Debunking a Vicious Rumor

oneinathousandlogoE.O. Schaub

Perhaps you’ve heard the vicious rumor that road crews here in Vermont are substandard, careless, or functioning in a fashion that would lead one to believe they wouldn’t know a culvert from a banana flambe, however I’d like to set the record straight right now. The fact is, your typical Vermont town road crew is tough, resourceful, and for most of winter functioning on three hours sleep and enough coffee to choke an elephant. It has to be. It deals with an incredible variety of difficult and dangerous situations throughout it’s every working day, not just tons of snow and sheets of black ice and stubborn mailboxes that refuse to be knocked over, but crazy stuff… stuff that would probably make your average New Jersey town road crew pee its pants, and your average North Carolina town road crew run crying home to mama. Do you think they ever worry about a moose getting stuck in the gravel screener in Florida? Of course they don’t. You see my point.

But the character of the Vermont town road crew goes far beyond this. Point in fact: we all know that harsh local winters combine with a high percentage of dirt “roads” to create plowing scenarios throughout the season that would give your average road crew member night terrors. But did you know that the Pawlet road crew finds time, in it’s busy warm-weather schedule of grading roads, driving the truck, and grading roads, to create inspired works of roadside art? It’s true.

The most recent installation, tentatively titled “Right-of-Way Massacre” (2009) is truly a masterpiece not to be missed. Driving down the formerly scenic River Road, between Pawlet Proper and West Pawlet Prim, the viewer will begin to notice signs of some mysterious disturbance: a splintered tree to the left, a shattered tree limb abandoned to right… Hmmmm, we think. Then- whammo! Suddenly the roadsides are filled with the casualties of- what? Was there a horrendous car accident perhaps? Maybe involving several tractor trailers filled with bees and a herd of buffalo? Or, was there a rare New England tornado? That happened to coincide with an even rarer New England tsunami? We are not privy to the devastating conflict which has unfolded here, but clearly it was a catastrophic happening. Dozens of trees both large and small are cracked, splintered, transformed to beheaded stumps- but why? One wonders: can it be that they simply were the victims of happening to grow too close to the road? Could life really be that cruel?

Rt. 153 Road Art

But the carnage continues. Relentlessly, tree after tree is brutalized, many exploded from the middle up- shards of tree are in the road, in the branches of other trees, caught in the antlers of passing deer. There is no sound- only the silence of dozens of trees not being there anymore. Personally, it is by far the most violently bloodless scene to which this viewer has born witness. But we understand. Clearly, there is a point to be made here and after passing through this intermittent chaos for some minutes we come upon the realization at last and it is this: trees are bad.

Do trees deserve a dignified, more scenic or aesthetically pleasing death? Even trees flagrantly growing within the right-of-way as if they had no idea that they might someday obscure a speed limit sign? Do they deserve a proper execution complete with chainsaw, chipper and a modest but dignified spreading of the ashes at the town dump? They do not. The point being: trees totally suck.

Yes, it’s a gutsy piece, with a gutsy message. Only a tough-as-nails, no-holds-barred, multiple-hyphen-employing artists-collective-slash-town-road-crew could pull off a challenging work like this, but pull it off they have.

Because road crew artworks are rare, I highly recommend visiting this entrancing, but disturbing piece. It’s been getting a lot of buzz in our neighborhood, I can tell you. It’s hard to say how long the installation will be on display for… how long does it take a tree stump to disintegrate, anyway?


Note: Nov. 12, 2009

This just in… unfortunately, the town is bowing to the pressure of a few non-art-loving folks. According to Selectman Keith Mason, the affected roads will be revisited with a chainsaw for further modification sometime in the next few weeks. We can only hope the Town Road Crew will not bow to the pressure to suppress their creative urges in the future.

Meanwhile- the traveling art festival has continued and spread! North Pawlet Road… Rte 153… could your road be next? You should only be so lucky! Send us a picture of YOUR favorite installation view!

3 thoughts on “Debunking a Vicious Rumor

  1. What happened to a little work with a town paid for chainsaw and the town paid for chipper? What happened to common sense, pride, consideration for land owners, and respect for the land? Must be that the road crew is afraid of sweating!

  2. If the towns people are paying for equipment that is being used like this we should all be ashamed. Not so long ago all roadside mowing and brush removal was done by hand, the wages were lower and the taxes were lower. If this is the new technology at work it looks terrible.

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