Cloudy
30°
Cloudy
Hi 37° | Lo 31°
Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Selecting a woman who doesn’t fit the mold

  • Sophie Viandier, 21, is sworn in before the Andover select board meeting on Monday afternoon, March 18, 2014 while standing with J. Duncan Coolidge (center) and Jim Danforth (right) at the town offices. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sophie Viandier, 21, is sworn in before the Andover select board meeting on Monday afternoon, March 18, 2014 while standing with J. Duncan Coolidge (center) and Jim Danforth (right) at the town offices. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Sophie Viandier, 21, measures before making a cut while working on the bathroom at her newly purchased home in Andover on Friday afternoon, March 21, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sophie Viandier, 21, measures before making a cut while working on the bathroom at her newly purchased home in Andover on Friday afternoon, March 21, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Andover selectwoman Sophie Viandier, 21, (left) reads over town matters while in the select board meeting with selectmen J. Duncan Coolidge (center) and Jim Danforth (right) at the town offices on Monday night, March 18, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Andover selectwoman Sophie Viandier, 21, (left) reads over town matters while in the select board meeting with selectmen J. Duncan Coolidge (center) and Jim Danforth (right) at the town offices on Monday night, March 18, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Sketches for how the land will be used to grow food at the home that Sophie Viandier, 21, is remodeling sit on a  work table in the unfinished living room on Friday afternoon, March 21, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sketches for how the land will be used to grow food at the home that Sophie Viandier, 21, is remodeling sit on a work table in the unfinished living room on Friday afternoon, March 21, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Stanley Medley (left), 13, and his friend Finn Baldwin, 13, ride their mountain bikes on Rollins Pond in Gilmanton on Sunday, March 23, 2014.  The pair, who have been best friends since they were 4, go mountain biking all the time together when it's warmer.  They said that when they bike on the ice feels like they're gliding.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Stanley Medley (left), 13, and his friend Finn Baldwin, 13, ride their mountain bikes on Rollins Pond in Gilmanton on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The pair, who have been best friends since they were 4, go mountain biking all the time together when it's warmer. They said that when they bike on the ice feels like they're gliding.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Stanley Medley (bandana), 13, and his friend Finn Baldwin bike on Rollins Pond in Gilmanton on Sunday, March 23, 2014.  The pair, who have been best friends since they were 4, go mountain biking all the time together when it's warmer.  They said that when they bike on the ice feels like they're gliding.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Stanley Medley (bandana), 13, and his friend Finn Baldwin bike on Rollins Pond in Gilmanton on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The pair, who have been best friends since they were 4, go mountain biking all the time together when it's warmer. They said that when they bike on the ice feels like they're gliding.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Sophie Viandier, 21, is sworn in before the Andover select board meeting on Monday afternoon, March 18, 2014 while standing with J. Duncan Coolidge (center) and Jim Danforth (right) at the town offices. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Sophie Viandier, 21, measures before making a cut while working on the bathroom at her newly purchased home in Andover on Friday afternoon, March 21, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Andover selectwoman Sophie Viandier, 21, (left) reads over town matters while in the select board meeting with selectmen J. Duncan Coolidge (center) and Jim Danforth (right) at the town offices on Monday night, March 18, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Sketches for how the land will be used to grow food at the home that Sophie Viandier, 21, is remodeling sit on a  work table in the unfinished living room on Friday afternoon, March 21, 2014. Viandier was voted to the Andover select board through write-in votes this year. The Andover native is planning on starting her own farm, Pay It Forward farm, using permaculture principles. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Stanley Medley (left), 13, and his friend Finn Baldwin, 13, ride their mountain bikes on Rollins Pond in Gilmanton on Sunday, March 23, 2014.  The pair, who have been best friends since they were 4, go mountain biking all the time together when it's warmer.  They said that when they bike on the ice feels like they're gliding.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Stanley Medley (bandana), 13, and his friend Finn Baldwin bike on Rollins Pond in Gilmanton on Sunday, March 23, 2014.  The pair, who have been best friends since they were 4, go mountain biking all the time together when it's warmer.  They said that when they bike on the ice feels like they're gliding.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

A new light is shining in Andover: a 21-year-old selectwoman who has nothing in common with the town’s old guard.

Her name is Sophie Viandier, and she once hitchhiked across New Zealand, fell in love there and lived on the beach for four months.

She’s a tree-hugger on steroids; a woman who’s building a home, mainly by herself, that will resemble the Garden of Eden once the snow melts, with its solar panels and food supply out back that returns each year.

That’s a portion of Viandier’s newly minted political platform as she begins her career in town government. As a write-in candidate, no less.

She wants you to stop wasting resources and start looking at the bigger picture.

“Maybe I can add some youth creativity,” Viandier said this week. “I won’t get bogged down if I can notice which systems are antiquated. Maybe I can add some fresh eyes.”

Her fellow selectmen, 46-year-old Jim Danforth and 69-year-old J. Duncan Coolidge, hope so. In fact, they’re happy to have Viandier onboard, even though sometimes they don’t fully understand what she’s talking about.

“We were very excited that she was running,” Danforth said. “We hope she has a different perspective.”

Different perspective? Are you kidding?

Viandier’s passions in life are hard to grasp. You know she’s referring to good things for our environment and planet, but it’s always helpful to have Google nearby.

Sustainable agriculture? Sustainable design for homes? Regenerative agricultural techniques? Permaculture? Redistribution of surplus?

“Yes, some of my friends think I’m pretty crazy,” Viandier says.

Travel and tragedy

Her life is better than reality TV, full of adventure and passion and mystery and heartache.

Her father taught French, geology and astronomy at Proctor Academy, where Viandier graduated. Her mother, a well-known real estate agent in town, also taught French at Proctor.

And Viandier’s brother recently sailed around the world.

Meanwhile, Viandier has visited 36 countries, including New Zealand. Here’s where her smile and deep dimples disappear, along with some enthusiasm.

She’s hesitant at first to explain why she left Smith College in Northampton, Mass., saying simply that the fit wasn’t right. But once trust evolves, she comes clean and says she fell in love with a man named Adam while hitchhiking through New Zealand, living with him on a beach for four months.

He died in a fire shortly after she returned to the states. Viandier went back for the funeral to spread Adam’s ashes in the ocean, then scrambled to make up the work she’d missed at college.

But her life felt empty.

“I think I left Smith because I wanted to pay homage to Adam’s life as a giving and loving person,” Viandier said. “I felt I couldn’t change the world at Smith. When I finally decided that it happened for a reason, I opened a door of purpose and meaning for myself.”

She transferred to a Vermont school called Yestermorrow Design Build School. It’s where she learned some of the building, agricultural techniques and philosophies that she’s incorporating at her new home.

She spent $50,000 for the house, built in 1948 and badly in need of repairs. She did the wiring and plumbing herself. Her parents loaned her the money on a 30-year mortgage.

Viandier earns modest pay from odd jobs such as house sitting, teaching dance at Proctor and maple sugaring. Recently, she volunteered in Haiti, planting trees, and went to Cuba for an international permaculture conference.

“I don’t like the linear system of take, make, waste,” Viandier said. “Eighty percent of materials go to waste. I like to lead by example, but I’m not good at it. I’m doing more telling than showing.”

Not anymore. Not with her new post on the board of selectmen. She chose to run for office after Victoria Mishcon retired and inspired her to give it a shot.

She was late registering to vote and thus was left off the ballot, but she sold herself anyway, using the internet, posting signs, writing letters to the local newspaper and handing out pens on election day.

Viandier won in a landslide over Mary-Anne Levesque and Leonard Caron to join two men on the board, one middle-aged, the other a senior citizen.

“Interesting dynamics,” Viandier said. “I think the town is excited to have someone young in office, someone who is a bit more progressive and energetic.”

The new guard

Danforth is in the final year of his three-year term. He says for too long the town was run by too few, an old guard that was resistant to change and played favorites.

Said Coolidge, a retired physician, “Anyone with a real thoughtful mind about the job and what needs to be done for the town recognized Sophie was the best choice.”

She was sworn in last week, during a regular town meeting, when stern words were exchanged between the board of selectmen and a resident accusing Coolidge and Danforth of micromanaging.

“I just went there to listen,” Viandier said. “It’s going to be that way for a few months.”

Meanwhile, she’ll move into her new home next month.

The other day, workers pumped insulation into the attic, and the walls were covered with hardened spray foam. There are no rugs or carpets yet, no toilets or walls or warmth.

Viandier loves to explain the drawings she’s made on tracing paper, spread out on a table near the front door.

She shows you her vision, a landscape full of gardens with perennial organic plants that will grow wild cherries and Chinese chestnuts.

She’s already dug spaces for ponds, homes for frogs and turtles. She’s got a corridor picked out for a wetlands where deer and fox can graze, and an area in her backyard where she’ll plant tall trees to block the northern winds from hitting her house and wasting energy.

She’ll attach soda cans and tubing, cover them with glass and let the sun pump naturally heated air into her home.

Viandier plans to open the town’s first community education center for regenerative agriculture and design/build techniques.

She calls it a food-forest and farm that could one day provide 80 percent of a family’s nutrition, act as a town nursery and be harvested for economic gain.

By then, she will be well into her first term as a selectwoman.

“Having me as an example might show young people they can get involved,” she said.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Related

A few final thoughts from outgoing Andover selectwoman

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Andover Selectwoman Sophie Viandier takes over the seat held for the past six years by Victoria Mishcon. Why did Mishcon decline to run again in 2014? She acknowledges some burnout, especially having served as board chairwoman for the past three years. She acknowledges some amount of frustration, particularly at not being able to convince town meeting voters to pass measures …

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.