Chapter Forty-Five: The Goddam Gate

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 and I'll email you a copy.

Monday 30 September 2002 - At some point in the afternoon, someone was target shooting up at Leroy's; Michael was logging at McLoughlins; I could hear the logging operation over off the Paris Road; and there were major machine sounds from over toward Crystal. One couldn't really say it was "noisy:" it is still always culture shock to go back to the noises of the city after being here six months. Nevertheless, it is not the dead silent place I first came to 25 years ago. Until the Ice Storm, we were so deep in the woods that almost all sound was muffled or muted, and there wouldn't have been much to hear even if you could hear it. Then came the logging road improvement, A&B cut, the pipeline, the Ice Storm, all the cutting after the Ice Storm, etc., etc. Now, not only is there more going on around us, there is nothing much to buffer us from the distant sounds. We can still go for a month or more with no one visiting us, so we're still plenty isolated, but civilization does feel a little closer."

When I wrote that journal entry, we were prepared to settle down to a new succession of relatively non-eventful years at Camp. We had suffered through a very traumatic stretch of Man wreaking havoc on the lands around us - first with A & B [a small logging company with a big penchant of clear-cutting] mauling several hundred acres of wonderful old hardwood forest, followed by a whole summer of torn-up roads and constant machine noise as a gas pipeline was buried on the cut below the powerline. Then Mother Nature got in the act, with the Ice Storm of the century leaving us with the view from our cabin a little closer to a moonscape than its previous mature Northern forest. But that was all over, we were still as "alone" as ever, and nothing "new" seemed in the wind. When, during the following winter, Sarah told us in a phone call that someone had bought all the A & B property on Dummer Hill, and was planning to build a house on top of Cummings Mountain, it was more interesting than alarming.

Friday 16 May 2003 - Arrived in Dummer from Binghampton about 6 p. m. As we drove up the Dummer Hill Road after visiting with Sarah, we saw some evidence of the new owner's plans. He has made substantial ditches alongside the road through "The Birches" area, and is putting more crushed rock on the roadway. Pretty bumpy ride, but very dry the whole way.

Well, nothing wrong with upgrading the Town Road; might make it easier to get to Camp early in the season.

Wednesday 28 May 2003 - Our new neighbor - the one who plans to build a house atop Cummings Mountain - has some kind of road completed clear to the house site, now. In the evening, I could see and hear a Cat working right near the top.

That's a little sad. The hike up Cummings Mountain, pushing through brush and climbing over blow-downs on long abandoned skid trails, was one of the nicest long walksaround Camp. And the woods on top were great - in May, the carpet of spring beauty, squirrel corn, and Dutchman's breeches was the lushest I know about. Okay, so time's change. That's life.

That summer passed without us setting eyes on our new neighbor, although plenty was being said about him. Joe and Caesar had approached him with an offer to buy an acre or two from him around the Gun Club, so their spring (their only source of water) could be better protected. He turned them down flat. I thought maybe it was because the Town has restrictions on anything that might be considered subdividing, but I learned that if the property of the potential grantor and grantee touched, there was no restriction. Maybe he was just putting off any action like that until he had all his plans worked out?

Wednesday 1 October 2003 - Our 'neighbor' from the top of Cummings Mountain rode into Camp on his 4-wheeler, and visited for awhile. He never introduced himself, but he was the man I had talked to out at the landing recently. He obviously assumed we knew who he was. He seems nice enough, but obviously lives in a different world than we do - he talked about buying new tires for his truck when he got flats!

Sunday 7 December 2003- Sarah called us in Oregon to chat. Our 'neighbor' has now posted all his land on the Hill with 'No Trespassing' signs, and is allegedly chasing people off the Town road. He chased one person all the way into Camp, and read him the riot act for being on his land. Even though the road runs through his property, it is still Town road, so I don't think he can legally stop anyone from using it.

* * *

We arrived back at Camp in 2004, and spent a quiet summer. We heard some talk about our neighbor, and his confrontations with hunters and sightseers using the Town road, but things seemed to have quieted down. He was apparently spending some time on top of his mountain, but I'm not sure we saw him the first couple months we were there.

Wednesday 28 July 2004 - Our neighbor has erected a massive entrance arch at the junction of his road and the Town road. It looks like entering The Ponderosa! I assume he will eventually put some name on it - Wilderness Acres, perhaps?

Wednesday 1 September 2004 - Our neighbor has added to his Ponderosa-style entrance arch. He now has big wagon wheels on both sides of his road! I think he thinks he is in Wyoming.

Thursday 30 September 2004 - Seldom does something strike me funny to the point that I'll laugh out loud when I'm by myself. Today was one of those funny times. As I passed our neighbor's driveway, I glanced over to see his new sign. It is lovely, with birds on each end and a nice script for the property's name. Only problems: the birds are western quail (scaled and California, not even bobwhite), and the name of his spread is 'Quail Ridge!'

This fellow seems nice enough, but honestly, he is the epitome of the rich outsider who moves into another culture, and tries to mold it in his own image. It's like someone building a Southern mansion on the Idaho sage flats. Quail Ridge, indeed! Why not 'Grouse Ridge?' We at least have some of them.

* * *

As usual, winter was spent in Oregon. No news about our neighbor; maybe things really had settled down to just having an eccentric person living on top of Cummings Mountain.

Friday 20 May 2005(Back at Camp) - Someone stole the two wagon wheels at the entry to "Quail Ridge." We can't tell our neighbor 'We told you so,' because we didn't, but we can tell each other because that's about the first thing we said the first time we saw them (i.e., that someone would make quick work of them).

Stealing the wagon wheels was obviously not a good thing to happen on the Hill, or anywhere, but it was in some ways inevitable. We'd never had any vandalism at Camp, even though it is left entirely on its own for six months out of the year, completely unprotected. But our land has always been open to everyone, if they leave their motorized vehicles behind and hunt only when we're not there. Our "Quail Ridge" neighbor, on the other hand, has completely closed what has grown to almost 2,000 acres of land that was never previously locked up in the history of the United States - more than that, in the history of the World!. His actions, attitudes, and "no trespassing" signs have clearly made him some enemies.

Monday 13 June 2005- When I came back up the Hill from getting the mail, our neighbor was out on his little tractor cleaning up the log landing above the Gun Club - looks good. Apparently, he will plant it to a grass-clover mix.

Tuesday 21 June 2005- Our neighbor has been doing some major work reclaiming old log landings, and turning them into wildlife fields. They will be nice. Sarah said he is really proud of himself for 'creating' these openings. He seemed surprised to hear that the Hill had once been homesteaded, and that there are old overgrown farm fields and former meadows everywhere. Sarah reminded him about all the stone walls and rock dumps on his property. I wonder where he thought they came from.

Friday 1 July 2005- While I was gone to town, Sally added a new bird to our Hill list: ring-necked pheasant. I had heard that our neighbor was releasing them for his friends to shoot. I didn't know he'd released any this spring, but it seems unlikely one survived the winter here.

* * *

Winter interlude, 2005-2006, followed by a quiet spring and early summer. But a major change was in the wind.

Sunday 20 August 2006- Dan, the 'Quail Ridge' caretaker, drove in this afternoon to tell us that someone had chain-sawed down their Ponderosa-style entrancearch. As a result, our neighbor has decided to put a locked gate at the A & B pad, so that people can't drive the loop from Cedar Brook to West Dummer. Since people can still drive directly to his place on the Town road (which can't be locked off), it's a stupid reaction. Dan gave us a key for our own use, but that doesn't address the long-term, philosophical question of him closing off traditional uses. I wrote a letter to the Dummer selectmen, and another to the newspaper (didn't send that one, though; not sure yet what fight we want to fight!). I'd like to pursue a formal prescriptive easement across his land, but... What an ass he is! He creates a hostile situation by posting all his land, chasing people off the road, putting up gates, etc.; people react as you would expect them to react, which he follows with an overreaction of his own.

Monday 21 August 2006- Talked to some of the locals about the locked gate. They agree that it's an overreaction, unfair to the public who have used the road forever, and possibly illegal (if challenged). On the other hand, North Country people feel strongly about property rights, and allowing people to do whatever they want with their land. Those who live on the Town road have mixed feelings, because stopping the through traffic on the loop means a lot less people driving by their house. On the other hand, they chose to build their house on the side of the road...

Monday 28 August 2006 - I hate using the Quail Ridge key, so have usually been going to town via the Cedar Brook end of the loop. I came back up the Town road today, and found that Dan had put a cable across the road where the (former) loop road leaves the Town road. It's a good idea (if you accept that the locked gate at the A & B pad was a good idea!) because people were driving down the very steep hill to the gate at the bottom, and finding out it was almost impossible to turn around, again. The new cable isn't locked, but it's secured with a U-bolt, so it takes quite awhile to unscrew nuts, lower the cable, drive through, get out, and re-attached the U-bolt. We have a really swell neighbor.

Thursday 31 August 2006- Our neighbor, with the landowners' concurrence, is now chaining the lower end of the Town road overnight. The chain was already down when I came through this morning, but it is one more inconvenience and slap in the face for the Hill 'regulars.'

Bob had driven in to Camp while I was in town, and was visiting with Sally. He wanted to see the folks on top of the Hill, but because of the Goddam Gate he would have had to drive all the way back out to the highway and around to the Town road - ten miles instead of the one mile it would be if the Loop was still open! I rode out to the A. & B pad with him, unlocked the gate and let him through (illegal, I know), locked it behind him, and walked the half mile back to Camp.

Monday 25 September 2006- Last night, someone drove a truck all over our neighbor's wildlife field above the Gun Club. Apparently the damage isn't too bad, but clearly another retaliation. I assume it is the same person or persons causing all this trouble, and I doubt they have any interest in bothering the rest of us. Still, it is sad to think that this kind of vandalism is happening on the Hill.

* * *

Another winter in Oregon, and back to New Hampshire in Spring 2007.

Thursday 24 May 2007 - The day started with the discovery that our truck's battery was stone dead. I called friends down the Hill, who drove in and jump-started it. Another Goddam Gate story: to save them the almost ten mile drive around to the other end of the (former) loop road (they only live a couple miles from us), I walked the half-mile out to the A & B pad to unlock the gate and let them through.

Thursday 11 October 2007- When I went down the Hill Tuesday, the Goddam Gate was wide open, and the chain was down at the junction with the Town road. I thought our neighbor had probably left the gates open so some of his cronies could drive through. Today I learned that someone had removed (probably cut) the lock, apparently over the holiday weekend. Although none of the vandalism is aimed at anyone but him, it continues to be disturbing to have the lawless element on the Hill."

* * *

As one does, we would have adapted to life after "Quail Ridge," as we had adapted to all the other man-made and natural perturbations the Hill had experienced. Still, in a way it seemed to me that "Quail Ridge" and what it stood for was a greater violation of the order of things than all the other events combined. It wasn't just a resistance to "change;" in the North Country, as everywhere else, change was to be expected. Clearly, we had lived through more than the usual amount of change in a short period of time, but logging, road building, unusual weather - they all "fit." What didn't fit was the locking up of land that had always been available for such traditional North Country uses as hunting, berry picking, sightseeing, and walking around the woods. Open access had always been a key feature of the lands "north of the notches." Millions of acres of lumber company-owned lands were freely accessible. Lands like ours were not completely unrestricted - we didn't allow motor vehicles, and our lands were open to hunting only when we weren't in residence - but in general people could wander just about anywhere, as long as they displayed a modicum of good manners and respect for owner rights. Reserving 2,000 acres for the sole use of one family and a few friends was - while entirely legal and our neighbor's "right" - a slap in the face of North Country values. It seemed immoral.

As it turned out, 2007 was our last long period of residency at Camp and on The Hill. Family business kept us away entirely in 2008. Sally suffered a stroke in early 2009; thankfully, it was not a major one, but it did leave her with such reduced mobility that our semi-wilderness living arrangements at Camp were suddenly much more complicated and dangerous. One last short trip to Camp in the autumn of 2009 was made to sell the property and say a last "good bye." The "Quail Ridge" situation was very much in our thoughts as we arranged the sale. We could have made considerably more money from the property than we did, had we sold it as a 92-acre private hunting camp. But we couldn't bring ourselves to be the agents for locking up more North Country land. We sold cheap to a friend who had the land adjacent to ours - a friend who also honored the North Country open-land philosophy.

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