"Maybe I'm supposed to watch what's happening; take notes," she concludes as civilization creeps westward. "End my days as an eccentric holdout from forgotten times . . . reminding strangers of something they don't remember. Maybe I will." With her book, Holland has done just that.
W. D. Wetherell made his move to the hills in 1982 when he and his wife "went looking for the perfect town," which they found in rural New Hampshire. Unlike Holland's move, however, which tore her "out of context," Wetherell had long known this was the kind of place — and the kind of lif — he wanted. One suspects, in fact, that Wetherell heard the beat of his personal drummer at a very young age.
Like Holland, Wetherell — who sees himself as a "relic of another era, a footnote to an age that not only rushes ahead in heedless bondage to the new, but tramples in contempt on anyone who stubbornly refuses to keep pace" — finds himself bemoaning suburbia's inexorable spread. The newcomers from cities to the south, he writes, "gradually . . . lose patience, revert to type, want pavement and restaurants and instantaneous gratifications." Already, he notes, "on top of the ridges have gone up some astonishingly ugly versions of what trendy owners think a New England house should be."
Both Wetherell and Holland fear they may end up as eccentric curmudgeons, but where Holland's worried view of the future takes the form of philosophical resignation, Wetherell's view of tomorrow — and much of today — has a pessimistic edge to it: "the very conception of man has changed dramatically in the last one hundred years — and not for the better," he declares.
He scorns computers as writing tool — "the wimpy beeping the world has substituted" for the solid kuchunking ring of a manual typewriter. Though admitting nostalgia for the TV shows of his childhood, he will not have a TV set in his house today. He frowns upon downhill skiing and notes that "books are rare items to encounter in most American homes."
Such statements, with their hint of self-righteousness, made this reader feel somewhat defensive about her own crowded bookshelves, and a bit guilty about her enjoyment of a first-rate TV show or a fast run down a ski slope. There is much, however, that Wetherell treasures: the memory of his storytelling grandfather, his wife and children, reading, clouds, stars, rivers and trout — to name only a few. Indeed, Wetherell not only lives life, he savors it. "If you take your time in small, quiet doses," he writes of his days on the upper Connecticut River, "there are many golden moments to be had yet."
He finds these golden moments and chronicles them in extraordinary ways. He describes "the kind of fog that eats snow, so when we woke up this morning the ground was absolutely bare, as if trolls had opened up hidden petcocks in the earth to suck away the drifts," and tells of "going outside at midnight to look at the way our trees split apart the moonlight" and "a Connecticut [River] as silvery and slippery-looking as a child's playground slide."
At the end of his book, Wetherell informs the reader that his intention has been "to tell the story of a country year from the angle of a man of quiet habits living in an isolated pocket among forgotten and enduring hills . . ." His all-encompassing work does far more than that.
Emily d'Aulaire writes from Connecticut.