Friday, November 8, 2013

The Hidden Homestead

I’m certain others know it is there. The apple trees give it away. My dogs and I visited the spot for the first time this year, walking down from the field on the hill above and then following a snowmobile trail into the woods. Where the land flattens out I spotted several apple trees off to the south.
It was classic New England bird country, with poplars as big as my thigh and alders coming up in clusters. Spots of grass told of old fields, and spruce, fir, and maples and birch crowded in from beyond.
We hunted in a circle, following the edge where the apples met the young forest. The dogs bumped a grouse. It looked like woodcock country too, and I looked for splash, but never saw any.
An ancient stone wall.
And then I spotted the wall. It was less than three feet tall and probably slightly wider. Moss almost hid it. Nearby a pile of stones, waist high and about the area of a swimming pool, told of frustration from farming that land. It took some poking around, but I found the stone foundation. They hadn’t dug a cellar, but built over a shallow crawl space. The rock pile was larger.
I set down my gun and sat on a rock, trying to imagine what the settlers had seen that attracted them to that spot. The dogs never stopped hunting, living in the moment as they always do, unaware of the past.
A rock pile left behind by a determined settler.
The hill above faced to the east, and the spot where I had stopped still sloped, but very gently. The land sat high enough that early frosts would settle into the valley below, and the morning sun would warm the land. North winds would break up against the side of the hill, particularly if the homesteader left a few trees to that side. I could see how an optimistic person might fall in love with the spot.
But snow on the ground for five months of the year must have made for tough farming. And the bony wet ground would have made rough work. Cutting away the trees and encouraging grasses must have dried things out a bit, but rain is frequent in that part of New England and the weather can be vicious. I’ve hunted there when it’s rained for most of a week, cold rain. And an early or late frost would have been devastating.
My girls pointing in the thick of it.
I realized the dog’s bells had silenced, so grabbed my gun and took off to find them. In the southeast corner they both stood near a fir tree, pointing toward a decrepit busted-up apple tree. Before I got there the partridge flushed, not offering a shot.
The bells started ringing as the dogs hunted again, living in the moment.


  1. Nice piece Jerry. I particularily wanted to tell you that you have a nice looking GWP. At that age I always wonder how much furnishings they will have at maturity.
    Hope to see more grouse hunting related stuff...Tom Danahey

  2. I remember stumbling onto places like this in the hills of northern New Jersey way back when I was a kid. The long overgrown rockpiles were a fascinating place to explore.

    Jerry…by the way…did you name your dog after a hockey player?

    1. Lester,
      My older wirehair's AKC registered name is Weidenhugel Chardonnay, as all the pups in the litter were given wine related names, so we call her Chara. The younger wirehair is named after Colebrook NH, and we just call her Colby.

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