APRIL 2012

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Living with Nature

I often tell people we live in the wilderness. Granted our house sits less than ten minutes off a state highway that starts in a town five miles south of us and runs all the way to Lake Erie. But once we turn off onto that single-lane road shaded by a canopy of towering pines, we enter a sanctuary.

From the front porch of our little Cape we look onto woods and two small lakes. At night, the darkness and silence are deep, the stars bright. If we rise early enough, we might catch a glimpse of deer on the edge of the woods (or in someone’s backyard), a heron on the lake, or a pileated woodpecker tapping on a tree. The setting—a farm transformed nearly a century ago into a summer cottage community—attracted us as much as the house itself.

In the maybe mile-long trek along all four streets of our development, my dog and I often spot deer, rabbits, raccoons, or wild turkeys. (So far, fortunately, no skunks.) One neighbor raises chickens, another goats. Caged behind a tall wooden fence, a white wolf and a gray wolf howl at distant sirens and full moons.

"They’re dogs," the owner insists, but I’ve never fed my dogs by tossing chunks of raw meat over a fence. Seeing them reminds me of trips we took to Kane, Pennsylvania, when my brother and I were little to see the famed Lobo wolves. (Search online for —Lobo wolves of Kane— and you’ll find a fascinating article from a 1979 issue of Sports Illustrated.)

The two homes we feature in this issue nestle among comparable rural surroundings. The owners might encounter annoyances like spotty cell phone service, sluggish Internet connections (if any), or a thirty-minute excursion to buy a gallon of milk, but they relish their privacy.

Although the Sempowskis insist the brick Federal mansion of a local war hero drew them to Virginia, Max and Carol also acquired the 93 acres of land and outbuildings that came with the house. The space enabled them to enter a new chapter of their lives in retirement as breeders of heritage sheep.

The Sempowskis are counted among the 800-plus population of the nearby town, where residents boast they’ve never needed a stop light. The county remains a rural paradise—its 2,000 residents occupy farmland that has changed little in 200 years.

Doug and Karen Valente found a remarkably similar retreat in New Jersey, in another small town that barely numbers 800 residents. Built in the 1700s, the farmhouse has one addition, but most later owners lacked the means to "improve" upon the original features.

The Valente house came with 30 acres, and the couple has added another 52, bordered by state game lands that encompass 3,600 acres. The solitude offers Karen, an artist, a contemplative quiet in which to paint, and Doug, a salesman, a place to unwind after a day of talk and travel.

Although our ancestors likely regarded their land and its resident wildlife primarily as means of sustenance—more work than rest—perhaps they found a few minutes to enjoy and observe nature. We are indebted to those who preserve these parcels of the past for the respite they offer.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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