Turn of the Century Highlights
Early in the year 2000, I received a call from Charlotte Sobe, who had recently relocated to the Boston area and had decided to sell her land in Hancock — 69 forested acres fronting Jaquith Road and abutting both the Briggs Preserve and the Merrill family’s protected former dairy farm. She wanted to give us the chance to purchase it before it went on the open market.
We needed to raise a large sum to purchase the property, but Harris Center Trustee Francie von Mertens and her husband Carl had explored the land and were interested in helping us protect it. And looking beyond its bounds got me to thinking. Most of the other unprotected land in the area belonged to the Sydney Williams Trust — 720 acres spanning the Hancock-Harrisville town line. (The trust had given some of its more remote land to the Town of Hancock back in the 1970s. And in 1990, it sold 271 acres along Old Dublin Road and near Juggernaut Pond to Mary Merrill. I knew this because I had helped her negotiate a lower price.)
Checking further, I found that the principal beneficiary of the Sydney Williams Trust was Jane Greene, who just happened to be Charlotte Sobe’s aunt. So Francie and I visited Jane with a question to pose: if we were to launch a fundraising campaign to buy and protect Charlotte’s 69 acres, would Jane be willing to donate the abutting 700+ acres to help leverage contributions?
Fortunately for us, Jane’s son Sandy Greene was also her financial advisor, and he had already protected some of his own land. I think Francie and I needed only two visits for tea with Jane and her beloved little dog, and the deal was on. Sandy was great at handling all the details of the gift (and later in the century served terms as Harris Center Trustee and Treasurer).
Other Friends of the SuperSanctuary generously contributed to the campaign, and we actually raised more than was needed! With the surplus, we were able to purchase 126 acres abutting Jane’s 720-acre gift, extending the newly protected block all the way to Lake Skatutakee and including 5,500 feet of frontage on the lake’s North Pond. What’s more, we received a bequest from Mary Merrill, giving us that 271 acres of former Sydney Williams Trust land along Old Dublin Road and including the unprotected part of the Juggernaut Pond watershed. What a year — more than 1,200 acres added to the SuperSanctuary!
Where Memory Lives
This story’s denouement came as a surprise to me, in the form of the Summer 2002 “Place in Mind” column of Northern Woodlands, by former Yankee magazine editor Jim Collins. Here are some excerpts:
“When I was 24, I bought an island on a pond in southwest New Hampshire. . . Barely 90 feet long and 60 feet wide, and tucked into the back of a shallow cove, the island seemed no more than a bump on the shoreline that surrounded it. A low-slung shack made of boards and bark-covered slabs sat collapsing among a few tall pines and hemlocks and a ring of blueberry bushes. . . With the town’s blessing, I replaced the shack with a one-room cabin made of logs. . . I lived in the cabin for four years. I swam each morning from May through September, and — depending on the season — canoed or skated or skied to my truck on shore before driving to work. I grew to love the sound of rain on a metal roof, the sight of otters and herons and ospreys, the luxury of cereal topped with blueberries right off the bush. I worried, at times, about how fragile my little wildness was. . . One of the town’s selectmen owned most of the frontage on the pond, though none, as it happened, fronting the road. He’d tried for years to buy or obtain rights to access his land, which he planned to subdivide into cottage lots. His edge-land attracted much of the wildlife, and created the illusion of permanency.
“I spent long evenings on the porch, singing with friends. I hosted skating parties and offered the camp as a refuge from busyness or relief from hot weather. A few years after I stopped living there full-time, I fell in love with a woman from Seattle who had grown up spending summers on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I brought her to the cabin on her visit, and that smell of pine and water was her first sense that New Hampshire might feel like home. I proposed to her later that year in December at that cabin, on the night the ice came in. We spent our wedding night there the following June.
“I tell you all this because I have been thinking of place lately, and what gives meaning to places. I believe there’s a connection between the summers of our childhood and the places we feel most at home. . . I tell you this, also, because I have a three-year-old daughter, and because places of a certain kind are becoming rarer and rarer in New England. And because I heard, recently, that the Harris Center for Conservation [Education] has just purchased all of that shoreline land I had so long worried about.
“I’m sure the Harris Center had my daughter (and the future generations she represents) in mind when it made the purchase. But when land is protected, a part of someone’s past is often protected, too, that part where memory lives. The Harris Center has protected a bridge that connects the past and the future. In our fast-changing, fragmented world that is perhaps the biggest gift of all.”