Friday, September 7, 2012



another essay on rural life and neighborhood

"Keep you heart clear and transparent
And you will never be bound."

— Ryokan


Here's one thing I can tell you — I'm never wrong, when I'm right; and I'm never right, when I'm wrong. Yes, it sounds like a country bumpkin simpleton message. But just try to live it, straight down the middle. Knowing how to admit and stand true when you are correct, and knowing how to back down gracefully and admit when you are wrong. Mistakes. Lies. If it gets to lies, and you believe in your lies and have convinced others of your lies, it's a bad spot. Best to awaken.

Believe me — in this time of bizarre weather patterns, rising political and social fanatics, alienation to one and all — I'd rather be together than apart.

This is where the second part of my essay on rural life and neighbors has taken me. Taken us. I'm thinking of Susan, too. In fact she will be a key player in this tale.

I'll link for those that don't know my first essay on rural life and neighbors:

and move on. After reading that essay, you might want to read this one.

You know of the neighbor who stole our rocks, who defied our owning and honoring our property rights. It should be measured that we don't care so much about ownership. It isn't a power game and the fact of owning. But owning a piece of property which we are attempting to protect and keep as natural and free as possible, is our intent. Free as natural, not necessarily free for man to do as they bloody well please.

Along with this rock-hustling neighbor, there was the small gang of tree cutters and interlopers on our land believing they were doing "good" by, of course, having absolutely no communication with us, who own the land, and work the land and should be included in anything to be done on our land. They didn't think so. In fact when confronted, they bullied their way past us and stormed away. Why talk? Why learn anything? Why show grace?

“Thought is only a flash between two long nights, but this flash is everything.”
— Henri Poincare

Let me introduce that we had a reputable town realtor trying to sell a landlocked piece of property on an abutting neighbor's land, and this neighbor was selling out and thought she could make a little more by selling a little extra. Naturally, she didn't want to use her property for access to her own landlocked haven. That would mean opening an old woods road past her home that would wind up and go past a neighboring home, and they certainly didn't want to see this old road taken up. So she told the realtor, and the realtor just went ahead, that they could track through our land, up back, out of sight; and actually advertise the piece of property this way, and show this access route through our land to all prospective buyers. Crazy, huh? But true. I want to think the reputable realtor didn't know these shenanigans were being carried out this way, and I'm pretty sure he didn't, because the field worker realtor was either let go or fired shortly thereafter for his truancy act. Yes, he had convinced prospective buyers this would be their way through to the landlocked piece, right through our land. Where we have a woodlot. Where we go to cut wood, hauled out by a truck. They were probably imagining our small woods road could be their road. No one, again, came to ask, came to talk. It was only after this realty company was caught in their stupidity that this neighbor selling-out came to visit us to propose, properly, what she wanted to have happen. As soon as we said it wasn't a good idea, she rolled up her map and was heading out the door. No need to be friendly, no need to be neighborly, no need to catch up on other news. When she sold her house and land, and her deceased husband had been a friend and a fine fiddle of a man, she made sure she left the new owners with all the historical "facts" of people and places in this river valley.

Those new neighbors shot bottle rocket and headbanger fireworks into our woodlot, though they have two spacious mowings to expand their resources and showcase their entertainment. Since fireworks are illegal in Vermont — and I thought we all lived out here in the woods because we like it quiet — we all had a talk and we all agreed it'd be best to snuff the fireworks. Now they strike, from time to time, a resonant gong which ripples on all the woods leaves, and through the rain, past the snow. Kind of nice.

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” — Henry David Thoreau

This brings us to the woman up river from our place who accosted my wife in the road one morning after being served a "Notice Against Trespass" papers by the sheriff's department for trespassing on our land previously, starting fires, leaving trash, enabling other family members to do as they wished on our land, and finally swearing at the top of her lungs at my wife, "Fuck You!" My wife was hiking up to our mailbox and returning home, purposely walking along the roadside on our side of our land and staying clear. The woman taunted her over. The mistake she made is someone else was there, and I'll get to that down the line. My wife had already endured this woman's mocking and disregard for our land and wishes. The woman hadn't taken part with that other gang of woodcutters on our land, but she was there as it happened and was also there when my wife arrived and asked everyone to leave the land, cutting tools and all. This woman wasn't ignorant after that point as to who owned the land. Still, she used it as she wished. She has also used the swimming hole on our land, and we never had any problem with that, or anyone else using it. The pine needle path down to the swimming hole has always been there for anyone to use. It’s a country thing.

Long before the bullying incident we fully communicated with the woman and her family members about their trespassing and damage to our property, and we were ignored, dismissed and finally assaulted by all parties; so, folks, what would you like us to do? No one should ever be allowed to run over someone else.

Now here comes the rub.

After one woman stole rocks to her heart's content on our land and disregarded our attempt to educate her as to whose land it was and how easy it would have been to simply ask permission (and it would have been given); after overly zealous woodcutters and a dutiful neighborhood cleanup crew stormed onto our property and made damage and then felt no need to talk and reconcile after their assault; long after the neighbor and her realtor squad, and her neighbor and friend who now wouldn't benefit from this landlocked sale; after the fireworks folks who bought one of my books (Yokel) and read it and then worried by email "Will you write a poem about us?" (be careful, poets). After some of this crew then talked and bemused and instigated a whole other bunch, who we don't know at all, but we see them, they're the ones who don't know us but speak about us. Load all of them into a sauce pan and what do you get? Including the guy who a few weeks ago took spruce saw logs from two trees I dropped on our land and I'll share with him the lumber we get off his portable mill — they sure look good — but he joined this sauce pan bunch to sign a petition to the "good character" of the woman up river who accosted my wife, let her sons run amok on our land, screamed "Fuck You!" From now on let’s call this woman the Defendant. The court, not us, has said she is.

"The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts"
— John Locke

The story gets wider. Well over twenty years ago, before a good deal of these people even moved out here, I organized, yes momentarily solo, a grassroots organization to stop a co-generated power plant from moving into this river valley and ruining for good this habitat. I raised a solo ruckus for one day until my wife joined, and then we quickly enlisted some neighbors, and this reverberated rapidly throughout the woodlands until we had the webbing of at least three other neighboring towns. Where the co-generated plant was to go was on a sawmill property, still active, and the lumberman was a friend. Not only to me, but my family of five generations lumbermen. Most of them thought and lived just like this man: business. A co-generated plant was good for business, which is true if you don't live ten miles away from the nearest business to tie in your facility. So we all fought the madcap plan for this one out in the boonies. Our community of neighbors drew together tightly, we all wanted to save our homes and quality of life. It was exhilarating. The co-generated business minds were from faraway Michigan. These suits sent out their henchmen to work the towns over, smaller communities, individuals. Sweetener was added (money) and nobody budged. More exhilaration, more bonding, a tight hold was won. Long story short, we beat the pants off the corporation. The owner of the business actually made a personal call to me and told me his news, and furthered it by complimenting me, and those I worked with, on just what a community could show. They left. Where to? A week ago I was down in my old home ground of the Berkshires and this plant, I heard, had set up at the old G.E. plant in Pittsfield. Already a long ruined spot, though tied nicely to an urban locale and service. Ideal for a co-generated plant. My family had a lumberyard a stone's throw from the plant at one time and I remember unloading boxcars from the same rails that ran through the plant. Small world. There is a proper place to put a co-generated plant. There are also people who will protect mother earth.

Today one or two of those people I grass-rooted with, maybe three, are on this petition the Defendant up the road is passing around to showcase her stable and neighborly character. I don't at all doubt she has one with any of them. It's not my position to doubt. But I can tell you she is a threatening, menacing, and a pathological liar when dealing with us. It's a shame. If the court, the state's attorney, the fine sheriff's department are able to do their job thoroughly, this will all be found. The witness list, which is only a witness list on this woman's character, has been now spoiled by the Defendant introducing the 'fact' some of the people signing the petition have had a difficult time with us. No shit. I just described it all above. Come to me personally and my wife or I will elaborate the scenario for you. These "witnesses" seem to confuse whom exactly is the victim(s) here.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” — John Wooden

For the state's attorney and the sheriff(s), they only care who was a "witness" that day when the Defendant accosted my wife in the road and hurled verbal abuse and trespassed. My wife has studied the list of names. NO ONE was anywhere nearby, or some weren’t even in Vermont! when the event happened. My wife only wishes there were witnesses, and those witnesses could be petitioned and be interviewed by the state and the lawmakers.

But what is curious about this list of mighty "19 witnesses" — while none are even holding a shred of merit about the accosting and cause, the Defendant has left off the very ONE witness who was there. Back to the early part of my story where I say there was a third party, just leaving after a visit with the Defendant, but she was there long enough to hear the woman accost my wife and provoke an argument. She was left OFF the witness list for obvious reasons by the Defendant: she will be pulled in by the law, be known, and be asked questions pertinent to that day. If she is wise enough to tell the truth, she'll tell the same story my wife has told. It won't be pretty about this Defendant.

The State of Vermont prosecutor offered the Defendant the diversion-program wherein she must admit to the fact of her trespass and actions, which means she violated our "notice against trespass." She could have stated, "okay it was a bad hair day, and I did do everything she [Susan] said" etc., the Defendant would then have to do brief community work and/or write a letter of apology. The whole criminal case would be removed from all records upon completion of the Defendant's court required duties. Pretty mellow.

Instead, she denied any wrong doing, absolute. In my opinion, a terrible decision on her part, and the state continued with prosecuting. This was not our wish. We had hoped she would admit to her actions, mend fences with us, and move along as neighbors. Instead she has thrown up a smoke-screen of "19 witnesses", many, I believe, ignorant to what she was attempting to do here, and now the state's attorney is obligated to waste many days, time, and tax payers money to investigate. They will find out no one (but our one witness, and a friend of the Defendant) was at the scene of the crime that morning with my wife, and all have been used. The Defendant will then raise a stink that none of her "19" are factual witnesses, but some have had trouble with us as well. Can you see how "trouble" starts down here? It's selfish, manipulated, provoked, instigated, bullied, and it breeds contempt. That contempt in the wrong hands, untruthful hands, gathers a mob.

Just in case, by an off-chance, someone from our neighborhood cares to read this essay — please understand what is happening here: we and our land have been assaulted, now lied about by cowards, and lied about further into the community. Not once, twice or three times, but in a pattern. The Defendant in this most egregious case is actually spreading rumors that we are filing a lawsuit against her, when the truth is the state of Vermont is charging her and her actions as criminal. This is their decision after studying the case and her actions. Any sheriff visiting your home (neighbor), or interviewing you, is the Defendant's doing. She supplied your name as one of her "19 witnesses". Lucky you. You've just been manipulated by the Defendant the same way the truth has.

“Anger is one letter away from danger.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Once upon a time, quite long ago, I was hired by neighbors to put down an interior sun room floor on the back of their house. I worked the first day on this, installing v-joint 2 x 6 tongue & groove spruce. The folks had been away all day and when they returned I was gone, but they called concerned that I had maybe put the floor down wrong for them. The last time I had done this for people they liked the v-joint exposed, rather than boards flush. In hindsight I should have asked, in hindsight the customers should have told me, but we made things work. I went back to the job to work late into the night right after my supper and apologized to the people, and they were fine about it, and all was well again. I took up what flooring had been put down and made things right. They helped me along by understanding mistakes do get made. A fluency returned. The trouble with the Defendant, her trespassing, her foul language, her son's foul language and belligerency, all could be handled by talking. Admitting their mistakes. Repairing some very bad moves, and continuing. This can't always work this way, but in this case, I believe it could.

Like the "19 witnesses" believe, I would agree the woman can be a positive example and offer much good to a community. I've seen her away from this region, at a college arboretum in fact, like us, at the end of a long winter in the woods, enjoying the fragrances and sight of everything-spring. Like many out here she has a green thumb for gardening and renewal. Unfortunately, like some out here, she has a stubborn streak and selfishness to do as she pleases, which has contributed to enabling her family to strike out against us, with little regard to the consequences. As if there are no consequences. Not one of the "19 witnesses" ever took the time, or care, to approach us first, before signing this petition of goodwill about the woman's character, to listen to what may have happened on our end of things. It maybe won't surprise you to know that half of these "19 witnesses" are parties to the escapades I've described where trouble and abuse were involved on our land, and the other half I don't even know or have ever met. In fact, one person I notice as a "witness" to the woman's "good character" described her to me, with his own enthusiasm, just a month ago, in the most unflattering and derogatory language. Ain't life grand?

“To live outside the law you must be honest.” — Bob Dylan

One can even surmise that while the state may prove all "19 witnesses" immaterial in regard to the assault by the Defendant to my wife, and her trespassing onto our land (because none were present), and all to our benefit; there is no benefit remaining when you have a mob mentality formed and gaining purchase for one, while going against and assisting the demeaning of those who are the victim(s).

It's like watching a legendary and quite aged and brittle minded actor on a stage, demeaning a President of the United States (Barack Obama) who does not demean. It's not playing fair. It's playing to the crowd, it's playing to the mob, it's people ganging up with their insecurities and grudges and contempt. Don't be fooled by numbers. A zero's beautiful emptiness and
roundness (O) holds up all the rest of the numbers.

We're all used to politicians sometimes lying. State's attorneys and the like are politicians and we await to see if they will actually do their job, or veer from the truth, not settle this case where it belongs fixed square in the teeth. So far they are running a tight ship and barring no expense and time. We haven't provoked this time and expense: a Defendant wanting to smoke screen and lie has done that for them. I'm being so candid and bold at this juncture because I don't like how any of it smells. Only the sheriffs seem on the up and up to us. They drive out, investigate, work the bushes and rattle the cages. You have to rattle cages when you're in a lie. And I never want cops roaming these woods since the woods culture has always had the ability to take care of itself. With a code and civility and fairness. No more. Just look at what we experience with political events. Hoopla and stretching the truth is one thing to empower the troops. Down right malicious lies and mockery and personal assassinations is quite another.

"If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?" — Bishop Desmond Tutu

We sense a kangaroo court out here, a bubbling to the surface timid lynch mob, with a roiling rooster romper room list of grudges. Those who believe they can live as they wish and where they wish and how they wish. It's just the woods, who cares? "The Arnolds hassle us," we have heard this said. You mean after you've been stealing, woodcutting and damaging, building fires, trashing, swearing, marauding, threatening, shooting fire into our woods et al. You mean that? You mean you got "hassled" from us over that?

This is where I live. This is whom we live amongst. Certainly not everyone is this way. The crybabies and grudge masters always stand out.

Over twenty years ago when we won our homeland back from the co-generated planners, we celebrated, but it wasn't long before my wife and I saw a small group and then another small group break off and want to start their own grass-roots movement. They couldn't do it, naturally, without trying to malign or blackball the original group. That's when I decided I was done with this community, mostso the types that operate this way. I'd keep individual friends and acquaintances, and we have. But we retreated. I'd build a few more stone walls for people and put on a few more roofs and cut a few more difficult trees as a worker for hire, but I was done. We raised a son, meshed with the public school years, we started a bookshop, deepened our publishing house, worked on our two-century old house, I wrote a bunch of books, and we traveled all over the country by saddle tramp trains. I also worked with a neighbor and his fantastic yet poorly planned and failing junkyard, until he was driven out of this valley on a rail.

How about the neighbors with the fireworks? — we offered awhile ago they come by for a visit at our picnic table for some lemonade & pie. They never answered. Though we hear their gong rise out of what appears to be from nowhere right where we sit, where the sun is warm.

Bob Arnold
7 September '12

“Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled.”— Horace

photo © bob arnold