The Northern Pass Project | 'My Roots Are Deeper than Your Pockets'
One of those calls was from the staff of Atta Girl Records in Thornton, New Hampshire. They invited her to Plymouth, where outside on the sidewalk, posing for a photo, they presented her with an oversized check for $2,000 that they had raised and another $650 from the Alliance Against Northern Pass and other groups. One man stopped to ask what was going on and wrote her a check on the spot.It was a timely gift. Because of her nephew’s sale, Lynne had to have her land surveyed. “I really didn’t know how I was going to make ends meet, because I’d used any spare cash that I had to pay this,” she says. “Still, I knew I had to do it to protect myself on Holden Hill.” The money covered the survey and some of her lawyer’s fees.
“The thing is: You know material things are going to eventually rust out, break,” she says. “They’re going to end up in the garbage or in the dump, whatever. Or the recycling plant. I think it’s more important to leave my children and my grandchildren the inheritance of land. Because land is something that you can pass from one generation to the other. And they can enjoy working on the land just the same as we have, and Donald’s family before him.” Her grandchildren are talking about farming again, and she’s agreed to sell a conservation easement to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
A stranger has come to town. He has suitcases full of money. He wants your land. Will you sell? Does everyone have a price? Is everything for sale–every last piece of land, every rock, mineral, pond, and mountain? Around kitchen tables, families are divided: Sell or don’t sell? And then your neighbor sells. He may be your nephew or the cousin you grew up with–and now he’s estranged. There’s a new stranger in town.
Strangers’ money has drawn a line across the land, sowing discord. It has divided the Placey family. They no longer talk to those who sold out. “We pleaded with them; we asked them not to sell,” Lynne says. But they wouldn’t listen; they wanted the money. Her sister-in-law is distraught. She was close to her nieces; she can’t believe that they would do this.
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.