We walked to the river in mud boots and in celebration. It was fifty degrees out, there were buds on the pussy willows, and spring had come back to the mountains just like we always knew it would. The river to the north of our place is claimed by the town of Dorset Vermont. It was left the Pinnacle, a gorgeous and now protected wooded knoll, in a local will a couple of years ago. Our property is just about four acres, but no one knows for sure since the land hasn’t been surveyed since the 1800s. It is hard to know exactly what the boundaries are. A neighbor told me the last surveyor measured from the tavern down at the inn… since the lines are so crooked they must have been drawn by someone who’d had a few pints at the bar.
The place is so gently beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes when I stood, perched on the balcony around the front, looking out over the mountains five years ago. The only thing that makes it the front is the fancy porch. The driveway comes up to a plainer porch which may have indeed been the front back in 1838 when it was built. But the old building has been added onto many times since, and somewhere along the way, someone decided that the best view was deserving of the fanciest porch. I wholeheartedly agree.
The things that make it beautiful and make us not care about the boundaries make others want to live here too, and likewise they don’t care much about surveys or boundaries either. The chickadees for one believe that they own the place. They perch around the chicken house, and on fence posts and belt out their charming little songs and even chase the cat away from the bird feeder in a swarm of indignation. They and the barn swallows like to nest in the corners of all the porches fancy and plain, and if we venture out to sit on the swing on these first coveted warm days, they screech and holler and remind me that they were here first and what does my little scrap of paper called a deed have anything to do with it anyway? They seem to have a point.
There are other contenders too, and I have been trying to take roll call before granting anyone else title. There is the little fox family who thus far have not made it into the chicken house. The mother has her hands full with three baby kits. She has been coming out into the sunshine with them, and I believe she may be napping as they run in frantic circles around her and our cat, Zoe. The cat thinks we have found play mates for her, and like a Disney cartoon they run round and round the house and the big open field. Mama watches from somewhere in the middle and our dogs sit in their vigilant duty over the chickens. Everyone, except the cat seems to have a job and is doing it. She is barely out of her own toddlerhood and can be excused from judging these visitors as anything more than her new pals.
There is a skunk to whom we all give wide berth. She like to snuggle under the screened porch and so we have taken to putting Eloise, our Bernese Mountain Dog’s hair there to discourage her from making a permanent home. She saunters unhurriedly across the yard as if daring anyone to cross her path, and of course we never do.
There are bats who live in our trees and whose winter slumber is over. They are swooping and hunting every evening now, and we are glad to have them back. In winter they sometimes find their way inside making me wonder if they want title to the house as well as the land. There are countless frogs who will be peeping and croaking and coming back very soon. There is a toad who lumbers up in summer and cools himself in our mudroom where he seemingly has been every summer as long as we can count.
And of course there are the mama deer and their fawns in the meadow. We have front row seats as they stand on wobbly legs and make their way to the river and back for late afternoon snacks. They are such new babies that everything frightens them. The owls roused from the long dreary winter, hooting and calling to one another cause the shy deer to nearly fly. There are coyotes too up on the knoll, but they are wise to our dogs, and although we can hear them bark and howl we never actually see them. Like the bears who leave tracks and mangled bird feeders from time to time, theirs is a presence felt and unseen.
When we consider the claims that so many creatures have to our land, we begin to feel more like passing stewards on this little smallholding. We understand that others will come this way and also that some may stay longer than we will. Surely many have been here all along. It is our job to take good care, and leave little footprints so that the sweet play of spring will always bring everyone back for this annual reunion.