Friday, December 20, 2013

Oct 23, 2013—Big Pastures

                     A cold front was passing through this afternoon, bringing in showers and a foreboding winter wind, but the rain stopped and Sunshine, my dog, and I walked on the north, the downhill, side of Kittridge Brook Road. There used to be big fields in here. Jack Robert's father, a dairy farmer, once worked this land. But now the fields are all grown up to brush. Sunshine and I got into the woods on a slash cut where there had been logging, and we missed the trail but there was a stone wall to follow and the stone wall crossed the trail again. There was a rusted wire fence along the stone wall in the middle of the woods. To have these old fields all grown back is a hard thing to think about. I have some idea what it means to clear land. And now my own land is growing back because there is no crowd of animals to graze them any more. Used to be the bucks would clear brush behind the buck barn but now we have only Johnny, a Nubian. It doesn't take long for the brush to take over, three or four years. I should hire a bulldozer to level it off and clear the big boulders to make something of it; then fix the fencing and buy a little crowd of sheep to raise and sell. Sheep are too dumb to get personal about, not like pigs, who are surprisingly smart, and you name them and when you send them to the butcher it can get personal. I'll probably knock down more firewood this winter. I am getting older and my legs are not so good but I want to get firewood. Pretty soon that's all there will be for me to do, cut firewood and take care of a vegetable garden. It would be nice to get a couple of years firewood ahead, maybe ten, fourteen cord cut, split and stacked. Then I'd burn like I used to, which is all the time. That would keep my open spaces―I almost said fields―clear. But it is much easier on my wife, who is getting old too, to run the furnace. In Jack Roberts' backyard the pines and spruce have taken over, which must be the first cover toward a normal Maine woods before the leafy trees come in. Possibly the fact that the land slopes north reduced the number of leafy trees in this first growth because, of course, northward sloping land tends to get less sun. But once the leafy trees take hold in most situations where the ground is not too uneven, they crowd out the piney trees; the leafy trees, even the poplar, tend to be taller and their upper branches are more needful of light. I have observed that numerous times in old growth that has not been recently logged, at least here in the foothills, deciduous trees tend to dominate. Now in this young growth there are few trees worth cutting down. Where we walked today Jack Roberts had laid out some large trees to work into firewood. But the trees had been cut from a place along the edge of the new growth. The logs looked like sick and broken down elms. Cows like to hang on the edge of the field on hot summer days for the shade under the big trees that have been left. Along the edge of the cleared land the farmers used to leave substantial trees. I myself have left a sturdy beech, for instance, which happened to be nice to look at, inside the fenced in area for that very reason―it would be useful as a shelter to the animals. But the animals interfere with the roots and sooner than you can imagine the branches are naked and the tree having ceased to flourish becomes dangerous enough so that you cut it down. Hopefully the tree is not very close to house or barn. Twice in my life I have come uncomfortably close to felling a big tree on my house. More recently big weather knocked over a hefty maple that just missed ruining my new roof, the roof I am planning to retire under. This big tree had been left for its shade. But my opinion is that sun windows in winter are more valuable than shade is in summer, and, of course, creating sun windows for winter often leads to an adventure. You have to cut the damned trees down! I feel as we cross out of the new growth and brush into the fields that someone has kept open that same feeling of adventure. When the farmers cleared the land, it must have been something like a battle in war. These fields are like small battlefields. Woodsmen tell me about cutting on blustery Autumn days. You couldn't know which way the tree would fall. There were injuries, unforeseen accidents, even deaths of both animals and men. As I walk I feel the souls of these men so close, so close. They are very dear to me. How has it happened that so much has changed? I can think of hardly a person man or boy strong enough to cut down a big tree with an axe and pull the stump. What has happened to the dairy farms? I did not think this change or these fields grown up to brush could presage anything good. As I walk through I struggle in damp combat with contrary images of an American future I can not believe in.

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