The Northern Pass Project | 'My Roots Are Deeper than Your Pockets'
We’re witnessing a new land rush. In the 19th century the settlers would race to the frontier, occupying land in advance of completed surveys or laws–in a word, squatting. They would claim more land than they could farm, fell the forests, deplete the soil, and move on. Land hunger was there at the country’s founding. It’s one of the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence; the British were hemming the colonies in, preventing them from expanding beyond the Appalachians. “Land Rush,” historian Daniel Boorstin wrote, is “only another name for much of American history.”Against this new land rush we have only a piano teacher and a dairy farmer–and, fortunately, thousands of others who can see across boundaries and generations. One afternoon I went to see one of those people, Sara Timmons, in Greenfield, New Hampshire, in the southwestern part of the state. Sara and her late husband, Jeff, had donated an easement to the Monadnock Conservancy: 416 acres of pastures and woods, with a bewitching view of Mount Monadnock. Their easement led to their neighbors’ conserving another 534 acres. They had all discussed donating easements.
“We had met enough times. The paper was there. Somebody had to sign it,” Sara says. She told her husband, “We’re going to have to go first. A lot of people will say they’re interested. Taking the first step is very difficult.” In 2002 the Timmonses did, and it made all the difference. They weren’t facing a big power project; they saw land around them being sold off in lots.
“When I was growing up, conservation didn’t exist much,” Sara explains. She was raised outside Philadelphia–“pretty, pretty country”–that had boomed. Farms were being sold for housing tracts and shopping centers. She was sad to see her grandfather’s farm sold.
Jeff had grown up in the country riding his horse anywhere he wanted. He loved to hunt and to garden. “He loved to be outside,” Sara says. “It was in both of us … I’m very land-oriented. I paint landscapes. I walk, I hike, I garden, I play golf. I’m an earth person, if there is such a thing. I’m the kind of person who shouldn’t be driving because I’m always looking at the scenery. I even like window seats in an airplane.” She knows the practical case that can be made, but that’s not why she acted. “It was to save the land. Period,” she explains. “My whole gut: It’s something that means a great deal to me. And it means a lot to other people.
“The mail gal was just here. She goes, ‘Oh, I have to deliver this to you here. Every time I come up here, it’s the best place anywhere.’ There’s nobody who comes up here … who doesn’t go, ‘What a spot.’ There’s something that touches people.”
“What do you think it is?” I ask.
“There’s a feeling in your soul about this place that I can’t really express,” she answers. She says what John Harrigan said: You can’t explain it. It’s just there. You feel it in your soul. Forget for a moment about looking out for miles at mountains; forget all the practical talk of forest management. The most important view is hidden at first. It’s how the land lives inside that person.
In New Hampshire’s North Country and all around the state, I meet many people like this. They know what they’re about, and where they live is a big part of that. They have something of the reach of the land within themselves. That’s why Lynne Placey can say no to $500,000 and why Rod McAllaster will not sell his farm at any price. Their roots are deeper than your pockets.
The Northern Pass has fueled fierce debate within New Hampshire. In “Battle Lines,” a November/December 2011 story by Ben Hewitt, Yankee examined both sides of the project. Read more about The Northern Pass, including an interview with Gary Long, president of PSNH.