The Price of a View in Vermont
It’s also, somehow, benign. Over here, that lonely mountain, floating on the visible world’s farthest edge, is a calm, reassuring presence. It rests and restores the eye. As constant, as permanent, as it is, however, it’s also full of pleasing variation. On a clear fall morning, the mountain is a deep royal blue; in a summer haze, it’s pale gray; and on a white day in February, it’s almost no color at all, a distant, glittering palace of ice.
From our hillside, we could see the upper two-thirds of the mountain. Indifferent to that view as I had been, I soon learned to appreciate it. Monadnock was nearly the only thing about our new home that didn’t require large infusions of either labor or cash. The house, a Cape Cod-style farmhouse approaching its 200th birthday, was in a condition not critical but, say, akin to walking wounded. For a couple of years before our arrival, we were told, it had stood empty. We discovered that that was not at all the case. The house had indeed been lived in — by mice, snakes, wasps, bats, squirrels, and also by a larger furbearer that might have been a porcupine, might have been a raccoon.
We swept and scrubbed and painted, and, later and for years to come, we repaired, re-sided, re-silled, re-glazed, re-plastered. We confronted the dilemmas, the painful enigmas, of home improvement. Do you do it yourself, or do you do it right? How come the biggest, most expensive jobs are invariably the ones whose results are the least visible, the least to be enjoyed? How in the world did the builders of the early Federal period manage to produce houses with no right angles in them at all? We shimmed up, shored up, fixed up. We lived and we learned — and always with Monadnock presiding from afar over our education.
Well, time has passed, and after unremitting effort and appalling expense, we have brought matters on this place to a curious pass. We have about stood our little world on its head. The house, which was a ruin, is today quite habitable. The view of Monadnock, however, which was so splendid, is finally no more.
It couldn’t have been otherwise. Robert Frost, who in his lifetime made a fair bid to be the Mount Monadnock of American letters, wrote a famous poem that begins, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He might have written, “Something there is that doesn’t love a view.”
Frost, for his part, was referring to the way the soil of the New England hill country shifts in its seasonal freezes and thaws, dismantling the region’s familiar stone fences. The force opposed to the integrity of our view to the east was equally inexorable: the upgrowth of forest trees.
For some years, I labored to protect our glimpse of the mountain. As long as that was a business of pruning, chopping, and clearing roadside trees and brush, the job was easy enough. In these last several years, however, it has grown difficult and at last impossible as more-distant woods have put on mature growth that blocks the view — not near at hand, but from farther and farther away.
Today, to get a look at Monadnock from our place, you have to climb the hill behind the house to the edge of the woods, or you have to get up on the roof of the woodshed. Fortunately for me, I regularly find reasons to do both.
The mountain is still there, in its distant azure realm, and although it’s no longer available around a corner of the house or through a window, it still affords the onlooker unfailing refreshment and repose. Whatever that view had cost, it was worth every dollar we’d spent. Or, at least, it was to me.
What had it cost?
Once, jokingly, I asked Dottie the Realtor that question. What did a view of Monadnock really add to the price of one of her properties? She smiled.
“It depends,” she said.
“Depends on what?”
“The buyer,” said Dottie. “Is he a grown-up? Is he practical? Add 1 percent, 2 percent. Is he … the opposite? Add 5 percent.”
“How much did you add for me?” I asked.