CANTERBURY, N.H. — For nearly three a long time, 81-year-old David Lidstone has lived within the woods of New Hampshire alongside the Merrimack River in a small cabin adorned with photo voltaic panels. He has grown his personal meals, lower his personal firewood, and tended to his pets and chickens.
But his off-the-grid existence has been challenged in courtroom by a property proprietor who says he’s been squatting for all these years. And to make Lidstone’s issues worse, his cabin was burned to the bottom Wednesday afternoon in a blaze that’s being investigated by native authorities.
Lidstone, or “River Dave” as he’s identified by boaters and kayakers, was jailed July 15 on a civil contempt sanction. He was informed he’d be launched if he agreed to depart the cabin, however he has stayed put.
“You came with your guns, you arrested me, brought me in here, you’ve got all my possessions. You keep ’em,” Lidstone informed a choose in a courtroom look Wednesday morning. “I’ll sit here with your uniform on until I rot, sir.”
Lidstone is accused of squatting for 27 years within the cabin on non-public property in Canterbury. The wood, two-level A-frame cabin had a small, cluttered kitchen with pots hanging from the ceiling, some home equipment, and curtains on the home windows. His porch had a footstool with a base made of stacked beer cans. He transformed a wooden range right into a beehive. He hooked up lights, a mirror and a pulley for a clothesline to logs supporting the cabin. There had been piles of firewood.
Nearby was a gravel path resulting in vegetable backyard plots outlined by logs and a few berry bushes. Lidstone acquired his water from a stream.
In courtroom, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman agreed that Lidstone wasn’t hurting anybody, however mentioned the regulation was clearly on the landowner’s aspect.
“You’re doing your own thing in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state, so there’s a lot of sympathy to you for that,” he mentioned. “But there’s a lot of weight on the other side of the balance sheet, and not just about what the (landowner) wants to do with the land, but the weight I feel to uphold the judgment of the court and the rule of law.”
Jodie Gedeon, an avid kayaker who befriended Lidstone about 20 years in the past, had been working with different supporters to assist him, together with organizing a petition drive and gathering money to cover property taxes.
“I’m devastated,” she mentioned when she discovered concerning the fireplace.
“He’s just a really, really, big caring guy, and just chooses to live off the grid,” she mentioned in an interview final week. “It really is about humanity, it really is about compassion, empathy … he’s not hurting anybody.”
Gedeon and different supporters got here out to a city choose board meeting on Monday. Board members had mentioned the city presently has no standing within the property dispute.
But even when there have been a approach to permit Lidstone to remain, it might be an uphill battle. His house was in violation of native and state zoning and environmental rules, and there was no entry to a street.
“You guys are in a quandary. So are we,” selectman Robert Steenson mentioned.
The woodlot Lidstone referred to as house was only a few miles away from Interstate 93. But it was hidden by the timber; it’s on 73 acres that’s been used for timber harvests. The property has been owned by the identical household since 1963. There aren’t any plans at the moment to develop it.
The proprietor of the land had been searching for to tear down the cabin earlier than the hearth.
Lidstone has claimed that years in the past, the proprietor gave his phrase — however nothing in writing — permitting him to dwell there. But within the eyes of the present proprietor, he’s a squatter and must go.
Property proprietor Leonard Giles, 86, of South Burlington, Vermont, didn’t even know Lidstone was there till the city administrator discovered out in 2015 and informed him, expressing concern “with regard to the solid and septic waste disposal and the potential zoning violations created by the structure,” in accordance with Giles’ grievance in 2016.
Lidstone, a bearded, small-framed, spritely man, has resisted efforts to depart since a choose issued an order for him to vacate in 2017. Following that, each side had tried to achieve some type of settlement for him, however had been unsuccessful, in accordance with courtroom paperwork.
The choose prompt Wednesday that Giles and city officers work with a mediator, however Giles’ lawyer mentioned the logistics can be too daunting.
The huge bulk of Lidstone’s personal objects had been faraway from the cabin earlier than the hearth, Giles’ legal professional Lisa Snow Wade mentioned Wednesday evening. Several outbuildings remained, and no animals had been discovered, both working round or deceased, Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache mentioned.
Lidstone, who doesn’t have an legal professional, insisted that his cabin is a searching and fishing camp, not a house. He additionally argued that Giles doesn’t personal the property however is being pressured by the city.
“He’s a heck of a nice old man, I’ve talked with him a couple of times. This is not his fault, this is not my fault,” he mentioned on the listening to. “It’s lying, cheating corrupt judges like you that are stepping on little people like me. But I’m telling you, sir, you step on me, I’m going to bite your ankle.”
Before the hearth, Lidstone could possibly be launched if one of three issues occurred: he agreed to depart, the cabin was demolished by Giles, or 30 days had handed since he was jailed. Another listening to was scheduled for subsequent week, however Lidstone’s standing wasn’t instantly clear.
Gamache mentioned the cabin “had mostly collapsed upon itself” as firefighters arrived in an off-road utility automobile 2 miles into the woods. He mentioned the State Fire Marshal’s Office has been requested to research the trigger of the hearth.
Lidstone hasn’t had every other contact with regulation enforcement, in contrast to the case of a man in Maine referred to as the “North Pond Hermit,” who additionally lived within the woods for practically three a long time and pleaded responsible in 2013 to a number of housebreaking and theft fees.
Over the years, Lidstone, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a father of 4 who has made money as a woodsman, has been identified to ask kayakers and boaters into his house, sharing tales about his life within the wild.
Lidstone’s choice to dwell within the woods is “exactly the lifestyle he wants,” mentioned his brother, Vincent Lidstone, 77, of Lafayette, Georgia.
“What they’re doing to him isn’t right for anybody, whether he’s my brother or anybody’s brother,” he mentioned. “He’s 81 years old. Leave him alone.”
Vincent Lidstone mentioned he lost contact together with his brother by means of the years, however described how the 2 of them and a cousin loved spending time outside. They grew up in Wilton, Maine.
“We lived in the woods,” he mentioned. “We camped, fishing, hunting. The three of us did everything together for a lot of years.”
It’s unclear the place Lidstone would go. Vincent Lidstone mentioned he doesn’t have the resources to assist him. The Associated Press reached two of his three sons, who mentioned they haven’t been in contact with their father just lately. His daughter didn’t reply to a message searching for remark.
Before the hearth, Gedeon had mentioned the matter hasn’t been mentioned by her group but.
“We want to see him be able to live out his remaining years where he is,” she mentioned.