Image

What Vermont Means to Me

“What Vermont Means to Me”, An Exhibition of Vermont-inspired Plein Air Paintings, Poems and Prose of Marguerite Jill Dye  

Liquid Art, Killington Vermont

September-mid October, 2013

Poems Inspired by Vermont by Marguerite Jill Dye

HOMECOMING              

 When one comes home to Vermont

It is like no other homecoming

Passing cow pastures and farms

Crossing rivers, thick with trout,

We wind our way through

Village-sprinkled valleys

Up, up, up we climb

Into forest-clad mountains

Where windows fall open

To breathe mountain air

Up, up, up we climb

Through deer and moose crossings

Hunting warm, woolen sweaters,

Weaving our way around bends

Up, up, up we climb

Hearts and hills rise upwards

As gears shift downwards

Anticipation builds

Smiles grow, tears gather –

We’re home at last,

Surrounded by the ones we love

Whose welcome warms our hearts, souls…  and toes

                                             Marguerite Jill Dye, 5/23/10

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT THE MOUNTAINS

There’s something about the mountains

That calms a troubled soul.

The air is fresh, the sky is blue

Serenity, extolled.

Red foxes, bear and coyotes,

Squirrels and beaver run,

Hunt and play in meadows and fields,

On peaks and ledges in fog or sun.

Honking geese fly in formation

Bald eagles and hawks soar on high

Looking down with bird’s eye view

For mice and rabbits passing by.

The woods and forest hug

The mountains that carry them.

Ancient, cragged, granite peaks

Tower above inner sanctums.

There’s something about the mountains

That allows my heart to unfurl,

Earthly concerns and the stresses of life

Disappear, and all’s right with the world.

MY BELOVED VERMONT                                                                               

Kaleidoscope meadows, flower-speckled fields,

Birch silhouettes reaching toward heaven

Moose in the marsh – a cow with her calf –

Deer leaping cross creeks that flow now and then…

I’ve come to you for comfort and peace

When seeking solace from cruelty and pain

You’ve enveloped me in your loving woods,

Caressing my face with falling rain

Then warming me up with your sun’s golden rays

Restoring and making me whole once again

It seemed like any other storm

When rain began as mountain mist

Then transformed to curling clouds

Swirling billows in midair

In spite of the rain, a hummingbird

Flew in to sip syrup at windowpane

Even a monarch butterfly

Seeking sweet flower nectar remained

It started late and rained all night

In spurts of downpours riding on gales.

Once it stopped the wind arrived

Blowing trees with gusts, sideways.

I heard a flock of Canada geese

Flying above in off-formation

Their youngsters couldn’t hold the V,

Bumping into one another.

The honking racket made me laugh

As I prayed they’d safely pass.

But after Irene your open wounds

Pained my heart and shook my soul

Where river banks crumbled as water rushed past

And hundred year trees fell to their doom

Breaking up bridges that lay in their path

Even those, covered, from pioneer days

When horse-drawn carriages passed through on their way

To homesteads and farms, now flooded, in ruin.

To witness a storm of that magnitude

Whose rains eroded whole mountainsides

Was an experience I’d prefer to forget

But Vemont’s transformed landscape will always remember.

I’ve come now to give you comfort and peace

As you seek solace from cruelty and pain

I envelop your woods in my loving arms

Caressing your trees in the falling rain.

BUTTERFLY BLESSING

As I painted petals in meditation,

Glaze upon glaze reflecting the light,

The wisteria boughs began to take form

Then you entered my vision and slowly descended.

Such a delicate creature with soft, yellow wings,

Not large like a monarch but smaller and paler,

In perfect contrast against purple wisteria

You blessed me with your joyful presence.

                                      Marguerite Jill Dye

 

En Plein Air  – ON PAINTING IN THE OPEN AIRI paint en plein air wherever I am

In sun and wind and sometimes, rain.

I carry along my palette of paints

Then sketch the scene, no two the same.

If I start out my day cranky, angry or sad,

I plunk myself down and begin to create.

Earth energy seems to well up from the ground,

Restoring my soul – all my cares abate.

With a bit of paper, canvas and paint

Brushes and easel, I’ve found

I’m a new person, refreshed and joy-filled –

For Plein air’s the very best therapy around!

HOMESTEADWhose homestead is this?

On hillock sits

With fairytale woods beyond

Whose homestead is this?

So cozy and warm

Such beauty all around

Whose homestead is this?

Under snowflake coverlet

I wish I could enter it.

WINTER SOLSTICE

At the edge of the forest

In Green Mountain stillness

Ice crystals crack and shimmer

In sun’s last golden rays

From shortest day to longest night

Winter solstice heralds hope

As earth’s axis turns towards

Ever brighter, ever longer days.

TEA WITH MY GRANDMOTHERS

Lovely lace labored by loving hands

Of my grandmothers’ and theirs’

Ladies long gone throughout the ages

Whose masterful handiwork remains —

Dainty doilies bordered by scalloped edges

Dresser scarves fringed with frills

Demure collars worn on diminutive necks

Victorian blouses, hand pleated and hemmed

Dinner napkins and grand table cloths,

Embroidered, French knotted, inserted and edged–

Generation after generation, including my Mother

Who learned ancient ways by adding her own

Flowers and birds with colorful threads –

Petals and leaves appliqued all around

On card table cloths for tea parties and bridge

Bath and dish towels too precious to risk,

Heaven forbid a stain, that is.

I sit here in joy and also remorse

Knowing not what to do with box after box

Of such fragile treasures – but in the end

I carry some to the linen lady who

Sorts them abruptly with critical eye

Then she offers a pittance for the pile she grasps

With her long, sharp fingers accosting my lace

“Turned yellow, need mending, no value, undone” —

I wish I hadn’t gone to her shop

For she shows them all no love or respect

Which makes the weight of my guilt all the greater

I return home with her discards, defeated,

Then brew a cup of tea and deep breathe

A smile appears as I peek in the box of

The very best heirlooms I’d saved just for me.    

                                               Marguerite Jill Dye

FOUR GENERATIONS

Seeing the world through artist’s eyes

Is a gift my Great Grandmother gave me

Pioneer painter, six children in tow,

Deep in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Seeing the world through artist’s eyes

Is a gift my Grandmother gave me

Poet and painter, beloved English teacher,

Nana celebrated God through nature

Seeing the world through artist’s eyes

Is a gift my Mother gave me

She wrote humorous verse with great joie de vivre

And played the piano with much vim and vigor

Seeing the world through artist’s eyes

Is a gift my Mothers gave me

When I grasp pen or brush I can’t wait to see

Which Muse manifests to inspire me

Marguerite Jill Dye

FIRST POEM ON THE DECK!         

I know I’m not alone

when that buzzing nears my ear.

No, not the irritating mosquito

about to land and bite my neck,

or the cursed zzz of the horsefly

who feasts on me then leaves a welt.

But more a vibration than a sound

that makes me pause in mid air

to not scare away the timid beast

who, hovering, seeks to nourish its fluttering.

I know I’m not alone

when the hummingbird appears.

Marguerite Jill Dye  5/29/10

 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT MEN?

What is it about men and their wood saws?

When we looked out through walls of glass,

Low limbs and trees blocked the road from view.

Nestled in our private lodge,

Perched upon one mountain,

Looking towards the next

But when the men folk of the family

Got hold of a power saw

That pounded my ear drums

And shook the woods to its roots,

Creatures fled for their lives

As branches and trees fell

And, alas, the road appeared in view.

What is it about men and their lawn mowers?

Once upon a time the hill behind our lodge

Was sprinkled with wildflowers —

Daisies and buttercups,

Chickory and clover in red, white and purple.

Black-eyed Susans welcomed me

As I wandered through Queen Ann’s lace.

Indian paint brush inspired me

As I chose just the right spot

To sit and paint, dream and write.

Low limbs and trees shielded me from the world

While wildflowers on the hill

Enchanted me with their charm.

Under the Milky Way at night

I’d watch for shooting stars

Then make a wish that this would never end.

PLEASE STILL THE SAW AND LAWN MOWER

So I might paint and dream again

In nature’s beauty and quietude.

Long ago Dad answered Mom’s pleas

By saving a patch of wildflowers for me

To paint as prolifically as I pleased

Whenever I’d come to stay for a spell

But for years now Dad hasn’t been here to save the patch

Or Mom to lobby on my behalf

And the evil lawn service with their brutal machine

Has passed this way again and again

To cut off their heads with the guillotine!

 

Yet miracle of miracles,

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

My husband has succumbed, at last,

To my plea for peace in the meadow

And once again, they no longer fall.

My beloved wildflowers are standing tall

                                      Marguerite Jill Dye

 

HOW PRECIOUS IS THIS DAY?

Dew drop diamonds fall like rain

Then golden sun appears again

Silver birch, emerald moss

Sapphire skies of Vermont, above

Copper log, jewel-like lichen

Quartz crystal trail that I hike on

How precious is this day?

The Last Warm Rays

The last warm rays of golden light

seek me out through trunks and boughs of

dappled leaves, chartreuse and forest green.

I pull wool throw up to my chest

as sun falls below the silhouette

of misty mountain grey-blue haze,

backlit by glowing clouds, ablaze.

Serenity is mine at this end of day.

 

WHITE BIRCH

A sole birch tree stands where once, there were three.

It survived winter’s wrath and disease,

Standing stoically amidst the dark pine,

Maple, spruce, elm and beech trees.

That birch is a witness of forty-one years.

While discovering Vermont, Dad staked his claim.

We helped him build a grand ski lodge

That sits atop a mountain ridge.

We cleared the land and laid foundation.

Cement blocks formed our cellar shell.

A tar paper roof needed much attention

Each week, new leaks, when downpours fell.

We skied in winter and camped out

In basement shelter with pot belly stove.

When fired up, the ice would melt

And take away the bitter chill.

Now, no longer a rustic cabin,

It’s a beautiful ski lodge made of wood.

60’ x 30’ with tall glass walls

High in the tree tops with mountain view.

The greatest gift my Dad could give us

Was to follow his dream without limit or fear.

Now that he’s gone, the white birch stands

Reminding us all that his spirit is near.

 

ODE TO A RAINBOW COLEUS LEAF

I remember the morning I sat by your side

Drawing your elaborate structure of veins

That spread out to reach each ripple and fold

Of your delicate edge I so admired

I was dismayed when the India ink

Dropped a splat from the tip of my pen.

I calmed myself down and envisioned, instead,

A circle of balance in a moment of Zen.

Your colors amazed me – first a watercolor wash

Of aureolin yellow then rose madder blush,

Touches of violet for shadowy depth

Then viridian strokes applied with my brush.

I sat there for hours, drawing and painting

Then noticed a sound, soft and recurring.

I listened intently – What could it be?

The sound of a Rainbow Coleus heartbeat.

 

INSPIRED DESIGN

Your twists and turns, truly ingenious,

Create a symmetrical design

Each slightly different color and size

Is a work of art, inspired, divine

Some are tinted orange and red

Or mottled brown and gold

Occasionally a green leaf still lingers,

Clinging to its skyward home.

As days grow colder and nights a bit longer

Our woods transform in hue

From verdant shades to a riot of colors

In neon, backed by deep evergreen.                                        

 

LEAF ART

I reached out and grasped the branch

To paint upon its sycamore leaves

They clung, in turn, to the limber limb

That patiently posed for the artist in me

I carefully pressed the painted leaves

Onto print-making paper from a zinc plate

Printing the living impression that was

Still attached to its buoyant branch

Then I gently washed the paint off each leaf

Releasing the bough back to the tree

Like a finger print this work of art

Reveals this sycamore’s lifespan,

One tree in fall that proudly stands

Beside our Vermont cabin.

 

ANTITHESIS

War is brewing, spewing from talking heads

Whose voices filter through the screen door

Out onto my deck, my own safe haven,

Heaven high up Vermont’s verdant mountains

Where leaves blow against periwinkle sky

And silver-white clouds, not missiles, pass by

My mountain woodland soothes my nerves as

Congress debates what’s left of its conscience

Weapons of mass destruction intrude

Once cried by the wolf who led us to war –

The antithesis of the peace we seek –

But now, so blatantly diffused

Like an end-of-earth movie I never could see

How could we possibly not react?

As members of the human race

How could we not stop this terrible act?

Without this peaceful haven I often

Wonder if I could continue to exist

In a world where cruelty and pain

Seem the norm again and again.

To come to this place perched high, close to God,

Gives me the strength to carry on.

 

UNDER THE SPELL                        

Twin fallen birch by water’s edge,

not beavers’ work with carving teeth,

but rain water washing above the shore

that toppled the giants to their end.

Knobby, gnarled roots, standing tall,

         clutch a rock in mighty grasp,

         like a jewel in its setting, all entwined –

         such handiwork, I pause to admire.

North wind blows to lake’s south shore

where pretty prism dancing waves

toss water lilies to and fro as

sunlight spotlights rocks below.

Kayaks drift, floating on ripples,

         reflections, like brush strokes,

         blend with white birch stripes,

         criss-crossing shimmering, silver sea.

Steep slope boulders and stones,

frozen in time, prepare to plunge

into deep water, hover on shoreline or

challenge the hiker with bumpy terrain.

Chipmunk charges boldly across my path

         and chirps a warning to its mate.

         I slowly return to civilization on the north shore

         where tadpoles zig and zag

In desperate dash to escape

toddlers’ toes, shovels and nets.

Another day passes, filled with discovery and delight,

under the spell of Emerald Lake                        

 

KENT POND

Brook cascades, white bubbles foam

Rapids flow around the rocks

Ferns tickle my knees as I pass by

Forget-me-nots along the way

Broken birch I step across

Tree trunks down all around

Has a Nor’easter just passed through?

Sharp teeth, short work, the beaver’s doom

Speckled sunlight, leaf-strewn floor

Glistening water through bouncing boughs

Kent Pond dances in evening breeze,

Water lapping upon its shore

Terraced steps of woven roots

Along the trail to trip me up,

Tracking who has turned the bend

Paw prints in mud of man’s best friend

Quiet cove where ducklings hide

Under their mother, still as stone,

I hold my breath as I pass by

But step on sticks along the way

Kent Pond shimmers as twilight falls

Enchanting my spirit, making me whole,

A far-away loon’s hypnotic call

Sending me home to the

man I love

 

A FAMILY OF DREAMERS                                

I come from a family of dreamers and I thank my lucky stars each day!  I experience life as a series of opportunities that we create, because I believe that life is what we make it.

My Mother always said, “Be careful what you wish for.  In our family, dreams tend to come true”.  Mom was a visionary.  Whatever she envisioned, she created through a very strong will and positive attitude.  Some might call it “wishful thinking”, but she always got results.  When confronted with an unsavory experience, she transformed it through humor.  Her poetry poked fun at life and lifted the spirits of those who crossed her path.  She accomplished feats against all odds through perseverance, and lived the Law of Attraction by focusing on the positive, thus attracting more of the same.  She was a student and fan of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and integrated it into her everyday life.  My Mother was a power to reckon with if you weren’t on board, and the first person you’d want on your team when faced with a challenge.  She was stoic, steadfast and strong, and gave no power to negative thought or focus.  Mom should have been a Christian Scientist because she didn’t believe in illness and would ignore ailments until they simply went away, which they usually did. 

Even my Dad, a left-brained mechanical engineer, turned out to be a dreamer.  When opportunity knocked to buy land in the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1957, Dad took it without hesitation and later informed us that he had always dreamed of building a ski house in the mountains. For the next fifty years he followed his dream, spending weekends, vacations, then six months a year living in Vermont, working on his dream.  He was a hard worker and perfectionist who took satisfaction in a job well done.  Building a 30′ x 60′ two story ski lodge way up in the mountains was no easy feat.  Dad loved the great out of doors above all else, and found his greatest pleasure surrounded by nature.  I wish he could have been a park ranger among wildlife in the wilderness instead of cooped up in an office in a large corporation under the pressure of sales.  But he followed his bliss by leading us to Vermont to build a house and live his dream. 

As I glance up from my writing to see Pico and Killington Mountains through vast, glass-walls, I am ever so grateful that our reality is to be living in the manifestation of Dad’s dream.                                  Marguerite Jill Dye

Family Values that Value Families

Joy was laid off after maternity leave with a 22 month old and then her fiancé lost his job.   They continued intense job hunts in Washington State for two years, ran out of unemployment, savings and family help.  When friends in Florida encouraged them to return to Sarasota, Joy was hopeful.  “I graduated from Booker High School and have lived here on and off since 1993.  I have history here, and Sarasota is one of my biggest loves”.

When their immediate job hunts bore no fruit, they doubled up in Joy’s best friend’s home, but her landlord protested. “It broke her heart to turn us away.”  The Salvation Army and Resurrection House were unable to help with temporary lodging for the whole family, and Joy couldn’t bear to be separated from her fiancé.  That’s when they lived in the minivan for three weeks – two kids, Joy – an emotional wreck with hormones raging – and her fiancé trying to hold the family together and provide for them with food stamps, alone. 

When the elementary school said Joy couldn’t enroll seven year old Justin without an address, Sarasota Y’s Schoolhouse Link and Family Promise worked together to get Justin into school under the federal McKinney-Vento Act and outfitted him with clothing, shoes, a back pack and school supplies.  Then, at a time when Joy’s own family was pushing them away for being homeless, Wendy Fitton accepted them into Family Promise and their coalition of churches – the only agency that could house the whole family.

“We were given a gift.  You’ve got to want it and show them that you won’t give up.  They push you. To qualify for Family Promise we had in-depth interviews, tests for drugs and alcohol.  For 99 days, we rotated weekly between churches in the program and sometimes stayed in the Family Promise house for 2 or 3 weeks, packing up our belongings with each move.  Family Promise helped us with our resumes, find employment, gas for the car, diapers, wipes, clothing, shoes, special needs food, all of our essentials  —  It’s the only place I know that helps families completely, with everything we need to survive and feel better about ourselves, including emotional support through counseling, prayers, advice on parenting and a hug.  It’s beautiful.  It’s like family.”

“It’s been a long road, but I’ve had faith and wouldn’t give up.  Now we are blessed with this place to live and I am really happy.”  With rent $250 more than a mortgage would be, they are trying to piece together a small down payment and financing because “It’s worth owning instead of renting to be sure we won’t be homeless again.” 

Determination is Joy’s strength — she put herself through college in NYC, “learning humility”, with degrees in Early Childhood Education and World Fine Art History.  Her dream is to work at the Ringling Museum and become a curator “or even fetch her coffee!”  In NY she spent every waking moment at the Metropolitan. 

“Childcare is impossible in Sarasota for the poor, and costs are out of this world,” Joy continued.  “Our church, Faith Presbyterian, fed over 200 families for Thanksgiving and sends more than 250 boxes of gifts abroad.  But the churches can’t do everything.  They really need help.  

“I see a lot of homeless people struggling in the street — handicapped, unable to care for themselves, beaten, abused…  When we were homeless, living in our minivan, we made breakfast for the disabled who couldn’t get around.  One day, we watched them being carted away by the police.  Sarasota is trying to eject the homeless. A large majority just had a hard time.  People do need help, real help.  Even those with drug and alcohol issues are human beings and need help and love, companionship and support.  How will they turn around if only met by anger?  You fight the war against homelessness with love, not anger.

I know there’s a deficit, but there’s a lot of wasteland out there and trees we can build with.  There’s enough for everyone.  We are all only human and we live in this world together.”

Step Up Sarasota. 

www.stepupsarasota.org    tel. (941)565-1540

www.familypromisesarasota.org/        www.TheSarasotaY.org/schoolhouselink  

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist/writer living in Sarasota and Killington, Vermont. She served on the Health and Human Services Committee for developing Sarasota’s Ten Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.    (MargueriteJillDye.wordpress.com)

Faith and Hope in Compassionate Sarasota

Mother and daughter burst into tears when I offered to find a temporary home for their nine year old Lhasa Apso.  “I’d rather camp out than leave him behind.  It would be like abandoning a baby.  If I were an inconvenience, would you leave me behind?  I’d never forgive you”, the fourteen year old daughter, Hope, cried.  Then Hope’s mother, Faith, confided, “When I feel hopeless he jumps up on the bed, flips on his back and looks at me with his adoring, reassuring eyes.  I can’t imagine a day without him.  He’s our little angel.”

You’d think it would be easy for Faith to find secure work that pays enough to live on.  As a hard and devoted worker with thirty years’ experience in customer service, Faith has excellent computer and web design skills — an asset in any office.  With a decent job, they could escape living in a motel, day to day, depending on help from her mother and sister, and wearing out their welcome with friends. Sometimes Faith has ended up in a tent in friends’ back yards with the pup, depending on the landlord and space.  Other times mother and daughter have had to separate to double up with friends in studio apartments or rooms. 

When Faith was laid off from a stable job due to downsizing, she launched a massive job hunt and pieced together cleaning vacation rentals in spite of two herniated disks and failed back surgery. Over time she was able to raise the first, last and security deposit to move into a small apartment, but when her landlord realized she couldn’t pay the full rent on the first of each month (since she was paid on the fifth and thirtieth ), he asked them to leave — two weeks into Hope’s starting high school.  Then they stayed with another friend until she lost her home to foreclosure.

Faith has raised her two children by herself.  Hope hasn’t seen her dad in four years, and her brother, now 24, was only three when his father left.  “When I put my son through school, he never had to go through this – he never experienced homelessness.” Faith sent both of her children to Julie Rohr Academy, a private school for the performing arts. They thrived with self-expression and joy, but now her daughter has become painfully introverted and walks around school with a fake smile on her face to keep from breaking down or letting on to their situation. “She won’t even let me use the word ‘homeless’ to describe our situation.

“My biggest priority is for her to be happy.  She’s normally a happy girl, but I can see the sadness in her,” Faith explained.  “Hope is a good girl.  She’s had a few challenges lately with our living conditions and with friends who’ve made the wrong decisions, but she’s done the right thing and walked away from a bad situation and called me.  I remind her every day of how proud I am of her. 

“I want a secure office job.  I am very devoted to my work and have great references.  I’ve had interviews and really want this job – it’s what I love to do. I get a second interview, but then no call, no email.  That’s when the depression starts to set in.  People tell me it’s the economy.  I used to have three or four job offers at once, and now I can’t even get one job.”

The only impediment to secure housing and escaping from homelessness for this mother-daughter-pup team is a stable job that pays a living wage.  Faith is a strong, responsible, independent woman who has succeeded throughout her life in providing for her children and maintaining a warm, loving home.  Surely, somewhere in Compassionate Sarasota there is a good job for Faith, and an affordable apartment or house near Hope’s school – Riverview High School.  This is a straightforward, uncomplicated wrong that we can right with so little effort. 

Step Up Sarasota. 

www.stepupsarasota.org    tel. (941)565-1540

Marguerite Jill Dye served on the Health and Human Services Committee for the Suncoast Partnership in developing the Step Up:  End Homelessness in Sarasota County Now ten year plan.   Jill has an MA in Inter-cultural Management and is an artist/writer living in Sarasota and Vermont. (MargueriteJillDye.wordpress.com)

DREAMing of a HOME

DREAMing of a HOME      by Marguerite Jill Dye

Living half the year in the Green Mountains of Vermont in the ski lodge my Dad dreamed of building (and built!) gives me a special perspective on dream homes.  I understand the magic and healing that living in one’s dream home provides, the dedication and hard work required in building one, and have sensed the magnetic pull in searching for one.  I know the importance of living in a place where one feels at home, safe from the outside world, able to rest and recuperate from the challenges that life brings.

When we aren’t living in my Dad’s dream home in Vermont, we live in Sarasota, Florida, where we used to own an island dream home of our own in an idyllic beach enclave but escaped from an escalating mortgage we couldn’t afford.  We were very fortunate.  Some of our neighbors lost their homes to foreclosure after the market crashed, dropping values in half.  Now, instead of owning (like many other Floridians who lost or sold their houses over the past few years), we rent a condo downtown. 

Living downtown has provided us with an urban setting, great convenience and an opportunity to learn about our own underworld, our community of refugees, our homeless.  In “Musings on a Park Bench”, I described meeting a middle-aged, homeless, female veteran on a park bench and how we spent several months working together to permanently solve her housing problem.   

While some of us are living in our dream homes, others are dreaming of living in a home, any home. Dream homes are relative – a castle or mansion can be less loved and appreciated than a shack or a shanty as I witnessed in the slums (“villa miseria” or “misery village”) of Buenos Aires where poor migrants from the countryside build simple structures on vacant land to serve as protection for their families while they seek to create a better life in the city.  The only difference between the poorest of the poor in Sarasota and Buenos Aires is that in Argentina they have a roof over their heads and a place to call “home”, whereas in Sarasota, our homeless have nowhere to go to sleep safely and under cover, and if discovered by the police – huddled under bushes or trees – they are arrested and fined for sleeping outside.  The Salvation Army has a limited number of beds available for $10 per night, but many of our homeless have no income and are existing on Food Stamps, so can’t afford to pay for a place to sleep. 

In our society, a perfect storm of economic, structural, governmental and social conditions have left many citizens without jobs, housing, sufficient food, a feeling of safety/security, physical or mental health care — the most basic human rights.   Our economic crisis has created a floating population of homeless, American citizens living in exile in their own country, outcasts of our society.  Our heads are in the sand as we drive or walk by these invisible citizens, removing park benches as a way to “deal” with the homeless so we needn’t get too close or even begin a conversation.    

All over the world, when societies break down to such an extent that some of their citizens lack basic human needs, governments unite to respond to the human suffering for the poorest of the poor, be they refugees or victims of war, violence, natural or manmade disasters.  In recent years the “Sun Belt” along the Gulf Coast has seen the sharpest increase in poverty in the U.S.  Along with our housing crash, unemployment rates in our poorest neighborhoods have soared to as high as 30%.  Florida’s funding for the homeless (one of the highest homeless populations in the US and growing) has dropped to the second lowest in the country only next to Wyoming which has no programs for the homeless.

Surely in a community of residents as talented, experienced and successful as Sarasota’s, we have an opportunity and a duty to work together in creative problem solving and meaningful management of skills and resources.  We have completed our community’s ten year plan, “Step Up:  End Homelessness in Sarasota County Now!”  Let’s replace Sarasota’s uncaring image with one of compassion.  Let’s rally our resources and Step Up Sarasota so those who’ve lost hope can begin DREAMing of their HOME! 

Marguerite Jill Dye

Chesca’s Cuisine or Delectable Dining in Edgartown

Last spring, my husband and I had never heard of Chesca’s, but when our son, Chef Daniel Finger (formerly of Water Street at the Harborview Resort) was enticed to cook there, we set out for Martha’s Vineyard to see Danny and visit his new restaurant where Chefs David Joyce and Chef Jo Maxwell are the renowned husband/wife chef/owners.  Situated in the heart of Edgartown, Chesca’s diners can be spotted on its front porch perched above Water Street, sipping wine in rocking chairs watching lightening bugs and other lively islanders pass by.

When we entered the bright, beautiful dining room we were greeted with a warm welcome by Chef David, Chef Daniel and his team of talented cooks.  We chose to sit in the cozy bar where we relaxed over drinks with hot ciabbatta and crusty multi grain bread accompanied by a white garlic bean spread, fragrant dipping olive oil and sweet butter.  The tasting began in ernest with panko-encrusted butterflied shrimp over a small salad of delicate arugula and other baby greens grown on island, dressed in Chesca’s famous balsamic vinaigrette.  A tender sea scallop, seared to perfection and topped with a swirl of casino butter, was served on a delectable spinach pillow, surrounded by jewel tone drops of brilliant chive oil and orange oil.   The dish was so beautiful I wished I had carried my camera.  Next, a melt-in-your-mouth petite sirloin topped with porcini mushroom butter arrived, sitting on a raft of sautéed island asparagus and slivered portabella.  By then, onlookers at other tables were pointing and ordering what we were “oohing” and “aahing” over, with each savory bite.

A raspberry sorbet palate cleanser was gorgeous to behold and offered a dense, refreshing sweetness of my very favorite fruit.

When our entrées arrived, we were ecstatic, my husband with his papardelle pasta bathed in veal shoulder and pancetta bolognaise with a dollop of cream in the sauce, and my special of the day  –seared, flaky cod swimming in a pool of fish broth with white beans, spinach and tomato chunks, a sort of fish cassoulet extraordinaire.  Heavenly!  The grand finale was when Chef Daniel carried out a warm crème anglaise with a brulée top and raspberries.  We were fit to be tied and waddled down Water St., praising Chesca’s fare.

We returned a few nights later, in spite of a late lunch and looming rainstorm, to sample the mussels in a leek, roasted fennel (a much more delicate flavor, Chef David explained), shallot and wine sauce to die for.  We chose a dessert of creamy cappuccino ice cream on a rich, fudgy brownie, drenched in Chesca’s famous dark chocolate sauce with two chocolate antennas topping it off.  After dinner we rocked away with other contented diners, raving about our dishes between blasts of thunder as we watched a lightening show shoot streaks of blinding neon across the sky, a fitting end to another thrilling evening.

Our last night at Chesca’s we relished the golden brown, meaty crab cakes with a zingy sauce served with a whisper of sweet mandarin slices, red peppers, herbs and crunchy, sliced fennel.  Fabulous!  Island grown broccolini in olive oil and garlic was hot and crispy.  The angel hair pasta happily soaked up the white clam sauce – a medley of littlenecks, sautéed, and chopped clams, parsley and lemon.  Wow! 

We strolled down Water Street as happy as the clams we had devoured, eager to return to Martha’s Vineyard for our next culinary adventure at Chesca’s.

On Sunday morning we reluctantly bade farewell to our son, Chef Daniel, before driving to the West Tisbury Arts and Crafts Market where Chesca’s Chef Jo Maxwell served a variety of quiche, cakes and muffins.  We gobbled up the fabulous feta, spinach and tomato quiche and a strawberry muffin (Martha’s Vineyard strawberries, naturally) before heading for the ferry to return to Vermont. 

You can be sure that future visits to the enchanting island of Martha’s Vineyard will include dinner at Chesca’s where perfect preparation and presentation, a bright, beautiful dining room, cozy bar and friendly, professional staff create a unique, gourmet dining experience  that we found to be truly irresistible. 

Now Danny is baking at Café Provence in Brandon, Vermont, and will come to Sarasota in January and February to work with Chefs Mack De Carl and Chef Jeremy before returning to Chesca’s for its six month season.  Maybe we’ll meet there next summer when we return, rocking on the porch and conversing with other more-than-satisfied diners.  In the meantime, Bon appétit!

Marguerite Jill Dye, Artist/Writer

MargueriteJillDye.wordpress.com, madebygallery.com

jilldyestudio@aol.com

No Room at the Inn

Ben leaned forward over the table, a worn-out look of compassion all over his face.  “Last month, we received 27 calls from families in Sarasota living in their cars, with no place to park for the night, and many more calls from couples, afraid to admit their children are with them for fear of their being taken away.  In Sarasota, “Lodging” (sleeping in cars) is illegal, leads to arrest and compounding the vehicle.

“In the 40s we had shanty towns and tent cities, but now our few family shelters are full and the calls are escalating at alarming rates. Yesterday, 3 families with nowhere to stay walked into our call center.  It is very difficult for us at the 211 Hotline because we have nothing to offer, and can only listen to their desperation”, Ben Kunkel exclaimed.  Director of Operations and Communications at United Way 211 of Manasota, one of 17 community-based call centers in the State of Florida, Ben pleaded with the agencies in the Continuum of Care meeting to help solve this immediate need by locating a safe haven where these families can park overnight and a restroom is available. 

The recent 60 Minutes segment on a Florida family living in a bread truck showed the children’s secret life, alternating between gas station restrooms to not draw attention to themselves.  As in that family’s case, many of our homeless families have children in our school system, just trying to blend in, keep their humiliating secret and get through the day like any other child.  Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to their survival, let alone success in school, just as their parents’ sleep determines their ability to seek work and find their way through the labyrinth of social services in getting back on their feet. 

Ellen McLaughlin from Sarasota’s Schoolhouse Link noted that last year there were more homeless students identified in Sarasota County (1229) than since Hurricane Charley in 2004, a 32% increase from the previous school year. That number can be doubled with under-school-age children and those not attending school.   “Homelessness is a traumatic experience for children, and sadly, most families are now remaining homeless for longer periods of time because they can’t access financial aid or employment which could enable them to move into their own place.  The safest place for these children is in school, and that is what Schoolhouse Link provides:  the opportunity for homeless students to enroll, attend and succeed in school”.  (TheSarasotaY.org)

The face of homelessness in Sarasota, too, has changed – Florida is second only to California in the number of homeless.  Many families double and triple up with other families in crowded spaces, live in cheap hotels night by night with their last dollars or agencies’ slashed emergency funds, or as a last resort, live out of their cars (if fortunate enough to still own one) or tents, hidden so they won’t be arrested for sleeping outside which is also illegal in Sarasota. 

Richard Martin, former Mayor of Sarasota and Director of the Suncoast Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness which leads the Continuum of Care, pointed out, “Sarasota-Manatee may look the same but is experiencing extraordinary poverty and homelessness which is still mostly invisible”. Our service providers are so overwhelmed by the numbers in need and lack of resources to effectively address the problems that often, they are able to only help those who have a chance of success.  Many others are left on the street.  Here, in one of the wealthiest and most beautiful communities in the nation, we are in a mode of survival of the fittest. 

Step Up:  End Homelessness in Sarasota County Now, a ten year plan to end homelessness in our community, will be released December 21. The draft plan will then be available for review online where community residents can add comments and suggestions, make contributions and volunteer to get involved. 

But even before its release, let’s solve this one problem  by offering homeless citizens living in their cars a safe place to park overnight.  (A job would be nice, too.)   Please contact me at Compassionate Sarasota through the Herald Tribune to offer a church, business, public or private safe parking space(s) and nearby bathroom, or to share blessings of the holidays by taking one of these families under your (angel) wings,. 

Marguerite Jill Dye’s column, “Compassionate Sarasota”, explores the reality of homelessness in our community, one story at a time. Jill serves on the Health and Human Services Committee of the Step Up plan, has an MA in Inter-cultural Management and is an artist/writer living in Sarasota and Vermont. (MargueriteJillDye.wordpress.com and madebygallery.com)