We all like and enjoy the pastoral and country images that are brought to mind when we think of rural Vermont. For years, publications like “Vermont Life” and “Yankee Magazine” have depended on all the enjoyment their readers got from the simpler, peaceful, and nostalgic way of life these images have conveyed on their pages.
I gladly admit to having strong desires for a simpler way of life. Most of my adult life has been an attempt to do just that. I like the old ways of doing things. I like working with my hands and avoiding as much as possible the noisy power equipment of today. I recognize I am sacrificing efficiency and convenience with my insistence on working with my hands, but it is my choice. The noise from all of the wiz-bangers is hard to take anyway and I am a Luddite if there ever was one.
My bigger argument is with the disconnect I find in many of the more recent arrivals to rural living. I notice a sense that they have moved to a place where consideration for your neighbors is not part of their view of life in a rural community. Whether they live in a village like mine or miles out on some back road, the attitude they seem to share is that there are no rules, no law out here, and I can do whatever I want. This really gets to be a problem when they cannot distinguish the villages from a location miles out on some back road. The attitude is that anything goes, it’s my land, and there are no laws to say I cannot do whatever I want.
Our villages, like the one I live in, are a cluster of homes, often a church, a post office, and sometimes a general store. The homes are close together just like any neighborhood you would find in a bigger town or city in Vermont. We are, in fact, a neighborhood.
When we moved over to my village of West Topsham 37 years ago this past September 1st, we were greeted by our new neighbors and welcomed. We both thought what a wonderful place this will be to call our forever home and raise our family. Our new neighbors became good friends over the years. They were all part of our community and we appreciated and helped each other when there was a need. We were a community and all of the caring about each other was part of living here.
Something has changed in the last few years. Many of our old neighbors have passed. We miss them. But there is a bigger change to our way of life than just losing our neighbors. The bigger change is the disappearance of a sense of community and consideration for each other. I think this is a sign of a culture that is hurting and breaking down.
Even in a rural community in Vermont, we have villages and neighborhoods. Moving to “the country” is not all about living on some back road with no one to be impacted or affected by your actions, especially if your new location is a village. Many of our town governments have not caught up with this either and tend to be examples of some sort of libertarian thinking that does not want to distinguish between the village and some location five miles out on a back road.
This last night, a soon to be new neighbor was burning the debris from a house and structure he has been tearing down on his new land. We are all glad to see the place cleaned up and taken care of. We woke up this morning to our home being filled with smoke. I could see smoke rolling across our yard from the debris burn next door. I went up there to find a fire unattended and burning with a piece of construction equipment, an excavator with a blade, parked tight to the fire. The equipment was in jeopardy of being burned as well as whatever the fire decided to burn next. There was no one there.
I called 911 and the local fire department responded. It was evident that along with old boards, vinyl siding was also being burned and other debris from the demolition of the structure. It is no secret that some of this may be toxic.
The fire department arrived and put out the fire. I went up to talk to the owner when he showed up to let him know I was the one who called 911. As I expected, I am the bad guy now. I was told by the owner, “I can do whatever I want on my own land.” I could see he wanted to fight and I started to walk away. This infuriated him more. He told me to stay off of his land (gladly I will except when he is trying to burn us all down).
My point for writing this piece is in the last comment from my new neighbor, “I can do whatever I want on my own land.” Isn’t this lack of consideration what is driving and hurting our society and culture all over?
Some of us live in villages and towns. We are not all out on some back road and it is not ok to be a bad neighbor.
The absence of consideration for each other is what I am noticing is a growing part of rural life as well as life in our bigger communities. I guess I will have to accept being the bad guy when I smell smoke.