Arlo Mudgett: The View from Faraway Farm: Stewardship and Ricky Bliss

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To understand the life that Ricky Bliss lived you need to understand the man's grandparents. They were farm people. His grandmother was one of 17 children and grew up on a farm in Windham, Vermont. His grandfather grew up on a farm in Lyme, New Hampshire. They bought some land on High Street in Chester and made it into a small farm. They had a few milking cows, some pigs, chickens, and some orphaned raccoons. It really started out more as a hobby farm. It grew to supply a select few folks with raw milk in town.

Bill Bliss filled his hay mow by haying a collection of local fields. It was quite an operation, using rectangular bales as well as loose hay piled high on the family pickup truck. It took load after load to fill the barn, but every summer it got done. Ricky's dad, Bobby Bliss, grew up with that tradition of haying in summer. Between Bill and Bobby, Ricky Bliss learned to hay in the family tradition.

After Bill Bliss passed, Bobby Bliss kept the farm operating, and Ricky was right there with him. There was an evolution as the generations came and went. The Bliss Farm became more of a commercial type entity under Bobby Bliss. I don't think anyone realized it at the time, but it was all setting the stage for the transformation of Ricky Bliss.

As Bobby Bliss spent more time in Florida, Rick Bliss took a more hands-on approach with the farm. He completely transformed the way their haying was done, purchasing equipment beyond his grandfather's dreams, streamlining operations, increasing the fields and the yields, and opening markets for their hay. Beyond that, Rick began selling farm equipment. It was an amazing transformation. You'd be hard pressed to find a more deserving, hard-working, generous, and kind man to have achieved success.

Then Rick Bliss contracted a lung disease. We knew it wasn't good, but he didn't let on just how grave it was. He continued business as usual, time passed, and suddenly he was gone. A lot of folks were shocked and deeply saddened by his seemingly sudden passing. Many folks figured this was the end of the Bliss Farm, a place that had become a bit of a local institution. But thankfully, Rick's partner and significant other Amy Miles Smith let folks know that the Bliss Farm would continue haying operations. She also shared her words at a special memorial gathering held in Chester at the American Legion.

She said: "She's a good-hearted woman in love with a good-timin' man. Rick Bliss didn't just embrace life he kicked the door down and said: 'Honey I'm home!' She loves him in spite of his ways she don't understand. Everything in moderation was not one of his credos. He lived in the extremes. For every story of Rick's kindness and generosity, there is a tale that ends in 'what was he thinking?' and sometimes the two stories would meet. Through teardrops and laughter, they'll walk through this world hand in hand. Most of our adventures took place on the farm, but on occasion, we would step off. There was a time we stood on the stage of the Ryman auditorium just like Johnny and June. I will forever be the woman that took the Big Show to the Big Easy and didn't need bail money. She's a good-hearted woman in love with a good-timin' man. One of Rick's biggest fears was being seen without a hat. He didn't want you to know he had no hair on top of his head. Despite the chaos, the heartbreak, and sadness on that morning 5 weeks ago when Rick left the farm for the last time I made sure he had a hat on. She loves him in spite of his wicked ways she don't understand."

I'm sure that Amy and Rick had time to look forward and plan for the future of the farm without him. It must have been a heartbreaking series of discussions, but knowing Rick, he tackled it head-on. Now the stewardship of the Bliss Farm has passed on to Amy and the crew that had worked with her and Rick over the years. I believe it had become the largest hay provider in southern Vermont before Rick's passing. Those of us who knew Rick Bliss know that any such distinction didn't make any difference to him. He was humble like that. The thing that would have made a difference to him was the fact that the Bliss Farm will live on. You left quite a legacy, Rick.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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