Selling The Land

By Mary W. Mathias

There was a sense of timelessness in the view to the west, back when we bought the land on Salem Lake with our friend Bill. We could sit outside on any clear evening and watch the sun sink down and disappear behind Owl’s Head Mountain, twenty miles away. Yes, we had bought the best land, the best view, and we were filled with a certain pride.

Our land partner, Bill, framed up a cabin on top of the knoll, with a porch on front, and a good roof. The stove pipe had a jaunty little cap on top that rotated with the wind, so smoke would never blow-back down into the tall cast iron heating stove inside, standing up as smartly as it could on its four stumpy legs. Homesteading, with no electricity and no running water, we became back-to-the landers.

For seven years we enjoyed that view we thought we owned. When an RV park went in on the west, trailers and Winnebagos became part of the view, along with a big fat laundromat building we could not un-see.

Bill planted a row of trees: maple, birch, balsam fir, white pine, and spruce. If clipped to just the right height, there would be no RV park, but still plenty of sunset, and Owl’s Head in the far distance.

In 1970, Bill married, and put his dreams of the land on hold. He moved back to New Jersey for work. In 1972, Robert and I joined the commune craze; we too moved off the land.

Something happened to Bill in New Jersey, perhaps a crisis of hope for which he had no remedy. He drove his car into his parents’ garage, and closed the door. His widow and two young sons came to the knoll with Bill’s ashes. What was left of him came home to Vermont to be buried under a white cross behind the cabin. And the row of trees on the west grew and grew, and all the little seedlings and saplings that had dotted the slopes and top of the knoll stretched high until the abandoned cabin was slowly pinned into place by a forest pressing in around it. Squatters found it, both human and wild. Weather and rain worked their way in. The porch roof sagged, foundation timbers rotted and bowed towards earth, the stovepipe lost direction and fell, taking the weathered cross down with it. For fifty years, land taxes were the only thing that kept the two families connected.

When we sold the land this August, the buyer wanted to know, “What’s that fallen cross?” Bill’s son answered: “My father’s ashes are there, but not my father. It’s not a place I care to visit. I have four beautiful children – in them I see my father every day.”

Satisfied, the buyer remarked to no one in particular, “You know, I bet if we mow down a bunch of trees, we’ll have some great views.”

“Could be,” we said, as we went our separate ways.

\"\"Mary W. Mathias is a retired dairy farmer and social worker who lives in Brattleboro, Vermont. She participates in two great writing groups, without whom she would get much less writing done. She works away at her memoir of the years spent at Frog Run Farm in the Northeast Kingdom.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *