Gated community?

Dr. DiSabato“Your road is much smoother than I expected!”

So said a recent visitor from the Granite State about her first encounter with the Plummer’s Hollow Boulevard (take that, you Pennsylvania wusses!). Lorianne also pointed out that, in light of our sturdy, locked gate at the bottom of the mile-and-a-half-long road, “You live in a gated community!”

“How can two houses containing three people be a community?” I said indignantly. “We’re an extended family!”

“That’s only if you exclude the animals,” she said. “What about all the birds and deer and chipmunks?”

It’s true, we do have the property posted for hunting by written permission only. That’s gating of a sort, I guess. On the other hand, we welcome casual hikers up the hollow road, and even provide a self-guided nature tour pamphlet in a literature box at the bottom. But we also have a sign a mile and a quarter up asking them to respect our privacy and go no farther. Our hospitality has its limits.

We certainly exclude unauthorized vehicles. I spent a couple hours Saturday morning with my brother and some hunter friends fiercely posting and re-blazing one section of our boundary with a new neighbor, who had begun to demonstrate an alarming tendency to disrespect the line and ride an off-road vehicle onto our land. Over the years, we have fought many such incursions, with a new incident once every two or three years. We’re usually nice the first time we encounter someone on an off-road vehicle, and increasingly hostile thereafter if they don’t quickly take the hint and stay off, eventually resorting to foul language and the use of firearms. Living in the country presents the committed pacifist with almost as many dilemmas as living in the city — though probably neither sort of place is as bad as certain housing subdivisions with their incessant leaf blowers and anti-clothesline ordinances. Actual gated communities seem to illustrate better than anything else the truth of Sartre’s dictum that “hell is other people.”

Though I think she was half-joking, Lorianne was right to suggest that our sense of community must extend beyond human beings, and encompass the entire local ecosystem. So the list of unwelcome visitors to the gated community of Plummer’s Hollow includes loggers, miners, industrial wind plant developers, and land speculators of all kinds. “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place,” says the Bible (Isaiah 5:8). Nature’s hospitality, too, has its limits, and a day of reckoning is fast approaching.

ReggieLorianne was amused to discover gates within gates. At the heart of our property we have erected a three-acre deer exclosure — a place where large herbivores are excluded by an eight foot-tall fence and three gates. We hope that the Turtle Woods Wildflower Sanctuary, as we call it, will provide an ecological baseline to help us measure the success of our controlled hunting program on the mountain.

Ironically, perhaps, the point of most of this exclusiveness is to provide a space for the unimpeded recovery of wildness. We are extremely wary of imposing too many of our own demands and desires on the land, believing that wilderness is not simply an area where human presence is minimized, but where larger-than-human forces are given the respect they deserve. We encourage deer hunting because we are pragmatic enough to recognize that the artificial removal of the natural predators of deer over a century ago has led to severe ecological disruptions. We look forward to the eventual return of cougars and wolves to the forests of the East, but in the meantime, human hunters will have to try and fill the gap as best they can.

So I think it’s fair to say that by placing strict limits on what we can do with the land, we count ourselves among the excluded. Buying land and erecting real or figurative fences around it carries the risk that one will come to view it as, in some ultimate sense, one’s own — a mere piece of property to dispose of however one wishes. And there’s probably no firmer barrier to understanding than that.

Let’s remember: a gate is not just a barrier, but a portal, as well. John Muir wrote that “the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” Any space between two trees can become a gateway of sorts for anyone whose mind is fully open to what the land itself is trying to express.

witch hazel blossoms

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

16 Comments


  1. Wow, now if all gated communities were like yours, what a better world it would be. I enjoyed this additional glimpse into your life on Plummer’s Hollow, Dave.

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  2. “eventually resorting to foul language and the use of firearms…”

    So you curse them before you shoot them? Have you kept track of where the bodies are buried? I’m beginning to think those 3 acres of wilderness are wilder than I imagined, fertilized the by likes of ATV interlopers. I think if you could introduced wolves and cougars on to your land that might take care of more than the overgrown deer population.

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  3. The last photo is lovely – looks like embroidery.

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  4. Thanks for the comments.

    I think if you could introduce wolves and cougars on to your land that might take care of more than the overgrown deer population.

    We have talked seriously about reintroducing timber rattlesnakes, which were probably eradicated from this end of the mountain over a hundred years ago. The only problem there is that it’s practically impossible to do — adult reptiles generally don’t survive a transplant, and the natural mortality rate of the young is prohibitively high.

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  5. Lovely shot of Lorianne! I had not run across that quote from Isaiah before. Very interesting.

    Thanks for the smorgasblog link, and for connecting me to the very nice Belieu poem!

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  6. I love that last statement, along with the photo. Nice post about your “community” too.

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  7. I’ve always wanted to set up a deer exclosure. I tried, with little hope of success, to get the people at Nescopeck SP over here to set one up around a colony of trillium. Hawk Mt. has one up around the native plant garden and pond.
    In any event, I like you gated community a helluva lot more than the mainstream gated coms that have sprouted up around these hills in recent years — none of them good for all other life forms.

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  8. Great photo of Lorianne–and your yellow leaves look like small stars.

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  9. Thanks for these additional comments.

    Alan – The problem with erecting fences in the woods is that they require constant maintenance to clear fallen trees, grapevines, etc. So people might well think twice before putting them up. Roger Latham Sr. put up numerous deer exclosures in northern PA back in the 50s, when he was a biologist for the Game Commission, but only one survived – the famous Latham Fence.

    patry – Those aren’t leaves, but witch hazel blossoms. They start blooming in late October and usually keep going through the second or third week of November here, lighting up the woods.

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  10. I can’t wait for another walk in the woods now. Thanks.

    Do you work backwards from those great last lines of yours?

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  11. Do you work backwards from those great last lines of yours?

    Actually, I didn’t think this one was that great — it struck me as a tad awkward. I spent a lot of time trying to improve it, and finally gave up.

    But to answer your question: no. The last line is typically the next-to-last thing I write in any post or poem. The very last thing to go on is the title.

    But to answer your question again: yes. Quite often, after coming up with a good ending and title, I’ll rework the beginning a bit to harmonize with them. (I don’t think that happened here, though.)

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  12. Hey, that’s me! At least that’s the first thing I thought when I scrolled down while sitting here at a Panera in central Ohio, seeking respite from my folks’ wicked slow dial-up and feeling very far removed from the mountains of either PA or NH.

    Zen is sometimes called “the way that is no way,” and in that spirit there’s a center in my Zen school that calls itself the Gateless Gate. So here’s your morning kong’an (koan), Dave: how do you walk through the gateless gate?

    It’s 10:17am here as I type this, so I hope you’ve already attained this kong’an. ;-)

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  13. Funny, I originally referenced the Mumonkan (the Gateless Gate) in my last paragraph, but took it out for concision’s sake.

    I’l have to get back to you on that koan. *bows, hits keypad with forehead*

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  14. I like “wicked slow.” If I lived in New England, that would be my blog’s name.

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  15. Dave, hitting the keypad with your forehead is actually a pretty good answer to the gateless gate kong’an. And yeah, “Mumun” translates as “No gate”: one of my friends, in fact, has that as his Dharma name.

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