Along the western boundary of our land there is an old stonewall. This rock edifice, built to contain cattle and sheep by some unknown person of the distant past, stands out because it is incomplete. The wall is solid. It has withstood the test of time. In most areas the large rocks, some of which exceed several hundred pounds, fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. This wall has withstood the freezing and thawing of the earth over the last two hundred years, the change from pasture to forest, significant storms that have toppled trees, and human neglect. It is now part of the forest and holds wildlife within its crevices and shadows. Many of the rocks are covered with green moss and white and olive colored lichen giving the hard surface a soft texture. The wall serves as a rough and tumble highway for bobcats and fox who use it to navigate and hunt this forest. These arranged rocks are now part of the substance of these woods. The wall is several thousand feet long and serves as a modern property boundary between our land and two neighbors. At about the midpoint in its north to south traverse the wall has a large break. It looks as if two different people built the wall from opposite directions and constructed the wall on a different but parallel course. The end result is a gap between the two walls that creates a ninety degree angle of nothingness. It has occurred to me that this gap may have been intentional. Maybe it was meant to act as a passage for livestock. The question remains that if this hypothesis were true why wouldn’t the builder of this wall simply have left a gap in wall on the same plane? Why would the wall have two ends that are at ninety degrees to each other without joining?
Over the past thirty-five years I have puzzled over this misaligned wall. I have looked at this irregularity from every angle. I have asked neighbors whose families have long been associated with their land and who had no answers. I have looked for clues by examining other stone walls in the area without uncovering anything. I have come to the conclusion that this will remain a mystery. I am not surprised. These woods hold many unknowns.
This land holds secrets that will be kept. It holds stories that will never be uncovered by me, and will likely never be discovered by anyone else. Animals wander these woods unnoticed and unrecorded. Fields, long ago turned to forest, will likely remain wooded. Trees harvested hundreds of years ago when these pastures were created are long forgotten. It matters not, at least to me, for this land holds a piece of my soul that will forever be held as part of its character.
I was twenty three years old when I found this place. These raw woods on a north facing slope was unattractive to others. It held little sun during the day. The slope was formidable and was difficult to navigate. It was cold. There are enormous amounts of bugs in the spring. The fact that neighbors were few was not viewed as a plus by some. I saw the land differently. It held wildlife. It held a brook where water ran clean and it held a mountain top where the northwest wind could refresh your spirit. It held thousands of plants and a beautiful hardwood and mixed hardwood/conifer forest. It held springs that ran year ‘round with bubbling, healthy groundwater. It held a several vistas to which I could hike to and see the distant views to the east. It held the opportunity to make this part of the world my home. It held future blisters on my hands that would turn to callous. It held hope. It held a future.
The bright side of being twenty three years old is that you are young and full of energy and major obstacles go unnoticed. I had no money, but I had a job. The land was inexpensive. My more than generous grandmother who had a very meager bank account offered to give me a short term loan for the down payment. The payments stretched out over a ten year period were affordable even though I had a bad paying job working with young people who lived in poverty. I couldn’t afford to pay rent and make payments on the land simultaneously so I erected a tipi and lived on this land. For two years I slept on the ground, got up every morning, and went to work. Sleeping on the ground allows you to breath in the fresh musky smell of humus at night while you sleep; allowing a deep and meditative respite from the troubles of the political world. My two dogs (Hickory and Scruggs) and I enjoyed each and every sunrise and sunset. We often climbed to a place in the morning where we could watch the sun rise over distant mountains. On weekends I cleared land and established a building site. Logs were hauled out and turned to lumber. My effort, sweat and blistered hands were my primary investment. The work gave me strength and the land and I understood that we could get along.
The good times were many. I caught trout in the stream. The dogs and I took long hikes and explored the thousands of acres of woodland surrounding us. I picked ramps, nettles, cattail shoots, and fiddleheads for food. The dogs chased squirrels, dug up groundhogs, and occasionally filled their leathery noses with porcupine quills. On hot summer days we sat in a deep pool in the babbling brook, and on cold winter nights we all huddled together by a rock lined fire in the tipi.
At some point I realized that I was a bit lonely. I needed someone to share all of this with. As luck would have it I met a wonderful woman at work. She was caring, wise beyond her years, loved to laugh, and she was beautiful. It took us a while to get together because we were both a tad shy. Finally a friend arranged a first date. The first date lasted three days. We are still together thirty some odd years later.
Maureen wasn’t fond of my tipi. I’ve never understood why and likely never will. We built a little two room cabin and lived in it while we built our house. Maureen took this place to be home almost immediately. She worked the soil with her hands and grew vegetables. She helped me dig a well by hand. She moved rocks with a crowbar and hung fence on cedar posts. She worked with me side by side for two years while we built our house one loving board at a time. Livestock, more gardens, and children followed in that order. This land that held opportunity now held our dreams.
And all these years later tall trees that reach for the sun are still held by this land. White-tailed deer that drink from the groundwater springs and painted trilliums that brighten an early spring day still thrive on this land. This land still holds a frothy brook that runs freely and wildly. A cool northwest breeze and hard unforgiving soils are still part of this land. The old lichen covered stonewall that has two ends that do not meet in the middle is still found on the western boundary. And from this vantage point the sun can be seen setting through the hardwood forest at the end of every sunny day.
And I, a weathered man who still wanders the forest, who listens to the cry of bobcats and the wails of eastern coyotes, who has buried some of this best animal friends here, and who is still in love with the same wonderful woman, am still and forever will be a part of this land. Of that I am sure.
Originally written for the Heath Herald in March of 2011.