The land that constitutes High Acres Farm came into my family in 1886, when it was acquired by my great-great-grandmother, Lila Vanderbilt Webb, and her husband, William Seward Webb, using Lila’s inherited money from railroads.
Acting through a group of secret agents, they purchased thirty-two contiguous local homesteads in the small town of Shelburne, Vermont — encompassing nearly 4,000 acres of land along the shores of Lake Champlain.
Their acquisitions displaced a close-knit local community of farming families who’d worked the land for more than a century, as those same farming families had displaced the local Abenaki a century before.
Such is the story of land use in America — each generation doing what seems to make sense at the time, often leaving complicated legacies for future generations to untangle, as the world evolves around them.
In the early 1970s, the descendants of Lila Vanderbilt Webb founded an environmental education nonprofit to protect their beautiful land from the pressures of future development. They called their organization Shelburne Farms.
In 1994, Shelburne Farms had the opportunity to reacquire the majestic but dilapidated 1890s “Breeding Barn,” which had previously passed out of the family estate and into the collection of the Shelburne Museum.
As part of that transaction, Shelburne Farms negotiated strict land use agreements with all the adjoining landowners — limiting any future use of the neighboring properties to “single-family residential” and “agricultural” use only. Any other uses, including any “educational” or “cultural” uses, would require the written consent of the Shelburne Farms board. Any changes to the agreement would require the consent of all of its signatories, which as of now number ten — effectively enshrining a private gated community, and otherwise creating a stasis.
Over the past six years, this land use agreement has been a block on our dreams to make High Acres Farm into a gathering place for creativity, culture, and learning.
We’ve tried what feels like every imaginable angle around its many restrictions, but so far have only encountered rejection — stemming from a fear of further change felt by Shelburne Farms and by our neighbors.
Usually legal agreements are engaged with by other legal agreements — yet not knowing any conventional pathway around this particular blockage, this ritual was a way of handing over the situation to a higher power, and trusting that somehow, a solution would be revealed.
In this ritual, I enter the High Acres Farm boathouse, perched atop a small promontory overlooking Lake Champlain.
I sit at a small wooden table, where I read and review my mother’s original copy of the 1994 Easement and Land Use Agreement.
After inspecting its pertinent sections, I tear the sheets of paper into shreds.
Using the glass cup from Phase Change, I scoop lake water into a steel bucket, and leave the shreds of paper to soak for the rest of the day.
That evening, I use a blue sieve and a granite mortar and pestle to mash the saturated shredded pieces into paper pulp.
I use a wooden stirring stick and a steel pail to mix up a slurry, and then I use a mould and deckle to pull new sheets of paper from the mix.
I use blue felt and a blue sponge to compress the new sheets of paper and remove their excess moisture. I pull the felt away to reveal the new sheets.
Using a pair of blue scissors, I cut these new sheets of paper into dashes and lines, and place them on the smooth service of an arched wooden mirror.
I hang the arched mirror from the ceiling of the boathouse using three blue cords from the sugarbush of dreams in Paper Weight.
The symbol formed by the mirrored paper pulp is that of I Ching Hexagram 59, Dispersion (䷺), which immediately follows Hexagram 58, The Joyous, Lake (䷹).
Richard Wilhem’s classic commentary for Hexagram 59 advises:
Dispersion shows the way, so to speak, that leads to gathering together.
Religious forces are needed to overcome the egotism that divides men. The common celebration of the great sacrificial feasts and sacred rites, which gave expression simultaneously to the interrelation and social articulation of the family and state, was the means employed by the great ruler to unite men. The sacred music and the splendor of the ceremonies aroused a strong tide of emotion that was shared by all hearts in unison, and that awakened a consciousness of the common origin of all creatures. In this way disunity was overcome and rigidity dissolved.
A further means to the same end is co-operation in great general undertakings that set a high goal for the will of the people; in the common concentration on this goal, all barriers dissolve, just as, when a boat is crossing a great stream, all hands must unite in a joint task.
This strange symbol is left to hang and dry for three consecutive days and nights, witnessing three important astronomical events on May 26, 2021 — the full moon; the total lunar eclipse; and for the Toltecs, the long-prophesied transition from the “Fifth Sun” to the “Sixth Sun,” said to mark the beginning of a new cycle of consciousness for humanity on Earth.
In the final moments of the film, myriad points of sunlight are seen reflected in the surface of the water — gathering, mingling, dispersing.
A rendering of I Ching Hexagram 59, Dispersion — made of lines and stones from linestones, encased within an arching doorway or portal.
Original music by