It's black-fly season now. The field is full of them. My friend Richard Herman and I stand in the middle of the field looking over his land, down toward Black Pond, until I lead a retreat indoors. Around here, the neighbors used to say that black flies were the only thing that kept the population down. Not anymore.

I've visited here a dozen times, in mud season, summer camp season, foliage season, ski season. Roots run deep in New Hampshire. I've seen them in 200-year-old stone walls that range along the roads and through every wood. I've seen them among people who stay here because they want to build a life out of something more substantial than words on paper.

For the most part, these are landed people. Nowadays, though, they have a new way of telling you where they live. ''I live on the dump site,'' says one neighbor over lunch. ''I live on the southern edge of the dump,'' says another. ''I live in the epicenter of the nuclear waste dump,'' says a third.

Since January all of Windsor, most of Hillsboro and pieces of five other towns have been designated by the Department of Energy as one of 12 ''potentially acceptable'' sites for a high-level nuclear-waste repository. If this site is chosen, the government will take 39 square miles of privately owned land and homes, spend $8 billion, and turn it into a burial ground for the most dangerous leftovers on Earth, the waste from nuclear energy plants.

''There's an unreal quality to it,'' says Richard, who lives smack in the middle, ''It's like when somebody else gets cancer. You never imagine it's going to happen to you.'' Decades ago, when the push for nuclear energy began (beat the sword into a ploughshare, atoms for peace), few people thought it would happen to anyone. There was the vague, reassuring notion that ''they,'' the experts, would figure out what do.

It wasn't until l982, after thousands of tons of waste accumulated, that Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and started looking for two places to dump. Places where it would keep, not for 100 years, not for 1,000 years, but for 10,000 or 20,000 years. They came to New Hampshire looking for deep solid rock.

Today, everybody on the DOE's map can tell you why their rock is a bad risk. Meade Cadot, a geologist whose home is on the southern edge, talks about the fractures in the granite, and the way they lead into the water supply all the way down to Boston. But Cadot has a brother on a designated site in Maine and a sister on a site in Virginia, and he knows: ''All these places have problems.'' The government decision -- whose land will be taken and turned into a dump -- will be political as well as scientific, and everybody knows that.

The people here are not by nature joiners, or for that matter protesters. But nearly everyone has been to hearings and signed petitions. Many houses along the road now wear signs banning radioactive waste, and above the New Hampshire license plate that boasts ''Live Free or Die'' there are some new bumper stickers: ''Don't Dump on Me.''

''One of the true stereotypes about New Hampshire is that we never did have any use for the government,'' says Leigh Bosse, who heads up the Citizen's Task Force and, like most of the people around here, is a loyal Republican. ''It's not what the government can do for you, it's what they can do to you.''

There are people much less trusting and much angrier than last year. Among them is Rob Christianson, a young red-haired pastor of the small fundamentalist chapel in Hillsboro who sees this dump as a moral issue: ''I look at it as Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage.''

The nuclear-waste issue has changed many attitudes about nuclear energy. A dump focuses the mind wonderfully. On the eastern end of the state, in Seabrook, a plant is getting ready to start up. It may, ironically, be the governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, who keeps it out of operation.

The world's anxiety may be focused on accidents such as Chernobyl, but up here they are also thinking about what Meade Cadot calls ''the other end of the cow.'' How do you keep producing waste when you don't know what to do with it?

This community won't find out until the end of the year whether it is still on the list of what the DOE, with unusual honesty, labels ''National Sacrifice Areas.'' The government is demanding, after all, the sacrifice of homes, the sacrifice of a community, the sacrifice of some of the most beautiful land in New England, to a caldron of radioactive waste.

On this day at the height of black-fly season, my friend Richard looks out at the camp wilderness where a generation of kids has learned some respect for the Earth. ''What was it Will Rogers said about the land? They aren't making any more of it.''