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The Price of a View in Vermont

The Price of a View in Vermont
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Years ago, when our young family was searching for a place to settle in southern Vermont, we heard of a house for sale on Newfane Hill in the West River Valley. We were shopping on a pretty tight budget and had been in the market for some months. We’d looked over a lot of properties. One summer morning, I visited this latest property with Dottie, a Realtor from Brattleboro.

It was a likely spot, I found. In fact, “likely” is an understatement. The house itself needed work, but the setting needed nothing–it was on the eastern slope of a high hill, with little meadows all around, enclosed by stone walls and shady woods.

It looked like a place that would do for us; more than that, it looked, in the mysterious way of these things, like the right place, the destined place, the only place. (Every inexperienced buyer of rural real estate will know what I mean.)

Casually, I inquired about the asking price. Equally casually, my new friend Dottie quoted a figure that puzzled me. The number of dollars she named seemed to me to be calculated to buy four or five houses. I wanted only one. Had Dottie not understood? I put it to her.

“Price seem a little high?” Dottie replied.

“More than a little,” I said.

“Well,” she said. “But look at what you’ve got … ”

She pointed to the east. I followed her extended arm and saw, far away on the horizon, a vast blue pyramid rising above the intervening hills.

“You’ve got the view,” said Dottie.

I’m afraid I looked blank. I was a newcomer to Vermont, and to New England generally.

“That’s Mount Monadnock,” Dottie explained. Together, we silently contemplated the far-off eminence, I reflecting on its power to add value, Dottie (no doubt) figuring her commission. The next day, my wife and I bought the place, lock, stock, barrel — and Mount Monadnock.

It is one of the oddities of life in our state that for those in its lower-right-hand corner, Vermont’s best-loved piece of the landscape isn’t Vermont’s at all. Mount Monadnock (officially, Grand Monadnock) dwells in New Hampshire, about 30 miles east of my dooryard. Over there, they’re proud of their mountain. Of course they are. For its New Hampshire owners, Mount Monadnock is the geographical focal point of the whole southern half of the state. It’s also a tourist destination and a prime recreational resource. Monadnock, its promoters tell us, is, after Mount Fuji, the most visited, most hiked-over mountain in the world.

For Vermonters, the mountain’s value is comparable but harder to define. Its value is purely emotional. Monadnock may be in our neighbor’s domain, but it’s in our hearts.

Monadnock is a hard-rock cone with wooded flanks and a bald summit. At 3,165 feet, it’s by no means the tallest mountain in these parts; at least three nearby Vermont peaks — Stratton and Glastenbury mountains and Mount Snow — are considerably higher. Monadnock, however, is a solitary mountain, sitting quite by itself on the surrounding landscape. In its isolation, it draws and holds the eye from a distance as the higher mountains do not. They are grand. Monadnock is something better than grand: It is singular.

Updated Wednesday, November 30th, -0001

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