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The Most Peaceful Place in the Universe? Portrait of 'Moose Painting Pond'

Sean Hurley
On the rocky bluff, overlooking "Moose Painting Pond" as Sean Hurley calls it.

NHPR’s Sean Hurley recently took a walk to Moose Painting Pond, as he’s named it.  The most peaceful place in the universe, he supposes it to be.  Maybe because it’s so quiet and hidden – maybe because it’s a place where the things he invents seem to meet together with the things nature does.

Note: As with every Sean Hurley story, we really recommend giving this one a listen.

I found the path to the pond – and the most peaceful place in the universe - about six years ago while wandering around Sandwich Notch Road.

Credit Sean Hurley
Just off Sandwich Notch Road, the unnamed path starts at this cutaway in a moss covered log.

Moose Painting Pond, I call it. 

Its real name is Atwood Pond.  But there’s no sign saying so and the path is unnamed and unmarked and many years passed before I learned it was really Atwood Pond and by then it was too late. It’s hard to go real when you’ve gone imaginary for so long.

I’m heading there now on the small matter of a toad and an old rusty pail and a moose and a painter. 

The leaves on the path are tan and silver - overhead a kind of wet, lit yellow – like clear water windows the sun shines through.

There are black and grey stones, grey and brown sticks, brown and black trees.

It’s the sort of pond any moose would like. One muddy shore is stuck with reeds and the other hides in the hold of a rocky bluff. The sort of pond a painter would paint. The sort of painter who would take the liberty of painting in a moose, whether one was there or not.

The pond means to be one pond, but the beavers have parceled it into thirds, each successively smaller and lower, using the snowman system, with the smallest, lowest pond – the snowman’s head - melting finally down into the little staircase of a stream.

Credit Sean Hurley
Crossing the little staircase of the stream.

To get to the pond, one crosses this little staircase and then passes through a narrow bower of pines and then mounts the sways of a hobbit hill until one finally comes upon the rocky bluff overlooking the pond – where one sets one’s luggage down and collapses in some discrete way, having arrived at the most peaceful place in the universe.

It was in the pine bower that I first met the toad. Hand-sized and staring up at me from the middle of the path.

As I stepped over him, he stepped under me.

On my return I found him waiting still. I lingered a while to see what might happen next. 

The End, I finally said, and walked around him as he walked around me.  

Credit Sean Hurley
The pine bower.

As I come now into the narrow bower, I’m not surprised he’s not here. It was a few years ago at least – but there aren’t many fairy tales about 50-year-old men and toads and maybe I ended the story too soon… 

The rusty pail is more reliable and can be found anywhere along the approach to the hobbit hill. I have an attachment to this rusty pail because it’s never where it was. I’ve seen it hung in the different branches. Full of leaves on a stone. Full of water in the leaves.

People do this, I know. Pick it up because it’s old and from another time – and set it down elsewhere in a condition separate from the way they found it.  As though adding a small strange word to the story of the rusty pail.  

But today – as I look – I cannot find it.

Credit Sean Hurley
Rising over the "hobbit" hill.

I rise over the hobbit hill. And when I come to the rocky bluff overlooking Moose Painting Pond, I set my luggage down and collapse discretely – having arrived at the most peaceful place in the universe.

I look around for the moose I’ve never seen, for the equally absent painter.

To somewhat expect a continuation of a fairy tale with a toad on the trail is a kind of fairy tale itself. To be curious about a strange new word added to the story of a pail is to suppose there is one.

The most peaceful place in the universe.

And to look for a moose that is never there - and a painter less so - is, regardless, to find some arrangement between the things I make up and the things nature does.

Who can tell me that the toad and the rusty pail aren’t near? That the moose and the painter aren’t on their way? 

Sean Hurley lives in Thornton with his wife Lois and his son Sam. An award-winning playwright and radio journalist, his fictional “Atoms, Motion & the Void” podcast has aired nationally on NPR and Sirius & XM Satellite radio. When he isn't writing stories or performing on stage, he likes to run in the White Mountains. He can be reached at

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