DONALD HALL sat in front of an appreciative audience at the Red River Theatre in Concord recently and read from his new book, “Essays After Eighty.” His comments at the reading, his essays in his book and most recent interviews with him reveal that at 87 years old, Hall’s world has become increasingly smaller. The first essay, “Out the Window,” in his lovely new book begins:
“Today it is January, mid-month, midday, and mid-New Hampshire. I sit in my blue armchair looking out the window. I teeter when I walk, I no longer drive, I look out the window.”
During the question-and-answer period after his reading I did not get the chance to ask Hall the question burning in my mind: What kept him at Eagle Pond Farm all these years? According to interviews, that did not seem to be his intention when he arrived with his wife 40 years ago. Granted when the time to leave came a few months later, she reportedly threatened to chain herself in the basement rather than leave. But Hall’s beloved wife, Jane Kenyon, died 20 years ago. And 20 years later, he is still there.
My question would have been self-serving — my husband and I have lived on our 90-acre farm for 21 years almost to the day I write this, and I wonder of late what keeps us here. It is not especially easy (although considerably less difficult than for those who built the place circa 1825!).
We are at least a dozen miles from any grocery store. I often do not attend events I would like to since we are at least 45 minutes from any significant town where such events might occur, and it often seems like more of a chore. No friends ever happen to be driving by and stop in for a short visit. Keeping horses here is not easy with a barn built for dairy cows. That darn 1950s addition with the shed roof should be shoveled with each storm, something I am less and less inclined to bother with.
A couple years ago my uncle moved to a condo and would email me telling me how much he enjoyed watching the condo maintenance staff shovel the walkways. I admit I was envious.
But not long after dawn one morning last week I looked out the kitchen window and watched a weasel sprint down the middle of the driveway. The weasel was large and healthy and making a beeline for the foundation of the carriage house. He seemed to know where he was going, which makes me suspicious that he lives in the foundation of the carriage house and just happened to be headed home a little late that morning.
A few years after moving here I saw my first weasel on the property. It was late fall like now and the weasel was weaving in and out of the stone wall along the road. I went down the driveway to see where he (she?) was going and came to the end of the driveway just as the weasel was crossing to the stone wall on the other side. The weasel stopped and looked at me several times on his journey through the gaps in the stones, enough so that I walked to the neighbors to make sure they were not missing a pet ferret!
Several winters in a row I watched from the dining room window a weasel sporting winter white-with-black-tipped-tail wander the same stone wall. The only other encounter with a weasel was one that made the wrong choice of timing to run from the foundation of the barn to a clump of bushes — my border collie first treed him, then I had to pull her off the weasel, who feigned death until he felt it was clear enough to make it the rest of the way to the bushes. I never knew if he survived his injuries to see another day.
Although I know we have wild turkeys around, having seen the evidence of both their scrapings in the loose leaves and their crazy footprints in the snow, and of course having caught them on the game cam, just this weekend did I see the recent group live. From the kitchen window I glimpsed one turkey at a time come out of the stone wall-encircled cemetery area where Elisabeth and Ephraim, who lived for almost the entire 19th century, are buried. The turkeys walked up the hill and over the crest where I had caught them a couple months ago on the game cam.
Through the large kitchen window (11 panes of glass wide by four panes tall) I watch birds flit back and forth from the feeders — chickadees, goldfinches, blue jays, cardinals, titmice, downy, hairy, red-bellied woodpeckers — and of course, the squirrels all quickly got the memo that the seed and suet feeders have been filled and hung for the winter. Standing at the window, I’ve seen squirrels do acrobatics on the peak of the three-story barn roof; flocks of evening grosbeaks gather in the oak tree along the road; great blue herons land in the small fire pond at the base of the front lawn; mallards stop by, inspect and reject the pond as a nesting spot; foxes dart across the lawn to head for the woods; a beaver mysteriously appear in the pond and hang out for a couple days; a murder of crows gather on the lawn. All this and more has happened in the small amount of time I happen to be looking out the window.
Then I realize I may have my answer to the question I did not pose to Donald Hall. I stay here because of this specific natural world around me. Oh, the people are nice. But as with most typical New England communities, we all keep to ourselves but are quite happy to see each other when we do and certainly are there lending a hand when needed.
What really is keeping me here is that I have come to love and assimilate into the natural world of this particular patch of land and its current built environment. If I live to be whatever age at which I become mostly confined to a comfortable chair, I would be quite content if in front of this window is where I spend my days looking out.
Honoring Stacey Cole
Most readers will know by now that the gentleman who for over 50 years occupied the Nature Talks, Stacey Cole, died last week at almost 93 years old. Others who knew him well have written about Stacey and what seems to have been a remarkable life. I would just like to add that it has been an honor and a privilege to have alternated the Nature Talks column with him. I am sorry to have never met him.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.