The forests of New England are littered with stonewalls. Different regions have different walls, in the southern areas the stones might be rounder and bigger while in the northern regions the rocks might be smaller and more angular. In some areas the walls are wider or neater, while elsewhere they are hardly walls at all but more long piles of rocks. Sometimes I wonder if the walls were made as a convenient place to pile stones out of the way or as barriers to segregate the newly created opened pastures. Maybe both. A hundred or so miles to the south of Camp Grouse the walls divide up the forest with unbelievable regularity every few hundred feet, many left behind by sheep farmers centuries ago. Up here, way to the north, they walls are more scattered and hard to find, often buried in forest where once pastures were cleared.
Here the walls are often with miles apart and finding one is significant. Well over a century ago the loggers moved through this country, stealing the timber before moving ever westward. Farmers followed, after hearing stories of green intervals and free land, but the summers proved too too short and the brutal winters extremely long. Giving up after a few years the new farmers left for greener pastures to the west and let the forest reclaim what was hers.
When we find stone walls out in the middle of nowhere I have to wonder who the farmers were, how long they fought the land and climate, and where they went after throwing in the towel. Mentally I measure the distances to the towns and ponder the lonely lives they must have led. Visiting with neighbors must have been such a treat. Usually the walls are few and if a foundation is found it is tiny, making me think they did not stay too long.
Openings in the forest often have apple trees around the edges, left behind by those lone gone settlers and often the trees are full of fruit. Grouse love those trees, but so do deer, bears, and other bird hunters. I always poke around, hoping a cellar hole can be found, or maybe even an old door or other remnant. Most often there are only the stone walls almost buried by moss and leaves. The forest tries to hide the tales of the early settlers.
Hunting those abandoned old homesteads often brings on spooky thoughts of spirits left behind, enough so to interrupt one’s shooting. Any grouse or woodcock flushed is usually pretty safe as they fly straight away. I laugh about the missed shots but they are real.
The old cellar hole…was that where the main house was? Sometimes it seems incredibly small by today’s standards. Was that big old white pine tree there back when the house was built? Or did they plant that pine…imagining that someday it would shade the house. Could an herb garden been planted next to the house? What about vegetables? Which side had the front door?
Sometimes a “dump” can be found nearby. Finding those was easier four decades ago than it is now, but still treasures hide among the leaves.
The smell of rotted leaves drifts up as I kneel down. A rusted barrel band, maybe a rotting stave, a chunk of unidentifiable cast iron, an ancient bottle….
The dog’s bell brings me back to the present. She is down the hill where the alders meet the hardwoods, close to where the brook flows into the larger stream that rushes to the north.
Then sudden silence reminds me of why I am here. Picking up my gun I traipse towards the quiet.