Aspie Woman finds giving not always easy

BENNINGTON — When Anne Allen came to live on Vail Road in 1946 at the age of 13, she was already suffering from the alienating effects of undiagnosed Asperger syndrome.

Asperger, a developmental disorder, mimics autism. Allen was exhibiting the classic symptoms – intense and narrow interest in specific topics, sophisticated vocabulary that makes children sound like little professors, clumsy movements, and socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior that makes it difficult to interact with peers.
But it was recent post-World War II and Hans Asperger, an Austrian physician, had only described the syndrome in a 1944 paper. His work remained quiet; written in German and not often translated. Besides, in 1946, Americans weren’t having much to do with Germans or Austrians, said Allen.

It wasn’t until she moved with her parents and siblings from out of state to a farm at the Northwest end of the Bennington airport runway, that she felt at peace.

“I came here and I saw that pond and that swamp and it just was heaven. I want to protect it. Nature is my dearest love,” said Allen, now 72, in a recent interview at her home. The farmhouse she grew up in was torn down when the airport bought part of the land. Allen now lives in a trailer on 45 acres of property her father named Singing Pond and willed to her.

And Allen, a single woman with no children, is in a rush to protect the wetland and open water. Her health has been failing more rapidly lately. She has been suffering from Grand Mal seizures and may have the beginning stages of cancer, she said. She is working with the Vermont Land Trust to donate a conservation easement on her property.

That easement would save the red-winged blackbirds, ospreys, otters, stinging nettle and other wetland creatures from bulldozers after Allen is gone, she said.

The Bennington Select Board gave unanimous support to Allen’s intentions at a board meeting on Feb. 14. Donald Campbell, the trust’s regional director, was concerned that the easement might interfere with a possible runway expansion at the airport.

“This is a concern in which VLT does not wish to exert undue influence,” Campbell wrote to the select board.

However, the nonprofit advocacy group the Whipstock Hill Society has been working for years to preserve land abutting Allen’s. Preserving Allen’s property from development and subdivision would go hand-in-hand, wrote Campbell.

Even if Allen is successful in donating a preservation easement, the state’s Agency of Transportation still has the right to assume the land under eminent domain, said Campbell. And it would make their job easier, should the time come, if there were no houses on that property to condemn.

Allen is small-boned, with delicate features, shiny eyes and a long gray ponytail. Her 1967 trailer, which she expects will be torn down once she’s gone from it, has suffered a fire. But its walls are still a testament to her love of nature. Books go from floor to ceiling. A music buff, she owns the sheet music – two inches thick – of Richard Wagner’s last opera, “Parsifal.” In a mud-room, Allen has two microscopes and has constructed her own herbarium.

“They’re people,” said Allen of the wetland neighbors she observes. “It’s magic.”

She objects to harming animals for scientific research, but loves biology and studied it in school. She did a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, when the affects of Asperger seemed to be leading her down a path towards institutionalization and she needed discipline. She was also a state representative in the 1970s and a teacher in Pownal and Bennington.

But nature has always been home to Allen. She doesn’t remember when she was officially diagnosed with Asperger, but it was within the last two decades.

“We came here and – salvation. I needed to be out in the country,” she said.

Allen still questions her father’s gift of the property to her.

“I didn’t feel I deserved it. I never stopped feeling that way. I don’t really own it. We all collectively own it – the animals and plants and the fungi and the bacteria,” she said.

She doesn’t object to the airport and has a love of planes and a tolerance for their noise from her time in Okinawa, Japan. The B29s leaving for Korea made more noise than the private jets that pass over Allen’s head now.

But she is not in favor of a runway expansion, she said.

Singing Pond nature area is a sanctuary, said Allen.

“Let this be an area where humans don’t push their will.”

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