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Tuesday March 22, 2016 Edition
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Farming Hunting And Fishing Sharing Memories With Larry Blackmer

Holding a treasured family Bible that is more than 150 years old, Larry Blackmer shares stories of animals, land, farming and loving all of it.
photo by provided
Holding a treasured family Bible that is more than 150 years old, Larry Blackmer shares stories of animals, land, farming and loving all of it.
Step father Harry and mom Jessie were often with Larry when he was fishing, hunting, walking or going up new paths on mountains.
photo by provided
Step father Harry and mom Jessie were often with Larry when he was fishing, hunting, walking or going up new paths on mountains.
Showing the award winning bass, Blackmer's mom Jessie enjoyed fishing and loved that her fish won!
photo by provided
Showing the award winning bass, Blackmer's mom Jessie enjoyed fishing and loved that her fish won!

Tuesday March 22, 2016

By Cookie Steponaitis

As the ground begins to thaw and nature sends out messages of the coming spring Vermonters of all ages begin to appear outdoors. Larry Blackmer’s grin get bigger and the twinkle in his eyes gets brighter whether he is talking about farming, hunting, fishing or simply walking through the woods as spring approaches. The land and nature are teacher, partner and blessing all rolled up into one for Larry. He was born in 1937 on the Keller farm in Orwell to a farm family. Larry, his brothers Gerald, Ralph and his mother and father Ralph and Jessie knew first-hand how the Great Depression spared no family and played no favorites. Larry’s family lost the farm during the Great Depression like several families in the valley and made their living working for other farms around the region.
    “We moved around some when I was growing up,” shared Larry, “but times began to pick up and while I was only working part time when I was nine or ten, I was working full time when I turned eleven. At that time we were working on the Leonard farm and I got all the milking equipment ready and went to get the cows. We stayed on that farm for almost twenty years and probably never would have left, but when he came by the age of 61 or a while out from it Mr. Leonard had a heart attack. While dad and I did most of all the work, Mr. Leonard returned to farming but a second attack made him sell out.”  When asked what one room school he attended, Larry smiled and shared that if we are talking about book learning, the only schooling of that kind he had was from some school books the daughter of the boss had. She taught him to read, write and do mathematics. The lessons learned in Larry Blackmer’s mind that mattered came from animals and the land. Larry is a walking encyclopedia of farming stories and information and is at home on the land and with the natural world. He can share stories of harnessing horses for all types of farm labor, secrets on where to catch some of the region’s best trout, which fields hold some of the best deer and paths to walk that are not on the map or labeled as a trail. If you want to talk cows, planting, harvesting or the changes of seasons by watching the land, Larry Blackmer has stories if you have the time.
    Tracing his family’s moves from the Keller farm in Orwell, to the Lewis Farm in Brandon, the Leonard farm in Brandon and the Harris Farm located just by Middlebury College, Larry’s farming career spans four generations of Vermont agriculture and an era of significant change in equipment and practices as well. The farms he worked had at most 39-45 cows for milking but the chores went on all day and the morning started with a 4 A.M.  trek into the pasture to retrieve the herd for a 5 A.M. milking.  “We didn’t have gutter cleaners or even tractors at first,” explained Larry. “If the barn was getting cleaned and it did every single day, it was one shovel or forkful at a time.”  Spring also meant a lot of work in the fields and introduced Larry to the Vermont crop that is even heartier than corn or hay. “It’s them rocks,” sighed Larry. “I would turn the soil over and they would pop up faster than Daisies. So after turning the soil, step two was to hitch the team and move around the land picking up the rocks and putting them in the wagons. Some of those stones were stubborn and huge. It took a lot of time.”
    While the farm kept Larry employed six days a week for about seventy hours he kept his eyes open for small bits of time and his treasured day off for fishing, hunting and walking the woods of Addison County and the state. “You have to understand I never saw a land posted off limits sign until I was well into my forties,” explained Larry. “When I was done working I could meander down to the river, go to Dead Creek, climb Snake Mountain and go to special spots to just be with the land. I would always climb Snake Mountain by a footpath that I don’t think is marked on any map and I would sit on the edge of the top on the foundation of the old hotel. Then I would just look and breathe in and look some more.” Shaking his head a bit, Larry went on to explain that people would come up the trail look around for about twenty minutes and then head right back down. “They were in such a hurry,” chuckled Larry, “that they missed what they came up there for. Nature takes time to see and to feel.”
    Larry moved to the Vergennes area in the 1970’s with his mother Jessie and the family would spend hours together fishing. “Truth be told,” confided Larry, “it was a toss-up between my older brother Ralph and my mother Jessie as to who was the best fisherman.” Whether they were at Otter Creek by the falls, down by Donovan’s Bridge, out at Dead Creek or on the Neshobe River, the family always came home with bass, perch, trout, bullhead and several champion fish. Jessie’s mom won a WCAX fishing competition with a large mouth bass and established herself as the family member with the best bragging rights when it came to fish stories that were really true.
    Hunting squirrel, rabbit, deer and just walking up mountains happily occupied a good part of Larry’s life.  Larry left farming and worked in Montpelier for quite a while caring for the Green Mountain Cemetery which sat on a hillside with a famous slope as grounds keeper before there were riding mowers and it was a huge responsibility. “I simply starting mowing on Monday,” laughed Larry. “When Friday came I was all finished and Saturday I just started all over again. There was this one hill with such an angle that I had to take the handle off the mower and string it on a thick and strong rope. I had quite a skill of sending that mower down that hill, pulling it in different directions and making the laws look manicured. One local doctor hired me to do his lawns because of how the cemetery looked.  It was a beautiful place and a place people could come to find peace and be with loved ones.”
    While Larry Blackmer does not get out as much as he would like anymore he still feels the need to walk and be with nature. “Now I am not in agreement of these solar farms or those windmills,” grimaced Larry. “I understand that a farmer has to pay the electric bill, but those things are dang ugly. They do not make the land more beautiful; they take away from it.” While Blackmer understands times change and so do some things, his favorite activities do not.  “If I can’t hunt, I’d fish,” concluded Larry. “If I can’t fish, I’d walk and I would keep on walking and enjoying it. I always walked to see what was over the last mountain and in Vermont and no matter the season, there is beauty.”
The Valley Voice salutes Larry Blackmer and the tried and true lifestyle of generations of Vermonters who are linked to the land in so many ways it is fair to say it is in their blood. Their reasons for being outdoors are to enjoy and learn. Their love of the land does not stop with age and the best part is sharing it with friends or having what Larry calls, “a moment to just take it all in” while you are turning the soil, casting a line, sighting in your gun or simply sitting and watching a sunset on the mountains of a valley he still proudly calls home.

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