SINCE HURRICANE IRENE IN VERMONT:
I've had to scribble a little bit more after almost a year since Hurricane Irene and my earlier postings about the rocky storm. I'm writing here about an overall corrosive element in society, no matter urban or rural, it has seeped in: the lack of etiquette and good manners. Subjects that are now mocked, ridiculed and easily laughed at, as we go down the drain. As a lawman said to me today in so many words, trooper hat off, sitting in my house, raining outside, "Your life style is pretty much over no matter how great you made it, there's only a few of you left. I admire it. But the bad stuff is now epidemic." It was nearly a line or two borrowed out of the film Shane.
I like this lawman, he works his trade with a thorough hand, and like me he likes straight-talk. He also was active with his whole department deployed into the field during Hurricane Irene saving lives, escorting very large machinery onto narrow highways or over mountain passes into small towns drowning in mud, sludge, broken buildings and rising water.
I watched our road that hugs the Green River in Vermont that was completely wiped out in long sections be rebuilt within months of the water avalanche. Remarkable work by a small town work crew and abiding towns. We hiked down into Massachusetts a day after the flood and had to portage our bicycles on shoulders to get to the next town. A normal half hour bicycle ride became a three hour hike. Where there once had been road — all gone. Sheer ledge, not a grain of gravel from the original road anywhere in sight. This was all rebuilt inch by inch by cribbing new large stone, backfill, plodding forward with what machines and trucks were available. It was a hallmark of individual duty unified. Including many neighbors taking part in the general repair. Vermont can be, when it wants to be, a maple tree with many branches.
That's all the good news. Plus our covered bridge is still standing, if a little wracked and leaning to the right. Go see for yourself when you walk or drive through the bridge from west to east. I've watched buildings stand for decades looking just like this, just a little weary, worn torn but with character and heart. We have to allow our buildings more & more heart. Tear-down has become two miserably unwise words.
Bad news is trespassers moved in, and I don't mean interlopers not part of the road, or strangers. No, strangers have all been curious and polite. While working our river land for months after the flood at woodcutting detail I had a few wayfarers come around wanting to search up some distinctive small rock or gems that had maybe come forth with the flood. They walked up to me and asked permission. They talked, held conversation, showed themselves, and I saw a person. This is always very good. They poked around for 15 or 20 minutes and the next thing I saw was someone giving me a wave of "thanks" and driving off. Maybe he found something, maybe he didn't. But we met.
Then there's a few locals, bad apples who think they are doing good, providing a service. They speak and communicate to the ones they wish to speak to, and they banner their goodwill under a self-leadership of a "cleanup crew", never once giving a thought that they may be on someone's land who doesn't wish their brand of cleanup. In this case, gathering a few co-workers with saws and chain saws who light up and begin cutting trees and property, not on their land, but on our land. Without asking. Without talking. Without meeting. Without discussion. And what does the leadership do when confronted by someone in our family asking what are they are doing? the leadership say they "Have no time to talk", and then bum rush off. It's a hard life being this busy and unwise. My wife actually asked me if she should check up on this cleanup crew the day they started working. We've known the leaders of this crew for over 30 years as a slight acquaintance, but I gave them every confidence that they wouldn't try anything asinine. We were working that day woodcutting down river from this cleanup crew so I said, "Nah, it should be okay." But my wife has her own intuition and moseyed up the river anyway to have a peek. Sure enough, part of this crew had launched onto our land with bowsaws and chain saws gunned and were cutting trees and brush. I still can't believe the people in charge were acting this way. I've worked decades in this region as a builder and treeworker and can't begin to imagine trespassing onto anyone else's land and being this irresponsible.
Strike two: another local person is seen one day down on our property gathering small stones and rocks. I see the bucket in her hand from some distance off. I don't know the woman personally but my wife does. I figure I'll go down to the river and see what is up. I work down there almost every day cutting wood so I know exactly where she is. I get close enough to say hello and then ask what she is doing. I'm told by her she is taking stones from the river, which is now dry river bed, with the river flowing further over to the eastern edge of shore. The woman has reached where she is by using a stone stairway I built from the roadside down 16 feet to the river. I built this stone stairway after the flood primarily to lug firewood on my shoulder up out of the river basin and up to my truck and drive it home. I don't mind the woman taking some rocks or stones, there are millions there, but I wonder why she didn't come to ask permission to do this? What's worse, when I share with her it is our property, she curtly cuts me off and tells me the river belongs to the state. Except she is on dry river bed and not the river, all land of stone, and the state doesn't own anything. People do. In fact this piece of property we are taxed handsomely on not only runs on both sides of the river, but includes the land under the river. I'm not concerned about talking policy with the woman, I'm just wondering what happened to good manners and asking permission to take property off our property. And it only gets worse. After I'm told what isn't my property and what the state owns, the woman then leaves in a huff (with her bucket of rocks; I said, "sure, go ahead"), and she calls the town clerk who is away from her job. The woman talks to a very much second-in-command, nice young fellow, who went to school with our son, but he doesn't know the rules of land or property and speaks anyway with authority which this woman takes as gospel. That leads to a conversation later by my wife with the woman on the phone who tells my wife "You don't know your land" and to make things even more interesting, there's the woman's husband in the background screaming at my wife. After the phone call burns apart, and a few hours go by, I write the woman and her husband an email letter and invite them over for a visit to talk over whatever disagreement, which may be easily smoothed over by facts and some clarification. No reply.
Strike three: It might be best to boil property rights down to this simple credo: if you're not standing on your land, you're probably standing on someone else's land. Be wise. Also I want to make it perfectly clear — I'm not against anyone being on our land as someone passing through. For forty years I have snowshoed both ridges west and east along this river valley and passed my way over uncountable pieces of property, never taking anything away from it, nor wishing any confrontation with any landowner against their wishes. I was passing through. It's a freedom we should all be able to enjoy.
At the height of Hurricane Irene we were out in the storm hiking the road with movie camera running. We ran into two young men rain-soaked who seemed to be enjoying themselves with their curiosity and the storm. We talked awhile, bonded as neighbors should during a phenomenon. They live up the road about a quarter-mile from us in a big house with a large open yard and enough land to raise chickens and keep a horse, or two. Their northern boundary is along a brook which also curls along our property right across the road from theirs. A week after the storm and things were re-settling we hiked through all the river edge of our land which is all wooded. In those woods we found a campsite made of good-sized rock pulled out of the brook and off our land to fashion chairs like King Arthur's court. For a stone-builder like myself, it was a cool thing to find. And in the circumstances of post-hurricane, it showed a togetherness and a council of brotherhood that we liked. We let it be. We figured, correctly, it was at least two of those young men and their other younger brother grooving away from home and by the brook. It was late Fall, winter was coming on and a small campsite would most likely bust up by first snow. We forgot about it. Never mentioned it, nor encouraged it, just let it be for now. By spring, and little snow cover all winter, we went back to the campsite and now it was a full-fledged campfire ring, and this was a very dry spring and fires had been made. Beer bottle empties were everywhere and things were now out of hand. Wood was being cut and shaped to make things. A well-worn path was now showing from the road to this campsite, and worst of all, others were asking us if it was okay to camp down on that land where the "campsite is". Terrific. My wife happens to know the single mother of the three young men who all live together and spoke to her one day while hiking up for mail and having a visit. Like the local woman taking stones that she believed the state owned and so it was "her right", this mother said boys-will-be-boys and didn't my wife remember when "she was young". How that has anything to do with our land when this woman owns many acres of land and a brook to build a campfire by is beyond reason. My wife asked the woman to have her sons remove the campsite, retrieve their beer bottles, absolutely no fires, no campsite; if you don't mind we'd like to keep our land wild. And this is really the crux of the issue: we wish to keep our land wild, and some wish to use it however they please.
Of course the mother never spoke to her sons as Susan had asked — two of her sons told us this four days later when we met up with them as we dismantled the campsite, set stones back into the brook, and raked up the mess. Not : clean up our mess, but clean up their mess. One son comes down and seems disturbed at the news and insists it's a great place for a campsite. I point out, like I shouldn't have to, that his family has land with at least 200 feet of brook frontage where many campfires can be made. It seems lost on him because our site "is the best." He leaves only to tell his older brother who comes down to prove a big point, that I'm "an asshole". He said this four times, with a mounting fury, and on the fourth "asshole" pronouncement my wife went home and phoned the state police and then the sheriff. While she was gone I shook the young man's hand as a greeting, explained what we were doing, and how we like the land just as it is: by a river, collecting dust and debris and its own happiness. When we come down and cut firewood from driftwood trees from the storm and work at a general cleaning up, we would like the land left as land and nothing else. Space. Emptiness. Woodland.
For this, a young man in his twenties with a future, calls me "an asshole". I forgot to tell you the woman taking stones from our land is selling these on-line as a product. She called me the "most unfriendliest man" — because I wanted the land left alone where she is taking our property. Perhaps you should know that simply walking to our mailbox a quarter mile up the dirt road we live on to a wood stanchion of neighbors' mailboxes, my wife was accosted by the mother of the son who likes to say "asshole". They live along the way on this walk. Years of her belligerent, loose and biting large dogs has also been one more entertainment. It's kept other people away from walking for their mail. Today this woman yells over from her parked vehicle that she is very unhappy my wife has called the state police. She proceeds to bully and lecture and lets-go into full drama, with shocking and complete inaccuracy, all the recent acts concerning her family onto our property and ourselves. There's nothing to listen to but a delusional litany of self-protection and rising anger, which concludes with the woman reminding my wife (again) that her son would never use the word "asshole", followed by more hopeless litany, then screaming at my wife, at the top of her lungs, "Fuckyou!" The benediction to the sermon was the woman then appearing out from behind her parked vehicle, crossing into the road where my wife is and onto our land, where she deposits her garden garbage of plastic and compost, jumping up and down onto the garbage and screaming "Call the police, call the police. I'm trespassing!" Which she now actually is doing, but she'd rather mock us and the law she should respect.
Try working with that.
We also have a son we like to believe never does wrong. Once upon a time, long before this woman moved here, our son and one of his pals (ages about 12) decided to lightly monkeywrench a parked logging skidder that was working a job in this valley. The logger had his senses about him and backtracked both boys to their parents doors. While having supper one summer night there was the logger knocking at our kitchen door and wanting to talk. I went over and we talked. The man was still in his mess of clothes, it had been a long day. When I heard what he had to say I called my son over from the table, he met the man with me and listened to what he had to say. Not easy to admit, but he did, my son agreed with the logger's assessment to his equipment (no damage) and apologized to the man right on the spot. Things lightened considerably and the man and I continued to talk about other things. He'd later go back to his job and get it all done, untouched, and our son would write, on his own initiative, a formal written apology which he mailed to the man. If you don't believe me, go ask the man yourself; his name is Don West, and he's a friendly fellow.
One more little story concerning present time: we have neighbors who bought a beautiful home for themselves that they are only making more beautiful. It's a sight to see. I knew the former owners, and in fact I cut the woods out and opened the ground for this house site and long driveway when it was built thirty years ago. Time goes on, people come and go, these new people move in. They couldn't live more quietly and abiding with their surroundings, but now and then visitors come and these visitors seem to like firecrackers and now and then firecrackers have been used. Firecrackers are illegal in Vermont but sometimes are tolerated on the 4th of July, as I might like to do. Who doesn't like firecrackers? It's quite another thing when they are being used on Christmas, and various other times of year that make no sense as a public celebration. At 10-11 at night they can be very loud. When your family has been shaken from sleep, even louder. When the rockets and red glare is directed over their grassland and into your woodlot, louder still. By 11 one night, taken out of sleep, my wife finally had enough and walked down the dark dirt road to where she could see the revelers on their sparkling hillside and shouted "Shutup!" One word efficient. It'd been going on for well over an hour this jamboree. For her one word she received back a unified shout-back, "Go Home!" Imagine that, from visitors, while my wife is at home. She returned to tell me the tale which didn't at all seem right, or like our neighbors, so after 11 o'clock in the night, firecrackers still resounding, I wrote our neighbors an email. I inquired about what in the world was happening, and did it seem right, never mind the potential danger of fire, a dry season and vulnerable woodlands. They wrote back immediately, apologized, and the firecrackers subsided as if with a magic wand. The magic wand was mutual respect. I saw it happen. I took part, others took part. If you think this is self-congratulatory, you're missing the point.
A little town history: there is a tax and property map in our town office on the wall that anyone can look at and study closely, and this map is about as large as a barn door. Can't be missed. Correct boundaries are surveyed on this map with precision. For anyone reading this missive, and are close by, or even a troubled neighbor, go have a look at this map. It will teach you things.
As I wrote to our town selectmen once upon a time about these very concerns: "I would ask the Selectmen and the town to take notice to a new arrogance now afoot on our road (River Road). This original trespassing and its repercussions (chatter amongst neighbors with vicious gossip against character) has only empowered some others to take sides and react in a similar vein. All of it fueled by prejudice and entitlement, with no regard for simple true etiquette. True etiquette is having all the facts and addressing the problem(s) with a decency toward mutual understanding." No one from the Selectmen or the town ever responded.
The Green River, from its village (its headwaters is in Marlboro, Vermont) and the covered bridge, that Irene spared, runs approximately four miles from that bridge down to the Vermont and Massachusetts border. I've hiked it thousands of times, on road and in the river, on both shores of the river. On the road for those four miles and all along the river there are three known swimming holes: one is in the village right at the covered bridge which many use and much love. Heading down our road for the majority of those four miles are two known swimming holes. They have always been open and available for swimmers. Only recently, for personal circumstances, has one been posted "No Trespassing" by landowners new to the region. The other swimming hole is on our property and freely open. Never posted. Swimmers use it. Fishing enthusiasts, canoeists, kayakers etc. beach there momentarily. All no problem. Because of the three incidents with neighbors we have been labeled either "asshole", "unfriendliest man" and the best one yet, "You don't let people on your land." Actually we let people on our land more than any landowner on this road by the very open policy of the swimming hole. There is a visible pathway from the road down to the swimming hole that crosses only our land and it's always been there. Yes, we've cleaned up for decades after people their litter, garbage, diapers, broken glass etc., but it isn't anything unusual. It comes with us.
A week after the Sheriff came out and listened to our tale and went and served papers of No Trespassing on the campfire / foul-mouth neighbors up the road, we went down to the dismantled campsite and its return to a serene setting of brook river trees and found moose tracks. Wild is back. What do you know.
We are now in a world that can be easily driven out of hand. There are no more wise and wily grandmothers and grandfathers pivoting in a neighborhood their sound tidings and ample advice. No matter how we turned out ourselves, we had our grandparents, or someone's, to show us the difference between good and evil.
For the forty years I've lived here, I've run into much more dicier and heated problems and disturbances on this road with neighbors and others with differing minds. The difference is they were country folk who walk with an ethic and almost a code as to manners and outcome. The majority don't wish to cause trouble. The majority know conservation and conversation; they work with tools, land, wood, stone, and principles. Animals. It stands to reason to listen to reason. So I've always been able to talk together with others and smooth things through, often compromising an idea or a plan.
No longer. The new rural country is filling fast with know-it-alls and big talkers behind your back. They take sides. They move only with their self-appointed desires. They actually accuse us of beating them up with our protective actions to property when we've kept a public swimming-hole open for forty years and sought out everyone to talk with when there is a problem. It's small potatoes on the big map of horrid troubles and big fires in the world, but it's actually the backbone breaking on all manner of manners. It is corrosive, since common decency, communication, and fluency one-to-another are at stake. Without these three ingredients, you're no longer making a village.
The above is the long version.
Here's the short version : Get Over It.----I Have.----Call in re-enforcement.