Airie Lindsay was born Mary Chilton Robinson in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 6, 1946.
She was the oldest of three sisters and the daughter of Mary Winslow Robinson and William Armstrong Robinson. Her life-long interest in farming began at Bellfield, her grandmother and namesake's farm in Berryville, Va. From a very young age, Airie wanted to be outdoors. She was the first girl to play football in her neighborhood and she loved to ride her bike. The summer she was 13, she went to Camp Onaway in Newfound Lake, N.H. It was her first exposure to hiking and paddling in the northern forest.
Her teenage years were more difficult because she was sent to a Southern girl's boarding school, where she was lonely and homesick much of the time. At 18 she spent a year in Paris attending the Sorbonne. Though learning French was a struggle, she suddenly realized she was dreaming in French and had mastered the language. Upon her return, Airie began college at Boston University, and it was here and through friends at Camp Onaway that she met her kindred spirit and future husband Owen Seton Lindsay. They courted, riding their bicycles on the esplanade on the Charles River, and became involved in the Vietnam anti-war movement. With an activist Episcopal priest they started the Why Not Café, providing draft counseling and a gathering place in Boston for young political activists.
Airie and Owen were married in 1967 and the following year they became VISTA volunteers in Four Mile, Ky., a remote coal-mining town. At the end of their service, they walked the Appalachian Trail from Bristol, Tenn., to Bristol, N.H., walking home with their dog Kit. At the invitation of a woman they met on the Trail, they then went to New Jersey to run a school for emotionally disturbed teenagers. With the idea of eventually starting a farm school of their own in the northern countryside they loved, in 1970 Airie and Owen purchased an 80 acre hilltop farm in Barnet and began homesteading. They lived without electricity or a telephone and kept cows, oxen, goats, a pig, and 50 chickens.
In October, 1971, they adopted a 3-month-old baby boy whom they named Isaac. In the winter of 1972 the house, barn, and garage they'd been restoring burned down. In May of 1972 their daughter Seton was born. With the help of neighbors and other back-to-the-landers, Airie and Owen built a new three-room house for their small family and began to reconstruct their lives. Then in March 1974 Owen was tragically killed, leaving Airie with two toddlers. Despite the concerns of her parents and many others, Airie chose to stay on the farm among the community that had become her extended family. Not only newcomers to Vermont, but native Vermonters admired Airie's courage, respected her principles, and stuck by her.
Airie's total commitment to everything she did is reflected in her activities within that community. She grew vegetables for the newly-created farmer's market, tapped trees for maple syrup, kept bees for honey, and offered eggs for sale. She was an early participant in the St. Johnsbury recycling center and brought friends and neighbors into the group as well, expanding and finding sponsors for Green Up Day activities in Barnet.
To support her young children, she worked at Head Start in St. Johnsbury for six years. After completing her bachelor's degree at Lyndon State College in the mid 1980s, she became a special education teacher for elementary and high school students in St. Johnsbury, Barnet, and Lyndonville.
Her deep feeling for the natural world combined with a love of birds, inherited from her mother, led her to become involved with Audubon. Within a very short time she reinvigorated and expanded the local chapter, soon becoming president. In 2005 The Fairbanks Museum gave Airie the honorary title of Museum Fellow in recognition of her dedicated service to the Museum and its goals.
Increasingly Airie loved music. She played with a group of drummers, joined a women's round singing group, and began recording bird songs as an educational help for beginning birders. The technology of digital recording did not come naturally to Airie, but she spent hours and days and weeks on it and as with her efforts in photography and writing, her characteristic determination served her well. Yet it wasn't only determination: Airie was also gifted and the quality of her work shines through.
She was a modest person and avoided public attention, yet in late spring when she became suddenly ill with cancer, the community that she had given to so generously rallied around her. Airie died on Aug. 18, 2008, surrounded by family in her Barnet home.
She leaves behind her son Isaac and Isaac's children, Jocelynne and Airianna; her daughter Seton and Seton's husband Jason; her sister Liz Truslow, Liz's husband David and sons Michael and Charlie; sister Phoebe Foley and Phoebe's husband Steve and daughters Sara and Terry.
She also leaves behind hundreds of devoted friends and groups from many parts of her life - hikers, skiers, paddlers, environmentalists, political activists, circle dancers, and yoga classmates.
There will be a celebration of Airie's life on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 2 p.m., at the Danville Town Hall to be followed by a reception at her farm off Joe's Brook Road. Contributions in her memory can be made to the Northeast Kingdom Audubon Camp Scholarship Fund or Northeast Kingdom Youth Services. Visit www.nekaudubon.org or www.nekyouthservices.org/news.ph for details.