The Northern Pass Project | 'My Roots Are Deeper than Your Pockets'
This division is repeated all over town, straining the North Country ethic of looking out for your neighbor. I talked with people who were sorting it out painfully: He’s my neighbor–I’ve known him my whole life–but selling to Northern Pass is a grievous wound. I won’t shun him on the street, but I’ll avoid his business if I can. They mention David Hicks, who owns Hicks Hardware Store on Main Street in Colebrook. He had a sign against Northern Pass in the window, but then he sold his land. Talk of boycotting his business was quickly put down; that wasn’t the North Country way. One of his friends went to him, in private, and said, “How could you do that?” It was despair beyond anger, the bitter taste of disappointment that parents sometimes feel. You know better than that, don’t you?
There’s nothing left to say; it’s a difference of belief. Land is an asset; land is allegiance. Two different units of measure: money and devotion. What is land worth? What is love worth? Families debated, talking past one another as if they were speaking different languages. Love and money, and love of money: Try having a calm family discussion about that. How do you answer when your brother says, “This place is who I am–how can we sell it?”
Rod McAllaster could have sold his dairy farm for $4 million. But where would he be? He would have sold himself off the earth. This is his place; he was born here. At age 60, he’s a man who knows what he’s about. He loves this land. When a real-estate agent showed up unannounced at his farm, Rod told him, “I’m not interested at all. I don’t even have to think about it.” There was no amount of money the man could offer. “My roots are deeper than your pockets,” Rod told him.
His Stewartstown farm is right in the middle of where Northern Pass wants to run its power lines. He describes each route that the surveyors tried to take near his farm or through it. It’s a Gettysburg of real-estate maneuvers: They move here and are countered and move again.
He lays out the routes: This mountain, that cousin, this stream, that other cousin. Power lines and bloodlines, land and family and money all mixed together. Northern Pass has bought land or rights-of-way on property adjoining his on several sides.
Rod has seen his cousins around him sell. He grew up with them. “Has that led to arguments?” I ask. “Well, it don’t really help anything,” he says diplomatically. “Even though I don’t agree with them selling, they’ve got the right to sell. You know, it’s America. But at the same time, I’ve got a right not to sell.” Like his aunt Lynne Placey, he has agreed to sell a conservation easement to the Forest Society.
I ask whether there’s anyplace he would show someone to try to get that person to see the land as he does. He smiles and asks whether I have time to see the farm. Because the small dirt road uphill is blocked by some drainage work, we get on a four-wheeler to ride through the fields. Even though he takes care as we cross the gullies and cow wallows, the vehicle pitches and yaws like a small boat at sea. We pass cows, some of his 150-head dairy herd.
As we bounce along, he tells me the history. His 967 acres were once five smaller farms. He shows me the house where his grandfather was raised, the site of the house where his father and uncle were born, and where many old barns once stood. He shows me fields that have grown up, and woods they’ve cut that have come back. Each story is a map with a history. He’s in no hurry: “This land here–trapping porcupines when I was a kid, hunting, whatever–I know every inch of it. It never gets old, not for me. I don’t care if I’m up here in a blizzard–what I’m up here in–I like being here.”
We stop at a field by the house where his grandfather was raised. There are magnificent views to Bunnell (a.k.a. Blue) Mountain, Mount Washington, and Vermont’s Monadnock Mountain. It’s a big landscape: lots of sky and green hills. It’s panoramic. From farther up the hill you can see Canada.
How would he describe this view? “Spectacular. Breathtaking,” he replies. “I mean, I’ve seen it every day for 60 years and I’m not sick of it. That’s the way I feel about it. I’d rather be here looking at this view than I would somewhere else doing something that actually made money. I don’t make any money here, but we’ve been able to stay here. That’s all I ask for: just to get by and hold onto this property that’s been in the family. It’s important, and there’s a lot of history here. You start wrecking it and the history goes with the wreckage.”
He tells me about his older brother, who had no interest in farming and left to become a career Army man. Rod looks around, taking in the view as if it were all new to him. “He’s seen the world,” he says. “I’ve seen this.”
“There are very few places left like this,” John Harrigan says. “Wild country that you could travel as far as the eye could see and maybe not see anybody. A landscape that’s largely untouched by any great scars.” He’s been called “the voice of the North Country.” He’s owned three newspapers in northern New Hampshire, and today writes a twice-weekly column that runs in 13 papers. For 38 years he has written an outdoors column for the New Hampshire Sunday News. He knows what some from “down below” say: We’ve got big power lines all around the place down here. We don’t mind them. What’s your problem?
“Is there anyplace you could show that person to change his mind?” I ask./
“That guy represents to me the far edge of any hope, of making anybody understand the deep-rooted attachment to the land that’s being so evidenced here,” he replies. “It’s almost like a religion. Really, you have a hard time beginning to describe to somebody why you have a religion. It’s just there.”
“So you’re saying it’s like faith?” I ask. “Yes,” he answers.