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Jack Zaleski, Published May 11 2013

Zaleski: Sometimes we don’t need neighbors

Chelsea, Vt. – After two weeks in the hills and woodlands of beautiful Vermont, I’ve begun to rethink concepts of neighbor, neighborhood and neighborliness. When one spends time in a place where the nearest “neighbors” are miles away, one begins to conclude, “Who needs ’em.”

Don’t misunderstand. For all but a few months of our time in Fargo we lived in a perfectly wonderful neighborhood on an idyllic bend in the Sheyenne River near Horace, N.D. Our immediate neighbors were the best, and over time became good friends as well as good neighbors. We did everything from cutting firewood together to fighting floodwaters to consulting about lawn care to confiding about family and kids. Good people. I miss them every day.

But like the unpleasant old man in Robert Frost’s grand poem “Mending Wall,” I began to understand during my time in Vermont what the old farmer meant by “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost, of course, was making the point that the man was wrong, but the sentiment is not all that hard to understand after spending time in the springtime New England woods. The solitude can be intoxicating.

On the 500 acres around my daughter’s home, it’s a near-guarantee that being alone in the seemingly endless tracts of forest and steep meadows really does mean no one else is nearby. It’s not quiet, mind you, but that’s a good thing. The spring woods were alive with sound: hammering woodpeckers; all manner of songbirds; the drumming of ruffed grouse (they call them partridge out here); the chirp of frogs in the ponds and bogs; icy unnamed brooks and rills tumbling down rocky slopes; the shrill call of a circling hawk; and, if it’s early enough (or late enough) in the day, the yip of unseen coyotes.

Long walks on trails reminded me my legs and wind aren’t what they used to be. But it was worth the effort to trek to ancient sugaring shacks, remnants of stone walls, giant deadfalls that provided slippery bridges across brooks and swamps; a forest floor coming alive with fern fiddleheads and wildflowers; and upward to spectacular views of the greening landscape. To sit on a giant flat rock in a gentle breeze, alone with my thoughts, hopes and memories.

No neighbors. It’s good. It really is.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.