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
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.