John Harrigan: A look near and far yields plenty of thanks
THERE I WAS this past Friday, basking in sunny 50-degree weather but getting ready to write about winter. I've been moving my office from downtown up to the farm. The house, circa 1850, was built on a north-south axis, as were many houses of the settlement era.
The settlers came up in the spring and rolled up a crude log cabin to winter and commenced clearing the land. In so doing, they selected the best trees of several species needed for building house and barn to begin in spring.
If you take a drive around the back roads just about anywhere, you'll see old houses that look pretty much alike. Settlers in a particular area would pool resources and send for blueprints of a certain house they liked and agreed upon, and when the stagecoach delivered them in town, they fetched them and commenced building with neighbor helping neighbor.
And of course the all-important barn came first. Helping each other as they could, they built barns all up the road while still getting by living in the rude log cabins. Once the barn was up, they started on the houses.
When neighbor Calvin Lakin, age 75 or so, was a boy, old-timers showed him the barely visible remains of the log cabin rolled up here on my place on the northwest corner of what is now my front lawn. He pointed it out to me - I can see it now - just barely there in the dark under a huge spruce tree. And I'd bet once those hardy folks left the log hovel and moved into the house, they gave plenty of thanks.
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The sunlight pours through the six-over-six window, and bathes me and the office and attack dog Millie, recumbent there on the rug, in golden warmth.
The sun will continue to sink lower on the horizon until Dec. 21, the winter solstice, when it will begin climbing back up. When I think about all this - the cusp of the seasons, the southward view from my office of back-country and mountains where not a soul lives, and where there are no all-night lights piercing the dark in a place where I can go right out the barn door to hunt, or fish, or snowshoe or cross-country ski, with no close neighbors except by way of close friendship, and then get to write it all, do I give thanks? You bet.
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I've been to Alaska a few times, the first on a junket to see first-hand what was going on with Prudhoe Bay and the pipeline, the last two or three times to visit longtime friend and wildlife biologist Jeff Fair, who lives in Palmer and writes and has a gift for making words sing.
They have wild parties up there during the few days around the solstice when it's totally dark. They celebrate what allegedly normal people would abhor. Having heard stories about people leaping over bonfires and consuming, oh, a haunch of moose and slabs of dried salmon, washed down with whatever, all accompanied by pretty fine home-made music, on my bucket list is another journey north to Jeff's cabin to leap (I might need help) over bonfires in the dead of night and day.
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Me thankful? You bet.
I'm thankful to live in a free country where you can say what you want and go where you want and force the government to correct its mistakes (see Obama Care). Thanks be that I live in a nation where nobody can knock on my door at midnight and drag me off never to be seen again. And a place where if I'm sighting in my muzzleloader or shooting a partridge for supper, no one calls 911.
And I'm thankful for current use, which assesses and taxes land for what it's being used for, not for its potential value as house lots else I could literally not afford to live here.
And I'm grateful for newcomers from Down Below, who have been here and seen this place and love it just as much at the natives do, maybe more, and are committed to moving up when they've retired and the kids are gone.
These new neighbors bring not only their income to add to the economy, but also a lifetime of experience and knowledge from a wide range of careers, and a passion for the territory.
They tend to drift into the warp and woof of life in the towns and the territory, see things with fresh eyes, remember where they've come from and why they're here, and soon pitch in to help make the region continue to be different.
They add to the rich mix of it all and so you'll never hear the judgmental term "flatlander" from me.
Happy Thanksgiving, and please pass the gravy.
John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH or email@example.com