Chapter Fourteen: The Abomination

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

Sally's mom was writing to us from Camp, 29 July 1974, when she heard unusual noises: "Some new logging or something is located so that I think things are driving in here. I perk up in a hurry and then nothing comes in. It may be way down toward Pontook but the noise echoes around so I can't tell."

That was odd. In those days, it was pretty quiet at our cabin. You could sometimes hear distant sounds - chain saws, the train at West Milan, trucks on the highway - but the key word was distant. Also, most of the noise was from the west, the way our access road came up Dummer Hill, and the direction of the communities of West Milan and West Dummer. "Toward Pontook" (as Calista knew from past cross-country hikes with Slim and the kids to visit the Nathan and Esper French, dam tenders at Pontook) was through a mile and a half of unbroken forest, with a 600 foot elevation drop from Camp to the river. Loud disturbances didn't occur in that direction.

Part of Calista's letter, written on Dummer Hill birch bark

A little later, same letter: "The trucks and saws sound so near it seems they must be just below Cedar Brook. I suppose sound carries up the valley. If Sandy was here, he would find out."

Now, that was interesting. Cedar Brook is no more than a quarter-mile from us, barely beyond our eastern property line. Yes, sound does carry sometimes, but that distinct?

Later, again: "Just then the saws sounded so near I thought it was on our road. Sure enough, it was Danny clearing our road."

So, that's that. Danny Forbush was out on our entry road with his chain saw, tidying up for her, on his way in to say hello. Nothing to see here, folks? No, there was more to the story - in fact, a rather major More. A new road had been built all the way from Route 110A: three and a half miles north, then another half-mile west to join with our access road from Dummer Hill. As the road was being built, there was active logging going on through country that had not been logged since the 1940s or earlier.

Calista knew what was going on before she left that fall, and told us over the phone, but it was pretty hard to imagine. Sally got to Camp a couple weeks before me in 1974, and in a letter tried to explain to me what she found.

"The logging road comes in to our road without changing ours. It joins between Hilda's Parking Place [a spot where Sally's Aunt Hilda used to leave her car, rather than risking the big rocks and ruts the rest of the way into Camp] and the little road just beyond there. Not at one point between the two, but all the way between the two. It's about six feet lower and wide. It is an awful sight but the rest of our road is unchanged. The new road follows the old road from Hilda's, and then veers east and crosses Cedar Brook, then up a ways, then meets a cross road and ends. The cross road evidently starts at Pontook, comes up to our road, and then goes to Cedar Pond. There has been logging all along the area up here in funny shapes, maybe test plots. The map is bad, but gives you an idea."

Sally went on: "The logging is close, but all we can see [from Camp] is a bright area through the trees. It only shows in certain light. We walked down the Cedar Pond side a ways and crossed the power line. The views are beautiful. You can see Cummings Mountain and the Hill, and I think will also be able to see the White Mtns. on a clear day... Lots of slash but it has been piled together some, so there is quite a bit of open ground. It's a mess but you can walk through it."

It was pretty hard for me to take in from 3000 miles away, and I didn't really understand until I arrived at Camp a couple weeks later, with friends from California. Then I knew: it was awful!

It was hard to get past first impressions to consider the actual impacts on us of the new road. It was such an ugly scar on the landscape. Even when the Dummer Hill Road (our access to Camp) was regularly maintained by the Town, it was a lovely lane through the woods. This new Abomination (as we began to call it) was an entirely utilitarian slash across the land, over twice as wide as the road up the Hill, and pretty clearly made with the sole intent of cutting the woods as quickly and cleanly as possible. Where the old track over the Hill had formerly quietly disappeared into our lane (little more than tire tracks) into Camp, there was now a massive clearing. Piles of slash were the remnants of our lovely entry woods.

* * *

The Abomination was a reality. Now, what did it mean to us? Beyond the general indignation about what they had done to our Hill, our concerns centered around inroads that could occur to our peace and solitude, and to the security of Camp. Before the new road was built, almost everyone who came into Camp intended to come to Camp. Our access (such as it was) went nowhere else, and even in the best of conditions, the trip in wasn't easy. That meant we weren't likely to see anybody but friends, or returning hunters who knew how to get to us and knew our land was open for their use. We like people just fine, and weren't averse to a surprise visit or two, but we treasured the fact that there were many people living close to Dummer Hill who had no idea our Camp even existed. Having a big wide road coming so close to us was sure to attract people, and some of them were pretty certain to explore our little trail through the woods to our door.

Security was the other issue. In the almost 30 years that Sally's family had owned Camp, there had been no vandalism to speak of, even though the land and cabin stood unoccupied for half the year or more. Break-ins, thefts, and miscellaneous mischief were becoming all too common in the summer camp areas in the North Country, and there had even been some problems with the camps on top of Dummer Hill. A lot of our good luck was almost certainly the result of few people knowing we were there. We were afraid that a fairly high standard road, likely drivable most of the year, would be an enticement for bad guys as well as good guys.

That first year, thinking of good things to say about the new road took a real Pollyanna-ish attitude. Yes, as Sally said in her letter to me, there were some great views along the road. And yes, it gave us easy access to some parts of the Hill that we hadn't been able to explore before. And yes, it gave us a place to walk in the evenings that didn't have quite the swarms of mosquitoes that we had to put up with in the denser, damper woods. And yes... well, maybe that was all the yeses we could come up with.

In the longer term, there did turn out to be some real positives. The road was often in better shape than the Dummer Hill road, which meant that Calista could often drive much closer to Camp than previously. Sometimes, she could drive all the way in to the cabin. Already in her 70s, she was still a good walker, but not having to carry all her supplies the last half-mile from car to camp was a real advantage to her. It almost certainly increased the years it was practical for her to stay at Camp by herself.

Another benefit of the road we would not realize for another 25 years. When a man from "Away" bought up 2,000 acres near us, and put a locked gate on the road between us and the Town part of the Dummer Hill Road, he effectively barred all travel on our original access route. The Abomination became the only way that most people could reach us. Not all unintended consequences are bad.

* * *

Over time, most of our objections to the new road turned out to be aesthetic. Many more people did "discover" us, but most of the visitors were folks we were happy to receive. Some of the hunters that found their way to us were not well-trained in how to behave on other people's property; there were no real problems, but we could have done without them. We did have some new vandalism - like 4-wheelers driving through our flower gardens and into the field - but nothing more serious than that. Too many people drove our entry road when it wasn't really drivable, causing us to spend a lot more time on road maintenance than formerly. The new easy access did entice more hunting from vehicles, a great deal of target shooting (which discouraged some of our evening walks), and a few parties arranged by kids from town looking for secluded spots to drink beer and have a good time. (The latter seldom got near our end of the road.)

It didn't take long for us to drop our original name for the route; it became just The Logging Road. After the first few years, logging along it became sporadic, and - outside of hunting season and summer weekends - we often had it to ourselves. Maintenance occurred at long intervals, but in between the landscape healed and The Abomination became just a "pretty good" woods road.


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