Mares: Island Weekend

Sep 26, 2018

It all started when we won a stay at a 150 year old house on Isle la Motte that coincided with the island’s annual Teddy Roosevelt Day - sponsored by three local preservation and historical organizations.

A quick tour around the island on our bikes revealed both dirt and paved roads; a mix of small farms, smaller businesses, and vacation homes; spectacular scenery; and St. Anne Shrine, located on the site of a French fort originally built in 1677 to protect Montreal from the Iroquois. A granite statue of Samuel de Champlain, brought here from Montreal Expo in 1967, stands across the road from the Shrine.

Teddy Roosevelt Day commemorates Sept. 6, 1901, when Roosevelt came to the island to address the Vermont Fish and Game League at the nearby home of Vermont Lt. Gov. Nelson Fisk, bringing his conservation message to Vermont, even before he became President. Among his remarks was the somewhat subversive view among some today - that "The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value."

It was at this gathering that he learned President William McKinley had been shot in Buffalo, NY and he left immediately for that city.

Events for our visit included a trip to the Historical Society, a demonstration by a black- smith, and a parade including a mint-condition 1921 Ford open car that featured David Tiedgen - perennial local stand-in for the Vice President - in a Rough Rider uniform.

On a walk across the exposed quarry faces, ancient gastropod fossils lie scattered at your feet.
Credit Bill Mares

We explored the Chazy Fossil Reef, the National Natural Landmark that’s been proclaimed the oldest known biologically diverse fossil reef on earth. And we toured the Fisk and Goodsell Ridge quarries, a source of stone for such places as Radio City Music Hall in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

But for my money, the high point of the weekend belonged to the Isle la Motte Elementary School students who performed an original rap song for the festivities, with a chorus that went partly like this:

What is a fossil?
A trace from the past.
They're embedded in the rock
And they last and last.