Politics & Policy

Warner Rock

What is Vermont thinking?

EDITOR’S NOTE: News Item: “Vermont towns take up Iraq resolutions.”

Warner, N.H., is not usually a newsworthy place. The poet Maxine Kumin mentioned it in a poem, “John Green Takes His Warner, New Hampshire, Neighbor to a Red Sox Game.” While attending a Patriots game at Foxboro Stadium in 1988, Warnerite Ed Bender had an idea for a portable solar-powered battery recharger. After ten years of financial struggle, Bender opened his Sundance Solar retail shop and manufacturing facility in Warner.

The village has one monument, a statue of General Walter Harriman (1817-1884) atop a granite pedestal. Harriman was a Warner schoolteacher, minister, and shopkeeper who rose to become a Civil War general and New Hampshire governor. He certainly didn’t lose track of his roots, as attested by his 606-page History of Warner, New Hampshire, published in 1879.

In truth I can’t see much controversial about Warner. I’ve had lunch at Foothills Restaurant, browsed the Bookends bookstore, strolled across the Dalton and Waterloo covered bridges, and admired Mt. Kearsarge poking its chin above the other White Mountains. There’s nothing here to provoke the wrath of Vermonters. True, the ground is stony, and the whitish granite gives a bit of bleached look to the gravel roads and stone walls. This contrasts with the darker metamorphic rock of Vermont’s Green Mountains, but hardly seems a cause for criticism.

Yet I heard it plainly on NPR. Towns all across the neighboring state of Vermont are holding votes on whether to oppose the Warner Rock. As a part-time Vermonter as well as a part-time political commentator, I thought I should get to the bottom of this. So, I recently asked a number of (suitably diverse) Vermonters some questions, wanting to know what they thought of the Warner Rock. Did they oppose it? If so, why?

What I learned was a surprise. Many Vermonters do oppose the Warner Rock, which inexplicably they blame on President Bush. This was such a puzzling response that I probed further. “What does President Bush have to do with the Warner Rock?” The cryptic answer that one grizzled old Vermonter gave me was typical. “He said der were weapons of mass ’struction in dat ‘er rock.”

I wasn’t aware that the president had issued such a warning, but it would make sense. Destructive landslides have swept away houses and people in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire as far back as 1826, when the entire Willey family was swept away in Crawford Notch. They apparently stepped aside to see what was causing a rumble and walked straight into the path of the avalanche. The next day, neighbors found their house untouched with dinner still on the table. And as recently as May 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain came crashing down.

Reflecting on this, I asked, “But wasn’t President Bush right? Looking at history, wouldn’t you say the Warner Rock has sad–”

“Has sad–” he interrupted. “Sad and insane has nothing to do with it. Bush lied.”

I could not make head or tail of the old-timer’s answers, so I tried two middle-aged women who looked like they might be “civil-unioned.” “What do you think of the Warner Rock?” One of them replied a bit obscurely, “We support our troops.”

I knew the Vermonters were worked up about New Hampshire’s minerals, but I hadn’t really realized that things had gone that far. I asked, “Then you think that Vermonters should be willing to fight and possibly die in that country?” “We think the Warner Rock is unjust, but we support our troops.”

This was plain baffling. I tried again: “I’ve seen the general standing on the Warner Rock, and I can’t see why Vermonters should make such a fuss. The Warner Rock celebrates a hero of the Civil War.”

She looked at me coldly. “The rock: key insurgency, yes. We want piece for women and children.” This was even more baffling. Vermonters want to dismantle General Harriman’s pedestal to give fragments of it to women and children?

I decided to switch tactics. Warner is about 20 miles west of Concord, and an hour east of a border town, Lebanon, where many Vermonters shop to avoid their own state’s sales tax. I tried to appeal to her humanity. “Well wouldn’t you agree that the Warner Rock is close to Concord? And haven’t the people in Lebanon benefited from the Warner Rock?” But she was unmoved. “Bush can’t bring concord to the rock. That depends on the rock keys. And Lebanon is just a coincidence. Bush can’t take credit for everything.”

I thought I’d try one more Vermonter. “Governor Dean, I know you are busy advancing the democratic wing of the Democratic party these days, but how do you view the Warner Rock?” The governor stiffened slightly but then gave a practiced answer, “The Warner Rock was a mistake. We should extract ourselves as soon as possible.”

“But Governor, once you are in the Warner Rock isn’t it hard to get out?”

“We should simply announce we are leaving. We should turn the country over to the rock keys.”

“I have heard this expression several times, Governor. What exactly is a rock key?”

“That’s for the rock keys to decide.”

Vermont, as you can see, is in the grips of a strange mania. I think President Bush might have to consider calling up the National Guard to protect Warner, N.H., from these anti-rock zealots. I don’t know if Ed Bender is still in business, but Warnerites would be well advised to recharge their batteries against the prospect of an invasion by the Dean mountain boys–and girls.

Peter Wood, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, is the author of Diversity: The Invention of A Concept.

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