Life and Death of a Quarry

The Quarry at West Pawlet

This will be a melancholy piece. If you are not in the mood, today is not a good day to read me.

The picture above this is of the quarry across from my house. Readers here know how I have come to love the quarry in the almost twelve years since I moved to Vermont. In fact, the quarry was one of the big reasons I chose this particular house.

Abandoned in the fifties or sixties (depending on who you talk to), it has become quite the nature spot. Birch trees have grown, rooting through the cracks in the slate. There’s a host of wild flowers there. From April on, you can walk the quarry each week and see a new array of blooms.

Flowers in the quarry. Taken today.
Flowers in the quarry. Taken today.

It has been an education for me, all these wildflowers. Where people who grew up in rural areas tend to measure seasons by what is being done on the farm, I have come to measure my seasons by wildflowers, learning more about them than I ever thought I would care to know.

I have seen wild life there. Birds of course. Rabbits. Foxes. Groundhogs. In the evening, you’d often see deer parading through, looking for new fields to dine on. At night, you would sometimes hear the coyotes yipping, their cries echoing off the stone walls.

There are paths through the quarry. Here and there, people have built slate benches and platforms with views of the town and views of the mountains. There’s a bat cave you can climb down into, though most of the bats have died in recent years.

I fell in love with the quarry, and walk it often, sometimes taking my visitors with me and photographing my little corner of Vermont. I write poems, using the quarry as a backdrop. I named my house and my business after it.

But things are changing.

Half of the quarry has been sold to a private company, who has decided after sixty years, that there is value yet in the slate. There is blasting. Steam shovels. Big trucks. And change.

The drained lake.

The picture above shows what was one of two lakes in the quarry. A few weeks ago it was as picturesque as the first picture in the post. A road ran between the lakes and they were striking. Water clear and still. You can see the where the waterline was in the picture, that line at the top of the white walls. There is a small puddle of muddy water at the bottom now and the steam shovel and trucks work it.

The town too has gotten into the commerce of slate. On the other side of the quarry, across from my house, they have been slowly digging out stone and hauling it away. In the pictures below, I have put some transparent green to mark the line of where the slate mountains were when I moved here. You can see what they have removed in that time.

In the picture below, I have circled my house. Three years ago you could not have seen my house from where I was standing when I took the picture. today of course, it’s a straight walk.

The town of course, can do what they want with their part of the quarry. There’s nothing to stop them.

There were irregularities however with the private company’s work. Regulations were ignored. Laws were ignored. Blasting permits were not gotten as they should have been. A group of folks in the areas spent a lot of time rattling cages (I did a bit of rattling myself) about it at the local, county and state level. Mostly they were ignored.

That’s not uncommon here in Vermont, I have learned. Laws are selective. A lot of wink and nod and stalling in hopes people will give up. (and they often do) goes on around here.

But that is now what this bit of writing is about. This is a lament. For a magical place that I have loved and have been slowly watching die. That is being chipped away, stone by stone.

My father had dementia the last several years of his life. It’s a terrible way to die. Slowly watching him fade away over years and years. You find yourself mourning before he is gone and day by day, week by week, year by year, he fades. The mourning takes years before he even passes.

And that is what I am feeling now. A mourning before the death. Each moment with what is left becomes more precious. Each truck load of stone takes a bit of my heart with it.

I have no idea how many years it will take before they level it all off and walk away, leaving the mountains of slate leveled out with piles of rubble, and the lakes drained and muddy. But I suspect I will live here long enough to see it.

I am glad I spent so much time up in the quarry over the twelve years I have been here. I have hundreds of photographs of the place in all four seasons. When it is gone, few will remember anything but the eye sore it is becoming. They will not remember what we who loved it, loved. And those photographs will have to serve as my memory. When you see the quarry appear in a poem or a note, know these walls of stone are as temporary as anything else, and there is a special poignancy in the writing or image.

Treasure the things you love my friends. They can be fleeting.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

4 comments

  1. I’m so sorry, Tom. I know you love that quarry and what they are doing is obscene. I wish I could say something comforting. All I can say is that I share your sorrow. I left my last home because of encroachment and I so fear seeing it again.

  2. Oh my heart is breaking to read of this. The times I have visited and walked through were nothing short of magical. I feel blessed to have seen it as it was and perhaps you might draw a bit of comfort knowing you do not mourn alone.

  3. I tell people all the time “New Hampshire is for sale” My wife has tired of hearing me say “First ,kill the real estate people.” I have a friend who has a few feet to live in ,in an old mill. The Feds, State, and Town fixed it up to warehouse poor old or broken people. If it wasn’t for government checks, that wouldn’t have happened and they would all have been out…Progress toward what? Love your memories, treasure what you have, Keep yelling “NO!”
    I hoped that it wasn’t happening everywhere. a few years ago the local paper posted a map of “Greater Boston” we had just been swollowd by a concept. But Vermont?

    • Small states are as prone to all the issues of the big cities. That is what I have learned since moving here. More polite as they ignore you, perhaps, but the end result is the same.

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