The Power of Place

By Amanda Kuhnert

PHOTO: by Amanda Kuhnert

One of my favorite roads near Woodstock during fall foliage.

One of my favorite roads near Woodstock during fall foliage.

We are drawn to certain places. Not just as enticing vacation spots, but a deep, emotional pull that begins before we arrive and continues long after we’ve left. There also are places we have an aversion to. Two hours there and we’re feeling uneasy and maybe even a little down.

For me, “the power of place” is more than just an interesting concept. It’s a serious condition with serious symptoms.

Here’s an example: Admiring the vast expanse of the Rocky Mountains, I find myself fighting off a sense of loneliness, bordering on despair. Although I can appreciate the grandeur of the landscape, I feel disconnected from it. Meanwhile, the person right next to me is having a spiritual experience.

Or this: Visiting friends in the sprawling suburbs (who happen to love where they live), I feel like I could take a nap; I’m unusually tired and listless. And forget the desert. I’m completely depressed in the desert.

But give me a dramatic, rocky coastline, some green rolling hills, and the sweet smell of a dairy farm, and I’m filled with an indescribable sense of wellbeing. My energy and creativity soar. I am in my element.

SUBHED: Why this deep connection to certain places?

Although I was born and raised in the South, I felt at home the moment I put my big toe in New England nearly 25 years ago. When I left, I experienced a deep sense of emptiness and a longing to return.

After college, I lived in the mountains of New Hampshire for a year before moving away again. The homesickness returned, along with something I can only describe as sensory deprivation. I yearned for the fragrance of pine and wood smoke, the squeak-squeak of the snow on a sub-zero morning, the brisk waters of lakes and streams. From a wider lens, I missed the culture: the intimacy of New England villages, the seasonal celebrations, the sense of history and tradition.

It took another 10 years before I would make a permanent move to Vermont. In the meantime, I lived in and visited many beautiful places, but they weren’t home.

I’m not alone in this experience. I’ve met many people from “away” who have come “home” to Vermont.

Every year publications release their “best places to live” lists, based entirely on statistics and polls. I find these reports amusing. Just because a place looks good on paper and other people love living there doesn’t mean that you will too. Unfortunately, a lot of people discover this the hard way.

Several years ago our family embarked on a three-week road trip out west. We saw remarkable things during our travels, and spent time in areas some people consider optimal places to live. They’re drawn to these places in much the same way I’m drawn to the Northeast, specifically Vermont. Although I took 600 photos of spectacular scenery over the course of our travels, I did not come across one spot where I thought I might want to live.

There are many magnificent places in this world. I hope to visit more of them. But it takes more than a beautiful landscape, good schools, nice weather, and a wealth of cultural opportunities to make a place feel like home.

The field of ecopsychology, which studies the relationship between humans and the natural world, offers interesting possibilities as we seek to understand our seemingly innate “draw” to certain environments. As I continue to dig into this fascinating topic, I look forward to sharing my thoughts and findings with you here.

Whatever the reason, the power of place is very real. It moves, defines, and shapes us. It also affects our attitudes about sustainability. Research shows that when we feel connected to a location, particularly natural environments, we’re more likely to engage in actions of sustainability. To care for the place we love.

Is the Woodstock area “home” for you?


Amanda Kuhnert serves on the board of Sustainable Woodstock. She writes regularly on her blog


DO JUST ONE THING: Take a walk along your favorite road or trail. What draws you to that particular place?


Sustainable Woodstock announces new executive director

By Amanda Kuhnert

Caduto sitting (Greg Nesbit Photography 2011) cropped

This has been an exciting month at Sustainable Woodstock. We enter a new chapter in our organization’s history, as we bid farewell to Sally Miller, our executive director for the past nine years, and welcome Michael Caduto, our incoming executive director.

Sally has been the director of Sustainable Woodstock since its founding in 2009. We would not be where we are today without her steady leadership, hard work, and passion for the mission of Sustainable Woodstock. In honor of her many years of leadership, the board of Sustainable Woodstock will contribute to the East End Park development fund. Trees will be planted in Sally’s honor, a lasting reminder of her commitment to the East End project and to all of the organization’s work over the years.

Sally announced in April that she would be moving on to another opportunity. A hiring committee was formed, and a candidate was put forward at a special board meeting in late June. The board voted to take the committee’s recommendation and hire Michael Caduto as our new executive director.

Michael comes to Sustainable Woodstock with nearly 30 years of experience as an environmental advocate and educator, as well as a strong background in nonprofit leadership. He has devoted his life to bringing people closer to the natural world and helping others better understand the role that we all play in its stewardship.

An author, environmental educator, community organizer, storyteller, and ecologist — Michael is perhaps best known as the creator and co-author of the “Keepers of the Earth” series, as well as a number of other environmental books. His feature stories and op-eds have been published in major newspapers and magazines, including Reuters International.

He is the founder and director of PEACE (Programs for Environmental Awareness & Cultural Exchange), which offers a wide range of programs related to sustainability, natural history, ecology, and world cultural traditions. Most recently, he held the position of director of the Friends of the Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont. He and his wife, Marie, live on a small farm in Reading.

“I am thrilled and honored to be Sustainable Woodstock’s new executive director,” he said, “and I really look forward to meeting people throughout town and hearing everyone’s ideas and visions for living sustainably.”

You can meet Michael in person at Bookstock on Sunday, July 29. At 1 p.m., he will present a family program based on his recently published children’s book, “The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East.” The talk will take place at the Forest Center in Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

SUBHED: Our past and future

At the board’ regular board meeting in early July, we sat around the table with our outgoing and incoming executive directors and talked about the past and future of our organization. There was a collective feeling of deep appreciation for Sally’s leadership throughout our first decade and excitement for the opportunities that lie ahead.

“Over the last nine years, Sustainable Woodstock has evolved into an important community organization,” Sally said. “It has been very rewarding to see how discussions about sustainability have become part of our local culture and how residents have supported our efforts. I like to think that we have made a difference. I look forward to seeing how Michael brings his own skills and ideas to Sustainable Woodstock.”

Michael and Sally will work together in the coming weeks to make the transition as seamless as possible.

“In the past nine years, Sally’s steady and hardworking leadership has resulted in a resilient and thriving organization,” said Pieter Bohen, chairperson of Sustainable Woodstock. “We have been blessed with her leadership, and we are blessed yet again with Michael arriving as our new executive director.”

SUBHED: Next up in our film series

Join us for a free screening of the documentary “Burned” on Tuesday, July 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre. “Burned” tells the story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for energy generation, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry. Following the screening, there will be a discussion with Co-Producer/Co-Directors Lisa Merton and Alan Dater and Associate Producer Chris Hardee.

The event is free and open to the public. Admission is by donation to support Pentangle Arts.

DO ONE THING: Take a walk in the woods and appreciate the role our forests play in climate-change mitigation.


Butterflies on the Move

Caught in the Winds of Climate Change

by Michael J. Caduto


Summer arrives on sheer, silent wings that move with a flutter of color and lightness of being. Greeks once believed that a human soul came into the world whenever a butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. In parts of Asia, butterflies symbolize happiness and joy. Once, while traveling as a storyteller in the Highlands of Scotland, I learned the Celtic belief that the Wee Folk, the “Tuatha de Danaan,” can change into a butterfly to avoid being discovered by people. If anyone harms a butterfly, that person hurts one of the Wee Folk, an act that brings bad luck.


Back in the 1970s, the Butterfly Effect spun off from the concept of Chaos Theory, which attempted to reconcile the apparent randomness of the universe. The Butterfly Effect holds that the faintest movement of air caused when a butterfly flaps its wings in, say, Massachusetts, begins a series of interconnected events that can ultimately cause a hurricane in some distant place like Cuernavaca.


We now seem to be experiencing a reverse butterfly effect: If climate change heats up the Gulf Stream and contributes to warmer weather, and if it generates a greater number of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, will butterflies stop flapping their wings in parts of New England? The answer is yes, and no.


In 2012 Elizabeth Crone, Ph.D. and Associate Professor at Tufts University—along with Dr. Greg Breed and Dr. Sharon Stichter—co-authored “Climate-driven Changes in Northeastern US Butterfly Communities,” which was published in Nature Climate Change.


“Climate is getting warmer,” says Crone. “Mobile species move to new areas that suit their climate needs, if there is no other limiting factor. Species from the south are becoming more abundant, and species from the north are less abundant, on average. Many are increasing their range northward, but some species may not be able to move north due to habitat needs and geographic boundaries.”


Between 1992 and 2010, shifts in population numbers and geographic ranges have been observed in 100 of the 116 species of butterflies studied. Those species for which climate has demarked the southern extreme of their range are shifting northward, especially in the warmest regions. Those living at higher elevations are more stable, but species found in the lowlands are decreasing rapidly. Research shows that these responses are specifically related to climate.


Frequent hurricanes and severe tropical storms associated with climate change are impacting Monarch butterflies, the only species that migrates long-distance to New England. Monarchs from eastern North America overwinter in the mountains of southern Mexico. Each spring they journey north, laying eggs on milkweed along the way. These eggs produce the next generation, which continues the migration north. Several generations are born before monarchs reach New England.


In recent years, Monarch populations have been about 1/18th of what they were less than 20 years ago. Says Crone, “Sometime around World War II when pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals became so prevalent, we may have started a shift in butterfly numbers overall.”


Whether or not you ascribe to the Zuni belief that butterflies can predict the weather, they are harbingers of how our environment will evolve in an era of climate change. In Buddhism, butterfly metamorphosis symbolizes the human capacity for transformation—to transcend self-centeredness and be guided by a sense of oneness with all beings. The myriad decisions we make each day determine the fate of these ephemeral denizens of the air.


SIDEBAR: What You Can Do


  • Visit the Vermont Center for Ecostudies online “Vermont Butterfly Survey” to report a sighting:
  • Make energy-use and lifestyle choices that reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change.
  • Create a butterfly garden of native plants for food and places to lay eggs, such as milkweed for monarchs.
  • Don’t use pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that harm butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects.
  • Maintain open spaces for butterflies to feed, rest and breed. Join Monarch Watch and plant a Monarch Waystation habitat:
  • Get involved in land conservation to preserve critical areas and prevent butterfly habitat loss. Support conservation groups working toward these ends.
  • Inform others about what is happening with butterfly populations and encourage them to track butterflies and work for positive change.


DO JUST ONE THING: Pick one way you’re going to help Monarch butterflies.