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And so, we gave up Cathy’s job (I’m a freelancer) and our rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn and moved to Brookline, Vermont, population 467. In July, a healthy and enthusiastic guy whom we named Charlie came along.

Times were hard those first few months, for the same reasons they’re usually hard for new parents. We had a lot of visiting relatives. Cathy felt isolated. We got on each other’s nerves. But we fell in love with the house, the land, and our boy Charlie. Sometimes, we’d wrap him in a sling and walk the old logging roads that crisscross our property, sitting on ancient stone walls, watching the beavers work and play. Like them, we looked at our land and saw potential: We could put a tree house here, a shed over there—or, if our ship ever came in, a writer’s cottage or guesthouse over there.

At night, lying in bed with the windows open and ticking off our list of problems, we’d hear a barred owl hooting—"Who cooks for you?"—and be struck by the small scale of our worries. Were we to fade away, Cathy said, that owl would be here anyway, keeping someone else awake with its questioning call, questioning nothing.

In the city, we had lived elbow to elbow with people we had never gotten to know. Here, we couldn’t see another house, but our neighbors quickly became our friends. The first few weeks brought gifts of homemade salsa and pickles, invitations to dinner, offers to help.

Our nearest neighbor, an 88-year-old widower named Lester Allbee, born and raised in Brookline, had once owned our land. Later, the property became a buffer zone during a decades-long feud between Lester and his brother, Harlan. The feud finally ended with Lester’s visit to Harlan’s deathbed, the scene of an only-in-Vermont reconciliation.

"Just promise me you’ll keep Jessie in firewood," Harlan said, letting Lester know that whatever had happened between them, Harlan would be needing him now, to make sure his soon-to-be widow had enough wood to survive the winter.

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  • I love the outdoors - and I hate the lifestyle that we all seem to be leading - captive in our homes…
  • I live in New York City, but have spent much time in Maine and Vermont, and must say your article br…
  • Well written and heartfelt. Three cheers for Vermont!
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