Over Easy: Buyers, beware

For the Valley News
Published: 9/8/2020 11:32:32 PM
Modified: 9/8/2020 11:32:24 PM

According to Realtors and others in the know, city folk and suburbanites are suddenly coming here to get away from it all.

I don’t know if you can really get away from it all, but you can get away from a lot of it in the Upper Valley, which has been blessed by collective good health in the coronavirus era. No doubt that is the region’s big draw. It’s safer to be outside and we have outside to spare.

Many are wondering if our luck will run out when Dartmouth students resume studies in Beer Pong 101, Social Bunching and Advanced Bacchanalia. The rest of us can only tighten our masks, cross our fingers and hope for the best.

I’ve heard that some homebuyers are snapping up country properties virtually sight unseen. I do worry that they may not know what they are getting into. Will they have buyer’s remorse in March, when everyone except spring skiers is sick of Jack Frost?

Here are just a few things they should consider:

Even with climate change, winter can be a slog. Just as the Inuit are said to have many words for snow, the winter-weary of the Upper Valley have something like 37 ways to sigh. There are heavy sighs and light sighs, sighs that sound like snow falling off a roof, sighs like the final, despairing breath of an opera singer.

Winter is so long that Town Meeting in March seems a treat, even if there’s a filibuster about the road budget. In really small towns you may be dazzled by talk of culverts, amazed at graders. First-timers would do well not to suggest grand ideas to remake town government — there are no actual laws on the books that could be used to banish you from town, but you wouldn’t want to risk a floor vote along those lines.

Spring potholes grow so large that some could be stocked with fish, if not for fussy Fish and Game regulations. Some people claim that local frost heaves can be seen from outer space, and that a few have found a permanent place on topographical maps.

I can’t prove this is true, but in the spirit of the times I don’t mind spreading unsubstantiated claims.

Mud season, when dirt roads in spots resemble sloppy pudding, is brief but brutal. Your city driving skills mean nothing here.

To get an idea of winter’s toll, read Stephen King’s The Shining (possible murderous psychosis, looking like a crazed Jack Nicholson, etc.). King is from Maine, and he knows what he is talking about.

There are other lifestyle complications.

If you live in New Hampshire and work in Vermont, you will have to pay some income tax to the Green Mountain State. Calculations will resemble the math that goes into measuring black holes in faraway galaxies. You will have to add, subtract, multiply and divide until the cows come home. (Estimate the return time of cows on Line 52.)

In one section of the form you will multiply your annual wage by the year Calvin Coolidge was elected president, subtract the mileage to Burlington and divide the result by the price of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked. You will receive credits for driving a hybrid car, listening to Vermont Public Radio and recycling egg cartons. This is what happens when you are working in what is practically a socialist paradise.

New Hampshire has none of that. But the local property tax is always growing, like the Blob, the 1950s movie monster. Who can stop it? No one, apparently.

Animals play a big role here and merit lots of attention. Sometimes you would think bears outnumber humans. While not as aggressive as grizzlies, Upper Valley bears have damaged door screens and recycling bins. This is a region that values recycling bins — and bears — so people are conflicted. The late lamented Mink the Bear was easily the Upper Valley’s favorite celebrity.

There is no Target store here, not even a Trader Joe’s. If you need a support group to deal with that, you will have to form one.

As for community, locals are friendlier to newcomers than they once were. Give them about five years to say hello, and another five before they will briefly discuss the weather. Another five, maybe, and there could be a personal question.

There you have it, only 15 years in and you’re almost on speaking terms.

I’m not saying people looking for a new place to settle should steer clear of us, but there are times when I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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