You could say that Matt Hongoltz-Hetling’s article about Grafton, NH in the online magazine The Atavist is a bear story. After all, it’s called “Barbearians at the Gate,” and it really is about bears. Hongoltz-Hetling, who covers Hartford and other towns for the Valley News, has made them a little sub-specialty.
But “Barbearians” is a bear article like Moby Dick is a whale book. Hongoltz-Hetling may be the best pure writer at the Valley News, and he's produced a spellbinding plunge into a florid cast of locals. In particular, he dives deep into the intriguing cross-currents of libertarianism, hands-off prickliness, and small-town politics that have marked Grafton since even before the “Free State” movement’s adherents started arriving in town in 2004. As Hongoltz-Hetling writes, “The town had more land than people and virtually no statutes governing property. There were fewer than 800 registered voters, most of whom didn’t bother showing up at the polls…. What’s more, natives loved their guns as much as they despised meddling government.”
Weaving his way through all of this, he peers into bears' tenacious grasp on our imaginations -- especially when you live by the woods and night is falling. Locally, the (mis)adventures of Mink and her cubs in Hanover have soaked up most of our attention the past couple of years. But for a catalogue of bear interactions that goes well beyond backyard bird feeders and compost heaps, Grafton’s a good bet: the 1999 “cat massacre,” a bear's tangle a decade later with a llama named Hurricane that you just have to read about to believe, and a sobering human-dog-bear confrontation a few years after that.
It all makes for a thoroughly engaging read about a corner of the Upper Valley that doesn’t usually get much attention. Go ahead: Curl up with it. Here's that URL again: https://magazine.atavist.com/barbearians-at-the-gate-new-hampshire-libertarians-fake-news?src=longreads
Oh, that word at the end of the URL? "longreads"? They're not joking. But it's worth it.