My Sanctuary

i live a transitory life / on weekdays i live in extreme southern new hampshire and work just across the border in the peoples republic of massacusetts / i have the greatest job in the world and get paid silly amounts of money to do it / i have worked at the same firm for / ready for this? / 37 years / i am the company mentor / people come to me with all manor of technical and philosophical problems / i tell them what to do / if they don’t like my advice they proceed at their own peril / i never say i told you so / but have had lots of opportunities /

but on the weekends / i live here / at my sanctuary / way way up in the hills and outcroppings and woods of central new hampshire / as i write this i am 30 miles north and west of concord / on the shoulder of mount kearsarge just under 1000 feet in elevation ./ we get ice and snow when nashua and boston get windswept rains / the road to this place is an upward winding unpaved often muddy one lane path / 4 miles of washboard gravel / my truck has seen 3 sets of ball joints in 10 years / if you come to visit in the winter or spring be sure your vehicle is equipped with tire chains /

the heat is provided by my wood stove / 5 cord of hardwood are dry and stacked outside in the shed / i will use 3 of them before may finally comes / i do have a phone and commercial power but no web connection / when there is a storm i am usually the first to lose service and the last to have it restored / i can make do /

my name is the 30′th in recorded history to own this place / the farmhouse was built c. 1770 by james peters / he moved to new hampshire in 1761 where he and his son john cleared this land / dug the cellar / fit the massive granite footings and built the structure / all without the benefit of a saw mill / the beams are all original / hand hewn / in 1821 a tornado came roaring down from lake sunapee and took the roof and some of the frame off / it was rebuilt by the morrill family shortly afterward /

this portion of salisbury nh was heavily agrarian during the first part of the 19′th century / all the forests were cleared and the land was under cultivation or used for pasture / new hampshire is the granite state / aptly named / our soil is thin and rocky and poor / our growing seasons short / our infestations legendary / our winters long and severe / early in the 19th century textile mills were being built along the merrimac river 40 miles to the east in manchester / and further south in nashua and lowell ma / it was an easier way to make a living than here in the rocky hills / so there was a constant stream of families fleeing this hard place /

then came the civil war / men went off to fight to preserve the union / but in doing so they discovered places where frost did not come in september and june / and soil was black and deep and without boulders that needed backbreaking stacking onto walls that now only divide yesterday and today / more families fled to california / they never looked back /

the result of all this was that hundreds of farms and houses built with such sweat and love went abandoned / the road where my farmhouse stands once had dozens of well maintained capes like mine / proud lofty barns filled with kids and oxen and holsteins / now all gone / fallen to disrepair and finally exhausted from the weight of waiting / collapsing into their cellar holes / death and renewal is relentless here / saplings sprout and reclaim their timbers / the stones bury themselves in the moss and composted fall leaves as if trying to forget an unfaithful lover / the dooryards / once opulent with purple lilacs and sweet honeysuckle and orange day lilies / the verdant apple orchards dripping with macintosh and baldwins and johnithans / all now stand jilted / silently alone to fend for themselves / overgrown and fighting for sunlight and oxygen and survival among the aggressive vines and pines and oaks and wild raspberry / their former protectors all have left for the promise of a better more affluent dream / the city / the west /

so i now live in a ghost town / all that remains are the bones and the dreams of their creators / and miles of stones that used to divide pastures / walls built one rock at a time / long ago in some lost short urgent summer / my sanctuary stands the last of a species / mute / anachronistic /

the old house is now mostly restored / but is still ancient / the porous stone foundation gives deer mice ready access to the pantry / i empty the traps often / cluster flies buzz around the bedroom windows / hornets infest the roof rafters / spiders paint their webs on the original exposed posts and beams / the wood smoke leaves soot and dust on the sills / the kitchen is primitive compared with my clinical stainless gourmet thermador showpiece back in nashua / it feels like a century ago here / but somehow more like home /

standing high upon the ridge to the north above my farmhouse / i look down at my domain / the chickadees sing their dee-dee mating song on sunny days in february such as this / i listen to the air rush by and the sound it makes as it moves through the young white pines that hold tightly to the thin hardscrabble soil for survival / their well adapted resinous needles reaching upwards for the still frozen late winter sunlight / i smile / i know the maples will soon begin to flow their sugarblood towards their yet unborn chlorophyll laden leaves / i sigh and inhale this panorama of life long ago and life yet to come /

i listen for the voices of the peters / the morrills / all i hear is the wind /

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