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.
Lorianne 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.