Peter Miller reluctantly decided to publish his new book Vanishing Vermonters: Loss of a Rural Culture, after receiving moving responses to his previous book, A Lifetime of Vermont People. The latter was a collection of photographs of rural Vermont and profiles of its resident, made over the course of Miller’s 63 years in the state. But after the book was published, as he writes in the foreword to Vanishing Vermonters, “I was amazed at the number of emails I began receiving.” Some were from people leaving their beloved state because of the high cost of living, or mourning the loss of pristine nature. One man described being moved to tears by the book while reading it at rest stop on the highway. Writes Miller, “Those emails bounced about in my head and finally busted through the back door of my brain,” convincing him to make one more book. He self-published the book this month after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The result is a collection portraits of 26 Vermonters, who in Miller’s images and written profiles and interviews describe their love for a fiercely independent and sometimes difficult way of life, which seems to be under threat on several fronts. Among the subjects are a self-employed meteorologist and apiarist; the publisher of a local newspaper; a stock car racer and used car salesman; a dairy farmer and former Governor Howard Dean. They tell diverse stories about struggling to get by. A bookstore and coffee shop owner lives off the grid and sells the eggs her chickens lay from her store. In her portrait she holds an egg and describes noticing an increase in no-trespassing signs and the decline of the Vermont accent. A mechanic describes his frustration at the state-mandated machines used for motor vehicle inspections, which add cost and often malfunction. “Why can’t we be left alone and not regulated to death? Vermont is not Vermont anymore,” he laments. The owners of Elmore Country Store describe their struggle to stay in business as chain stores have moved in nearby. They added a pizza restaurant that sells frozen pies during off hours and a dining room overlooking the lake out back, and now they sell avocados. “[We] now have local produce and fresh meat, which is what our customers want,” says one half of the couple, who are pictured standing behind the counter of their store. The stories in Vanishing Vermonters give voice to anger at the government for rising taxes and increased regulation, which residents feel helpless to keep up with. But they also describe resourcefulness, community and a deep love for the land. The images tell a parallel story, depicting abandoned houses and barns collapsed in winter snow, but also cows crossing a two-lane road, and storm clouds gathering over a lush mountain and residents voting at a town meeting.
Writes Miller, “This is not my book—it belongs to rural Vermonters, often self-employed Vermonters who live simply while enjoying their life amidst the beauty of the Green Mountains. My people, I call them, seem to have been priced out of our state as taxes and the cost of energy escalated and real-estate prices soared.”