( CODA / SORTA )
“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”
I rebuilt the lid on the woodstove tea pot. I think that means winter can begin since that tea pot will heat water every day until probably May (for tea), and the woodstove won't go out until a likewise May. One lit match starts our winter fires, which begins sometime in the end of October and never goes out. Ted Enslin and I used to compare notes, in weekly correspondence for years and years between Vermont and Maine, at just how well our wood fires and wood piles were faring.
At the same time we dropped a bone dead elm tree that was nicely losing its bark and showing its hard rock wood. Brought it down and bucked it up and between Susan and me, we lugged the tree in firewood lengths home up the hill in fifteen loads, right through the opulent poison ivy and into the woodshed and eventually into the house where it will burn and heat the rooms immediately. Now, that's a friend.
I know you asked me weeks ago what had happened to the trouble we've been experiencing on our road and neighborhood. A clumsy resolution, of a sort, has occurred — maybe the only possible resolution there could be considering the circumstances — but no part of it really feels any good. Nobody is perfect in this neighborhood tale, so let's not kid ourselves. It's a search for what has happened to basic truth and rightful decency. There are countless facets to the trouble, and individuals, and it has only grown in number as some have displayed very unwise judgment and actions. I'll get into that with you. First, let me sum up, again, ever briefly I hope, how it all started and where it has come to. Not quite a finish line.
You know we had Hurricane Irene visit over a year ago now. This storm swept in and turned our valley and road topsy-turvey for many months on end. The high point of the storm is our neighborhood did get behind themselves to work together at hurdling some obstacles — from rebuilding wiped out sections of the road (the flooding river took the road down to a vanishing point, nothing there), to offering rides, drinking water, phone, electricity, a field where I once helped a local farmer cut and put up 50 bales of hay was now there for stranded neighbors to park their cars and hoof it home over a bewildering passageway, plus some comfort. All of the highest value, and all showcasing to me that this road hasn't gone to pot, and has the ability to work together in a common crisis. A bravo signature.
The problems for us began to occur with individual judgment, all bad judgment, and all directed primarily right at us, or our land. There were a handful of incidents: the cleanup crew that had all good intentions but with way too much force and little foresight came onto our land (2000 feet of river frontage) and started to cut trees and do as they pleased at what they considered a cleanup process. All good intentions but never thinking the land is owned by someone(s) and they may have some other idea how they wish their land to be treated. In fact I was working right up on the other end of the land that day cutting away dammed up trees and any one of these folks could have come and seen me and talked out their plans. This doesn't happen much any more; people just do what they wish to do. If they have a band of followers or supporters, all the better for all of them, but it could be pitched in the wrong direction. Susan went up and confronted the work crew to stop what they were doing (midway with saws), and they did (someone was actually filming the event), but when Susan wanted to have a conversation and explanation from the crew leader, he bulled past her and snarled he had no time for talk. Keep that in mind, it will be the mantra and heartache of much of the problem in this back country tale.
The second incident was about a month later, again a neighbor, trespassing on our property and removing rocks (small) right in the vicinity of a stone staircase I built down a river bank to get to the river and land where I was daily cutting these flood damaged trees and removing them by hand. The stone staircase was built for my use retrieving the firewood out of the river basin and up to the road and into my truck. This neighbor used my staircase to get to what rock she was taking and the rock she was taking would be sold in a business she runs with her husband. I don't have any problem with this, I just wished she had asked permission to go onto our land to take the small rocks. We had no idea what she was doing down there. As I've said many times, there's plenty of rocks — less good manners. It was my turn to confront a neighbor who lives up the road and right across from a smaller stream that I would never think to bother or remove anything from before asking her permission, but there you go. It became an ugly scene which I've described in detail in an earlier essay on the Birdhouse. It was so ugly that when I left and the woman was turning her vehicle around in a huff to go home (I let her take all her rocks), I asked Susan, who knows the woman, if she would head down and have a talk with the woman. And this happened, and the woman was just as unpleasant with Susan. She stormed away. Later a phone call or two ensued where Susan tried to educate the woman about private property and land rights, and that she might want to call our town clerk to get the skinnny on who owns what and where. There is a large town map in the town clerk's office that anyone can visit, big on the wall, and property and boundaries and ownership is well-detailed. One of the hardships of all our problems happened when the woman did make a phone call to the town clerk and received not the town clerk but an assistant who went ahead and gave her an earful of wrong information, on top of a character assassination of what he only assumed was the party this woman was complaining about. The woman caller never identified herself to the town official, but she did give our name. Everything was just a loose bunch of change. This woman then called Susan back to unload on her all this enlightenment, which of course made no sense, and already with a trigger-anger agenda, both the woman and her husband unleashed on Susan their feelings. I could hear it blaring from the phone standing five feet away. I later thought it best to drop this couple an email invitation to please come by our place for a visit and let's iron this all out, and like the work crew organizer before them, they wanted nothing to do with any conversation. A second possible conversation denied.
Okay, it's all merry and bright.
Know the woman above is friends with another woman on the road and by early springtime, after a fairly mild winter, this other woman will take Susan on as Susan is walking to the mailbox a quarter mile up the road from our house. This is the mother of three sons in their early twenties, all living at home, who trespassed on our land to build large campfires, whip up drinking parties, and whatever hoopla they wished to perform out of our earshot. One day we found the campfire, all the beer bottles and general mess, and Susan asked the mother (who she knew) to please have her sons cleanup the mess and leave the premises. This she refused to do. This meant we went and cleaned up the mess and busted up the stone campfire ring and ended up with two of the three sons in direct confrontation with us on our land. One fellow was benign enough. The other liked to use the word "asshole" directed at me, four times. It made Susan uncomfortable enough to leave the scene and like Lillian Gish in the film The Night of the Hunter, phone the "troopers" (state troopers). This is what country folk often used to do. We've lived here forty years and have maybe called the state troopers a handful of times, and this was only the second time we called on a neighbor, and coincidentally, both neighbors had lived, separately, in the same house at one time or another. We have a theory about that we'll leave for another tale.
Long story short, a state trooper came out, ever polite, listened to our problems and went and sniffed things out. For whatever reason the local sheriff's department then got involved (we didn't call them) and they took over from the state troopers. The sheriff's department advised and a decision was made (again, not ours, but we agreed on their recommendation) to have an official "Notice Against Trespass" served on the woman and her sons. Everyone wanted to include all three sons. I balked on that idea, because only one of the three sons had caused trouble, so the notice was directed at only the mother and the oldest swearing son. Neither could step on our land, or use our swimming hole (which has never been posted as No Tresspassing to anyone, please keep that in mind). In time, during court proceedings with the woman and the State of Vermont (we were not involved) the State decided, watching the woman's actions in court, to put an order against the woman not to have any contact with Susan or me. She had to stay 300 feet away from us at all times. She had to leave a building if we were in the same building etc. The sheriff's department had left their mark. They made one small mistake at the start of things which turned out for the better because it dropped away a novice deputy and brought into the forefront a Captain, to tidy the mistake, who turned out to be a solid arm to work with.
None of this took well with the woman or the three sons, so after the No Trespassing Notice was put into place, she confronted Susan on the road as Susan returned from the mailbox one morning with our mail. It's important to know at that time no one was a witness to this confrontation but Susan, the woman, and a friend of the woman who quickly departed in her pickup truck. But she was there. Hold that thought.
The woman lambasted Susan. Did her "Fuck You!" rant at her, then ran across the road and jumped up and down onto our land, mocking Susan and the law, and screamed "Call the Police! Call the Police!" and as you know by now, Susan complied. The sheriff's department came out again which only made things more convoluted, gnarled, and put this woman into some months of visiting the court, having been charged with a criminal action and now facing the State's Attorney.
Vermont has a very fair legal system where this woman could have taken the route of an easeful admission of her actions, apologizing to Susan, and perhaps / or not, doing a minimal amount of community service. I can't tell you why it is, but some people on this road are arrogant and quite foolish: this will be the third individual who refuses to admit to their poor judgment, won't talk and move toward reconciliation, and in this woman's case will push ahead and steamroll the State into countless man hours in the court, sheriff's department involvement, drawing in other legal offices, never mind what is happening to us and the continuity of this road and neighborhood. She will also forego legal counsel and defend herself, a nightmare for the State's Attorney.
Now what happens next is fascinating, if you like to be fascinated by clownish acts. Instead of acting toward any reconciliation with us (talk), and now she can't because of the court order against having any personal contact with us, the woman conjures up an idea of getting "witnesses" attesting to her good character. This will be in the form of signatures via a petition. It could be used in the final leg of her court case if all of this came before a judge and jury. It might, it might not. It's all fair game. We hear about the witness list from the sheriff's department who now have to come out and interview each of the nineteen witnesses. It shouldn't be lost on anyone what time and expense this is costing the taxpayers. We're on the other end wondering day by day what has kept the cleanup crew organizers from ever talking with us, the woman and her husband and the stolen rocks, now this woman and her teenage sons. All a no-brainer since all can walk and talk and sit down and hold a conversation, but they won't. None of them. In fact it seems so obvious to both the state and the sheriff's department (except for the Captain) that any idea of reconciliation is impossible! Each deputy and sheriff have war stories on the failure of neighbors in similar situations ever getting along. I don't at all agree and have been pushing for reconciliation since the first day when that cleanup crew went screwy. I thought for sure, since I knew the organizers once upon a time, that they would call that evening and want to smooth things out. I may as well of been living on the moon. We had been writing a timetable of correspondence with our town officials (all directed to the Selectboard) from the very start regarding these upsets with neighbors so there was an actual time-line as things occurred, trying to make them aware at what trouble was brewing down here in the valley. Not once did we have a letter in return from any town official. The only favor we got was a town assistant making matters a million times worse. We asked the town to explain that town assistant's actions. They have so far refused to.
Sounds peachy, eh?
So now we have this staring at us: neighbors who can cause mayhem because of their personal unraveling or during a fit of momentary madness. Whereas an exercise properly and fairly addressed, on equal ground, neighbor to neighbor, they want nothing to do with. In fact the cleanup crew organizers sent a short letter to the town, after we shared with them, practicing full transparency, our letter to the town about their actions — in their eyes it was Bob and Susan who were being "derisive." Classic. They trespass, begin damaging our property, we confront them, wish to talk it over, they refuse, and we're derisive.
We now have a sheriff's department who are visiting us like family members months into this ordeal. They're down here getting familiar with the problem, attempting to address the perpetrators, and later interviewing the nineteen "witnesses". While the nineteen witnesses are being formed, we heard on good authority the woman with the young sons who is carrying the petition around is not wasting time but forming her own party of conspirators to go against Bob and Susan. It's a harmless and lawful petition that's gathering names — but also a sneaky allegiance ploy, kind of mob mentality. We know some of the names on the list and when Susan runs into one of the signers while in a hardware store he tells her, awkwardly, that the woman is the "victim" and Susan is the one bringing a lawsuit against her! Yes, in a nightmare, this comment and scenario would be true. In fact, typing it out here, I can see it in so many words, and it's all the more absurd. People aren't after a truth and understanding; they're moving in circles of familiarity, similarity, and prejudice.
It only gets better.
None of the "witnesses" on this list are witnesses to any part of the woman's assault on Susan. None. And just to show you how no one seems to know how to play fair, Susan knows there was ONE witness at the assault on the road by the woman that day, and since the woman isn't honorable enough to put that name on the list of bogus "witnesses", Susan puts that name on her list of witnesses. A real witness. It's the woman who drove away that day in the pickup truck. She saw everything start to spark-up from the offending woman and so she hightailed it out of there. In fact, once I hear this woman has nineteen witnesses, I assist Susan to round up her own "good character" witnesses, and with no intent to conspire or play dirty, Susan ends up after a general circulation of the neighborhood and surroundings, with sixty 'good character' witnesses. Pretty good, girlfriend! This includes signatures, written testimonials and some quite long letters that span from the oldest resident in all this valley (whom we've known for decades), to a long time regional logger at the other end of the valley, and a family doctor inbetween. Plus all of our many friends, writers, artists, hand laborers, and even a Presidential gold medal winner if I may so myself for Susan's benefit. It was beautiful to behold.
Yeah yeah yeah, Bob, but what happened at the end of all this?
First thing, the three sons of the mother start harassing our home and property with their vehicles late at night: horns blaring, shouting, thrusting middle-finger salutes, swearing. They've also been on our property moving things around. They start to get braver and switch from middle of the night carousing to evening hours, when we can see them busy at their sport. Since we've been told to inform the sheriff's department if any such tricks occur, we do, and they assign yet one more deputy to the cause. We are now up to two deputies, one Captain, and the sheriff involved with this case. This newly assigned deputy seems to have a certain skill to curtail the vehicle sport because it stops for the time being.
Despite the fact we can't have any contact with this troubling family, I keep asking the sheriff and the State's Attorney (via Susan) if we can form some sort of meeting with the family and begin a human touch reconciliation process. I'm determined it can work. I'm told by both agencies it may be possible at the end of the court proceeding, when all is said and done, and the damage is done — which I find the worst time. The best time would have been at the start, and my idea was shot down then. Midway was also a possibility, just as the nonsense cars were squawking by. Hit them in their stride and well, talk? Nope. The legal process is in full bloom, the mother is in court, the sheriff's department and everyone has put in a great deal of time, we can't have this solved by neighbors suddenly getting along with neighbors. It's a serious legal issue at this point. If you feel like it's all at a loss, it's because it is all at a loss.
Yet, there is hope —
You remember the folks we had some trouble with using many sessions of fireworks south of us, past our woodlot? Well that has only sweetened slowly but surely into something quite healing and nourishing. On account of all of us wanting to keep our heads, keep our cool, and wishing to talk, apologize, make amends, have a mug of tea together, and straighten whatever had become crooked. It's the pure daylight moment in all these many seasons of rotten stuff, legal action, terrible gossip, bullying, back-stabbing etc that has come to us. It was a glowing reminder of what we always practiced on this road in the decades we lived here when neighbor could almost always talk with neighbor. No need for cops, lawyers, outsiders, who really would rather not get involved if they don't have to. People should be able to work things out.
So the woman with the three sons went through her court case, now being prosecuted by the State of Vermont, and this is what was decided. In a letter from the State's Attorney's office : "This is to inform you that on October 16, 2012 the above named case was resolved in the following manner: The State agreed to dismiss the criminal charge while the defendant agreed to write you a letter of apology and abide by any current trespass order. The criminal charge was dismissed without prejudice which means it can be re-filed in the future
I met up with one of the workers from that original work crew (not one of the two organizers), and we had a solid talk one day on the back road where I could explain things about our property and he could be sincerely mindful, and that was nice. We like to cut logs together and share the lumber made from the logs off his portable sawmill. It all works.
The woman who steals rocks, and her husband, have done a number by spreading around the initial misinformation from the unfortunately misinformed town worker and that has stitched its way, mile by mile, through parts of the town, family by family, where we get to be on the receiving end of cold shoulders, cruel and revengeful pranks on-going, and outrageous comments. It's a barrel of laughs (not). The town Selectboard who refuse to address our concerns, or the many letters to them, have now publicly told others that our problem is a "Swimming-hole problem; where they don't allow people onto their land. They think they own the river." A perverse and ludicrous statement. Poisonous. The kind of false statement, spoken by the chairman of the Selectboard never mind, that causes deep-seated resentment within a community that then takes years to unwind and mend. When, in fact, we have the only swimming hole on the road that isn't posted "No Trespassing," and never has been and never will be. It's free to use for all. I won't say: "Go Figure" because it won't do you any good. It's a Selectboard that refuses to recognize their negligence concerning now two fellow town workers speaking through their employment, as the board now magnifies the damage done by these spokesmen by following suit. We have tried now for almost two years to go figure, go attempt communication, go to a dead-end, and we're hardly giving up. Outrageous is a big word to play around in.
We just learned that both the sheriff and State's Attorney were incorrect in their counsel to us during this trouble and proceedings — there is, in fact, a department in the judicial system available solely for mediation. This could have been setup for us and directed toward the troubled family at the onset, or anytime, and would have maybe caused us all a lot less grief.
We were never looking for hardship for anyone, but likewise we weren't about to take hardship all on the chin, and find ourselves and property abused. We took to the "high road" during all of this. The sheriff's department asked us to, and we were already there. We were sworn at, land abused, land trashed, character diminished up and down the road with lies, and a string of months where we had to endure a lockdown procedure of no contact with almost any neighbor. And when those "19 witnesses" were drummed up, we actually couldn't contact any of them. As if we had done something wrong. And, of course, this is all wrong. Luckily a few from the nineteen witnesses caught wind of its phony presentation and personally got hold of us and wanted to apologize and be told the truth of the situation. We gladly spilled the beans.
I'd still like to talk with the work crew organizers, the woman of rocks and her husband, the woman and her three sons, plus the Selectboard so I could plainly explain some things. Susan certainly wishes to. We have a piece of property and a lifestyle, quite quiet, wooded and serene, that we would like to protect and have it be respected, as we've always practiced this same respect to others. It does no good to get into other peoples faces. We'd also like the Selectboard to listen well and then write a letter of clarification describing what their office has done, including the harm, in the hopes that it may never happen again to others. In all my years in Vermont, I've certainly had positive and enriched excursions and travels and meetings with many selectmen. It should be a winding and rural rich, two-way driven connection. Like these back roads we live on.
21 November 2012
I believe the character-witness letter written in support of Susan and provided to the Vermont court from our observing Norwegian friends and colleagues best describes the ramifications:
"To whom it may concern,
We are very sorry to hear of this strife which shows great lack of concern and insight on the part of the trespassers. This is classical, but nevertheless painful . In Scandinavia we talk of the "Jante Law" as defined by the Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose, which states that it is dangerous to be different and competent for then you can easily be the target of ill-will.
We want to testify that Susan Arnold is a highly competent and very reliable person, she is truthful and considerate, careful and industrious. We have collaborated with Susan and Bob Arnold for many years now; they have published our work in many booklets with their press Longhouse Publishers and Booksellers. Through this we have learnt about a great and selfless project, a life’s work which is of utmost importance also internationally. They have done and do an invaluable job for literature.
It pains us that there are people who have no insight into this,
Hanne Bramness and Lars Amund Vaage
Sunde, Norway 12th of September 2012"