Becca Balint: Fox outside the Statehouse offers a glimpse of clarity

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The Senate Finance Committee room sits at the east end of the first floor of the Vermont Statehouse. Along with the Appropriations Committee room - the other "money" committee - it's much larger than the rest of the committee rooms; it needs to accommodate all the witnesses, lobbyists, advocates, and citizens who come to listen and to testify. It looks more like a boardroom than a committee room with its opulent chandelier and imposing table.

Conversations in the Finance Committee sometimes get pretty heated. Issues involving taxes and fees are minefields, as is the perennially thorny subject of extending internet connectivity to our rural communities. Legislators and witnesses alike raise their voices and ask sharp questions. Occasionally senators furiously scribble notes to each other and shove them across the table in an effort to vent frustration.

My colleague from Chittenden County, Senator Chris Pearson, was the first to notice the red fox crouched in the underbrush in the woods that lead up to Hubbard Park. He nudged me and whispered, "There's a fox. Right outside our window. Do you see it?" I scanned the hillside but couldn't spy it; it had stopped moving. Just as I was about to turn my attention back to the witness, it emerged from behind the thicket.

Its rusty-colored coat was striking against the brilliant snow. As it made its way across the snowy hillside, the entire room stopped to watch it traverse. We craned our necks and adjusted our seats to peer out the enormous windows on the north side of the room. For almost a full minute we tracked its progress until it left our frame of vision.

For a few fleeting moments the state's Telecom Plan was forgotten. And we weren't wrestling with tax or insurance issues or land gains or any of the dozen really important topics we dive into each day. We were all beguiled by this stunning little fox making its way through the deep snow in his smart black fur boots.

That fox, simply by romping in our field of vision, reminded everyone in that room of one significant reason why we all love our state so very much. The land and its creatures are an integral part of who we are as Vermonters. Whether we live in Burlington, Brattleboro or Bennington - or much smaller villages - we deeply appreciate our strong connection to the outside world. Regardless of county, we all represent farmers and foresters, and we understand that the woods and fields are a part of us and our health and well-being.

I often start my mornings in Montpelier with a pre-dawn run in the woods near my house. Some days I run with a much younger representative from the Northeast Kingdom. Our age difference and the contrasting political tendencies of our constituencies make for very interesting conversations as we tromp through snow and ice. But our love of the natural world grounds us both and offers glimpses of clarity.

There are often moments offered to us during our days - fleeting but rich opportunities to relish the natural world: a fox outside our window, a mouse stuck in a wastepaper basket. When we make the choice to stop and notice, to be in that small, splendid moment, we are guided back to a deeper sense of the world and our place in it. I'm grateful to be a public servant in state that understands the importance of this.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as Senate Majority Leader in the Vermont Legislature. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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