Friday, May 9, 2014

The Openings

They are a long way in, over a rocky road that is barely possible at times, even crawling along in four wheel drive. The term “openings” was new to me, but it is what the locals call the fields left by long-gone homesteaders. Holes in the forest is what they are, openings.
A friend who had grown up in the area showed me the way in. At a certain point, you have to park and walk the rest of the way, but four wheelers make it in and out to a couple of nearby camps. The snowmobilers maintain a bridge over a large stream that flows north, which makes crossing easier.
The area before the openings is logged hard, so it is good grouse country. It’s also flat, at least for our neck of the woods, and thick, so I find it easy to get “turned around” there. We’ve taken a lot of birds out of those woods.
But the openings are special, where you step onto grass and large pines stand overlooking on a knoll, with blue sky stretched overhead. The forest tries hard to creep back in, and I am sure it will with no one mowing the fields. Beneath a mammoth white pine there’s a small cellar hole. I always wonder if the pine stood there when the house still remained.
What did the people grow? The summers are short and the winters long. Was there a barn? Maybe this coming summer I’ll walk in there with the dogs to look around again. Could there have been more than one family? It is miles to the nearest village.
I get distracted around abandoned home sites. If we locate their dump it’s like finding a gold mine. Everything must have been precious in those hard times, and I’m sure little was thrown out unless it was totally useless. But their useless might be a treasure to me. I’ve spent hours, sitting on my butt, digging out old bottles and unidentifiable pieces of rusted iron, while the guns rested against trees and our dogs waited impatiently.  
An ancient stone wall, sagging and moss covered.
Where did the people go? What drove them away? The rocky soil? Cold winters? The isolation?
Did they leave during the chilly years after the volcano Krakatoa erupted in 1883? It took five years for the world’s weather to get back to normal. Mount Tambora did the same thing in 1816, but made it so cold that it was referred to as the “year without a summer”. It snowed in June and water on ponds froze an inch thick. Frosts happened in every month, disrupting agriculture in New England and Europe to the point that thousands starved. I read once that between 10 and 15 thousand left Vermont during that time and headed west, hoping for a better climate and fewer rocks. But if those openings had been abandoned that long ago, I think they would have grown in long before now. Maybe not.
So I’ll probably never know for certain. Those openings, while they still remain, are a testament to tough people that tried to carve out a dream. The stone lined cellar holes will last long after the fields have grown in, but eventually all will be forgotten.
I will visit them all again, and wonder.     

No comments:

Post a Comment