowing the person who you are buying from. Meffe also highlights the people he and Nancy have met and those who have touched their lives and welcomed them into the community. Nancy is an avid weaver and fiber artist, and in one essay, Gary finds a way of connecting weaving and Calvin Coolidge, one of Vermont’s favorite sons.
“I like to make connections between things you wouldn’t think to make connections to,” he said. “I like to use seemingly everyday, mundane events to draw larger lessons. In these essays, I tried to weave into the discussion things that are important to me, environmental and social issues that are important to me, things that people should be thinking about without being on a soapbox, and that goes beyond Brandon and beyond Vermont.”
Ultimately, Meffe has penned a loving tribute to his new hometown and the Green Mountain State.
“Sometimes we get up and we say ‘Look where we live! We live in a log cabin in the foothills of the Green Mountains!’” Meffe said with a smile. “The book is really my ‘thank you’ to this being a really cool place.”
“Van Cortland Chronicles” is available for sale ($14) in Brandon at Carr’s Florist and Gifts and Book and Leaf bookstore, and in Middlebury at the Vermont Book Shop.

Share this story:

More News

Bernard D. Kimball, 76, of Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)

News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Share this story: