Telling the End of the Story First: The Final Week

Wednesday 16 September 2009 - Low 45.3, high 62.2. A little bit of blue from time to time, but mostly high overcast. Calm. No bugs.No real work today until I took the trash down to Dummer Plain in the evening. I birded around the field a little at breakfast time, then around noon I walked the skid trails up to near our west boundary, and did the skid trail loop. As I've noticed on other trails, the increasing shade and regular moose travel have kept just about everything open and easily walkable. The middle skid trail is a little worse than the main skid trail, particularly at the south junction where there are still quite a few berries, but it is still an easy passage.

We had one very brief warbler "wave" this morning, six species in about ten minutes. Other than lots of flickers on the road, and waxwings in the elderberry, not much going on. Wildlife: chipmunk (1), garter snake (1), turkey (1), blue jay (10), flicker (20), waxwing (10), white-throated sparrow (5), robin (1), yellowthroat (4), myrtle warbler (1), northern parula (1), black-throated blue warbler (1), black-throated green warbler (1), and palm warbler (1) - usually don't see palm warblers here until October.

Thursday 17 September 2009 - Low 37.2, high 63.7. It was clear early in the night, but by early morning it had clouded up again and there was a light fog over the field. Most of the day was partly cloudy, but there was more blue than yesterday. Calm. No bugs.We spent much of the day off the Hill, reading our e-mail at the Gorham coffee shop, making reservations at Town and County, grocery shopping, dropping off some weaving books for Mary at Becky's, and visiting with the Cordwells. Around 1700, I walked down through the Glades to the North Spring, and back.

Almost no wildlife on the Hill. I did see one small raptor (sharp-shin?) briefly. Otherwise: bat (1), chipmunk (2), black-capped chickadee (2), flicker (2). Two hunters drove in around 1600, just checking out places to hunt. They were locals, but I didn't get their names. They remembered the old lady who used to live here - saw her cutting wood in the Glades, and used to hear her call in to "The Forum" (more good stories about Calista and things that never happened!).

Friday 18 September 2009 - Low 43.9, high 61.0. A passing cold front brought intermittent sun and clouds, with a number of periods of light rain. Windy most of the time. No bugs. We were indoors most of the day, reading and working crossword puzzles. I did a small clothes washing, and walked halfway out our road. Only wildlife: blue jay (1), toad (1).

Saturday 19 September 2009 - Low 39.7, high 57.0. Yesterday's miscellaneous showers and drizzles amounted to 0.08". It was very windy all night and through the morning. Partly clouds, eventually clearing completely. No bugs. We spent most of the day packing boxes and sorting things to take or leave. Kent Lawrence walked in from the Pad and visited for awhile. I walked back out to the Pad with him, my one outdoor adventure of the day.

While walking with Kent, we met two archery hunters walking in our road. They had tree stands, and I got the impression from what they said that at least one of them had used a tree stand on our land last year. (Probably the person Bob Miller told us about, who claimed he had our permission.). I explained the tree stand rules to them (need a specific authorization from the land owner), which I think they understood but acted like they didn't. I told them that neither we nor Faulkenhams allowed tree stands. They walked back out with us, and drove off. It was all very amiable, and they thanked me for the info, but I was left with the impression that they weren't as naive as they claimed to be.

No particular wildlife events. I saw one Buteo go over in typical NE to SW migration mode, but no other hawks. Other wildlife: toad (1), salamander (2), blue jay (2), hermit thrush (1), flicker (1).

Sunday 20 September 2009 - Low 29.5, high 66.2, fairly heavy frost (but probably not killing) in the more open areas of the field. Some light fog over the field early, then blue all day. Mostly calm. No bugs. Lovely day. All day was taken up with various packing chores. Bob Miller had seen Sarah in the grocery store, so knew we were leaving, and came in for a few minutes to say goodbye.

We finally saw a moose. In late afternoon, Sally started saying that she felt "anticipatory" - like someone was watching. Sure enough, just at dusk a bull moose came down the lawn from up near the spring. He continued on out our road. It was too dark to see him clearly, but he seemed to be built very much like the one that tore up the bushes at the end of our road some years back - not extremely large, but heavily built, with a fairly large rack. Other than the moose, not much wildlife: chipmunk (1), red squirrel (1), blue jay (10).

Monday 21 September 2009 - Low 36.3, high probably about 70. Clear, calm. No bugs. I finished packing the car, closed up Camp, and we started over Dummer Hill just before noon. We visited with Bucky, Sarah and Ruthie for an hour or so, then drove to Gorham and stayed overnight at the Town and Country. Only a few birds seen on the Hill: blue jay (2), junco (1), hermit thrush (1), flicker (2). On the way over Jericho Hill a ruffed grouse flew into our windshield. We didn't see it fall, and it apparently just glanced off the windshield without harm.

Tuesday 22 September 2009 - Temperatures 40s to upper 70s, mostly overcast, mainly calm. We met with Bruce and Reggie at 1100 at the attorney's office in Berlin, and completed the sale of Camp. We left Berlin by noon, drove to Westford, MA (just west of Holyoke) via Rte 2 and I-91.

* * *

And so, with no fanfare and with nothing in particular occurring to highlight the event, my 40-year love affair with the wooded hills of far northern New Hampshire came to an end. We knew it would eventually happen: Sally and I had both reached our 70s, and the annual 3,000-mile drive from Oregon in the spring and back in the fall was seeming longer and harder for me each year. Still, we thought we had the time and luxury to plan the last trip the way we wanted it to occur. Reality intervened in January 2009, when Sally suffered a s stroke. In medical terms, it wasn't "major," but left her with weakened muscles that made walking awkward and made getting up and down from chairs and beds, getting in and out of vehicles, etc., difficult. This posed some problems even in our home in suburbia, but seemed like a major liability at our "camp" where there wasn't a square foot of level terrain to be found, where every move you made was either "up" or "down, and where even getting to the outhouse was an adventure in walking. It seemed like it was time to move on in a different direction.

The End - and The Beginning

Sally's folks bought our New Hampshire "Camp" in 1947, and it occupied a big place in her childhood. I made my first visit in 1969, and there were only a couple years in the next 40 when I failed to get there, at least for a short visit. Until they were off on their own, our kids spent portions of each year on The Hill - usually for weeks before and after my all too brief vacations. We had a lot of history, memories and emotions invested in the place. It was hard to think about giving it up.

"Giving it up," in our case, really meant passing the property on to someone else. Both of our kids were on the West Coast, and it seemed unlikely that either would ever be in a position to visit New Hampshire regularly. And property needs care. Although our cabin and land were left on their own for half of each year, our (minimal) house repairs, garden plantings, and field mowing were enough to show people that the land was "occupied." We had been blessed with 60 years of almost no vandalism, but times change. Personal business in Oregon had kept us away from The Hill all of 2008; in that one season of no field mowing, 4-wheelers had found our camp apparently "abandoned," had taken down part of our protective stone wall, and had driven through our gardens and far down the field and into the woods. A friend who hunts on our land found the damage, and erected barriers on several occasions, but each time he came back he found they had been removed. It was clear that, if we weren't going to be able to be there, we had to make definite provisions for the future.

There was no question that we could find buyers for Camp, probably ones who would pay considerably more than the relatively low asking price for most North Country land. Why not? - 92 acres of isolated woodland, no neighbors, pretty good access if you had a vehicle with high clearance, a pretty good cabin if you didn't mind roughing it - in other words, the ideal private hunting camp where you could drink beer, play cards, tell stories, and occasionally go out and shoot at something. But we didn't want Camp to become a private hunting club. In the previous half-dozen years, we'd seen 2,000 acres of The Hill put behind locked gates, with "no trespassing" signs everywhere - land that had been privately owned, but to which access had never been denied to anyone willing to exercise good manners and follow a few rules.We couldn't bring ourselves to be parties to the further privatization of The Hill.

We considered donating Camp to a land trust but, although it was a "nice" property, private money was scarce and much of the land protection effort in the North Country was going into more significant acquisitions. Then, Sarah told us that Bruce, our nearest neighbor on The Hill, had expressed interest in buying Camp. He couldn't offer a lot, but he owned adjacent land, loved the area like we did, and shared many of our values regarding land use. It looked like a good way to go.

We probably could have taken care of the paperwork long distance, but both of us felt the need to get to Camp one more time, to say "good bye" properly. It took us two tries: we got as far as Pocatello, Idaho, in June, but I couldn't mentally cope with the after-effects of Sally's stroke, and we turned back. I was still apprehensive in August, but the need was still there, so we tried again. We made it; did a little clean-up in the cabin; salvaged a few special belongings; wandered around the field and forest; visited with longtime friends; put the shutters over the cabin windows; locked the door; drove out our forest track one more time; signed the sale papers; and headed West.

* * * *

Four years have gone by since we were last on Dummer Hill, but I continue to write about our experiences there. If you've seen my "Semi-rough" essays in the past, on the Condor Tales/Symbios website, then you know some of the story. But there's still more to write. We kept a daily journal at Camp. In it, we recorded: weather data; lists of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians seen; when plants bloom, and where; how the bugs were [usually bad, if we took time to mention them]; what we did that day; and - usually the highlight entries - "interesting events". I've been using the journal to write about Dummer Hill, either directly quoting from my observations, or (more often) wandering off on parallel tracks that compliment and/or expand on the original observations.

I think you might be interested in some of these notes, too. If you don't know New Hampshire's country "north of the notches", maybe I can convey to you some of the flavor of this very special but little-known region. If you are familiar with Coos County ["kooz" in Oregon, but "co-oss" in New Hampshire], I suspect you will be able to identify with the sights, sounds and feelings I have to share. If you are a North Country native, you may be interested in how someone from "away" [and, after forty-plus years, I realize that in many ways I'm still from "away"] views your backyard.

Check back regularly, as I offer to you my personal homage to one of my favorite places, New Hampshire's North Country.

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