Seven Vignettes About Rural New England -The Toast

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Bear Swamp
Rachel Marcy’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

My mom and I were in our front yard when the Environmental Police pulled over their pick-up truck. The officer in the passenger seat leaned out the window.

“Do you have a bear in your house?” he asked.

They’d received a 911 call about a bear in the caller’s home, but the line went dead before they got a location.

I have no idea how this story ends.


We were afraid we would lose power in an ice storm, so we filled the bathtub with snow, in order to have water to flush the toilet. We never lost power, and the snow never melted.


Life in our house was a constant battle against rodents, and one that we thoroughly lost. We had a colony of flying squirrels living in our attic. Occasionally one would emerge into the open, wide-eyed and baffled, but mostly we just heard them scurrying through the walls. Sometimes two squirrels would run from opposite ends of the wall and meet in the middle, squealing and scuffling. They also left evidence of their presence in the form of seed stashes in tissue boxes and coat hoods.

They weren’t our only rodents. Once we came home to find English muffins strewn around the house and a red squirrel chattering on top of the kitchen radio. Mice got into our silverware drawer so frequently we gave up on using the drawer altogether. We set up mousetraps and named the drawer the Grim Crawl of Death, after a cave in Wyoming that we read about in National Geographic.

I once opened the bottom drawer of my desk to find a family of mice had taken up residence. The mother mouse had chewed up my papers to make a nest for her several babies. After a brief internal debate, I decided to close the drawer and let them be. When I peeked again a few days later, the mother mouse decided her nest was too dangerous. She picked a baby up by the scruff of its neck and ran down the hall, presumably to make a new nest in someone’s sock drawer. She returned for each of the babies, which was quite an impressive performance, because there were a lot of them and they were about two-thirds her own body size. She then came back to investigate the nest a final time, which my brother said is probably proof that mice can’t count.


A bear walked through our backyard and took our laundry off the line, leaving teethmarks in my mom’s skirt. She ironed them out.


The introduction of cell phones was presaged by towers pretending to be trees. We first noticed one in a nearby larger town.

“I’m not sure how I haven’t noticed that before,” my dad said. “Given that it’s 200 feet tall and flashes.”

When I got my driver’s license, my parents thought I should have a cell phone for emergencies. This was next to useless, because reception was very sparse. Anywhere with service also had people. If I got into trouble in an isolated area, I was on my own, phone or no.

As a result, I barely used my phone. My mom suggested I use more of my minutes, because it seemed like a waste.

“Sure,” I said. “I guess I could drive twenty minutes to sit in the Post Office parking lot. And call someone.”


Our neighbor down the road had a birdfeeder on a pole with a metal plate to deter squirrels. An adolescent bear sat on the plate, stuffing its face with birdseed. Our neighbor sprayed the bear with the hose, but the bear munched on, unperturbed. I suppose it left when it was good and done.


We never really talked to our neighbors down the road, who were an elderly couple. From what I understand, my parents made an attempt when we first moved in, with limited success. That was the summer I turned six. When I was 18, we experienced a rainstorm that flooded a nearby field. This was the geography of the neighborhood: a cluster of three houses around a bend in the road. A field across from our house, which featured our half-hearted attempts at gardening and a 19th century one-room schoolhouse that had been relocated from somewhere else. A steep drop into a minor river, then the flooded field. I went to the bridge over the river to investigate the flooding, which was significant.

Our neighbor from down the road was there, standing on the opposite side of the bridge from an impressively large dead beaver. He turned to me with a surprised expresssion and said something about the flooding. “Yes,” I agreed. This was shocking; I had assumed we would separately observe the flooding in stoic silence. We lived down the road from each other for over a decade and this was the only time we spoke. It was bizarre to think about, but he’d seen me grow up. From a distance, down the road.

Neither of us mentioned the beaver; I suppose it was too obvious to talk about. It was gone a couple days later, probably thanks to the Environmental Police.


Photo credit: Nathan Marcy

Rachel Marcy likes history, sleuthing, ballet, fencing, and guinea pigs.

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