This Land

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.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack of Sage to Meadow

    A very moving piece. Such a great history that includes not only the land and all it holds for you, but also a family history that began on a date that lasted three days. The range and depth of your work is held together by not only description but also emotion. I like your selection of land. I would have done the same I think for I love vistas and the space that allows wind to rustle the leaves and bring the cold. That the land holds your animal friends is a reason to never let it go. I look out upon Lilly and Fenster and the redbird I placed beneath the live oak tree and I don’t think anything will move me away. I am also astonished you have been there since you were twenty-three. That is a long time. The fresh water would hold me too. And, last, but not least, is the wall. Just great to have it there! And, it’s long. The mystery of the gap will remain so. I would think it a gate, but who knows anymore? I’ve heard of rock wall boundaries in New England more than down here in Texas. I see a few of them when I go to San Saba and Fredericksburg, but they are quite rare, but so beautiful and painstakingly built. Well, one more thing: your work on the land to build. Gosh, what a segment of history you represent, Bill. Self-built, constructed mainly by yourself and Maureen. Historically, it represents a different time when self-reliance was not just a value, but also the difference between starving and eating, living or dying. I think this is one of the finest pieces I’ve ever read about living *with* the land. Not on it, but with it. Thank you, Bill, for writing about your love of that land and all that goes with it.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you for the compliments Jack, all I know is that’s its been a long, oft enjoyable road, to which the end hopefully is not near. I think it important to record what you have done, unique or not, so that others may enjoy, appreciate, even judge our own accomplishments no how small or insignificant they may be.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you for the compliments Jack, all I know is that’s its been a long, oft enjoyable road, to which the end hopefully is not near. I think it important to record what you have done, unique or not, so that others may enjoy, appreciate, even judge our own accomplishments no how small or insignificant they may be.

  • Teresaevangeline

    Well, I simply cannot add anything more to what Jack has written here in comment. But,t I will try. There are so many good phrases that capture how you have lived. This is a singularly beautiful piece of writing about living with the land. What a thoughtful life you and Maureen have shared. It’s so good to know that people such as yourselves exist, as with Jack and Brenda in Texas. Good people as stewards of the land they inhabit and share with all of Life. An eloquent life, well-lived.

  • naquillity

    what a great story. your love of land certainly shines through as well as the love you share with your wife of 30 yrs. may you continue to have many more blessed years. your living in a tee pee makes me think of Craig Child’s book Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild. Craig used to live in a tee pee too. thought you might like to take a look at his book sometime. it’s a great read. your pictures are great, btw. have a wonderful day.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack of Sage to Meadow

    I second what Teresa says: An eloquent life, well-lived, Bill.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    We have had a great life together. It’s been a wild ride. I will check out Craig’s book! Thanks for the reference.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Teresa. You people make me feel good about the life that Maureen and I chose to live. We have lots of friends that chose different paths, and now have more materially than we will ever have, but I like to think we are lucky spiritually, and am content that we walked down these paths in the forest.

  • http://gardenpath.wordpress.com/ sandy

    It sounds perfect to me! You know don’t you that having picked just the right woman has made all the difference? But then, maybe she picked you!
    My parents were happily paired in such a relationship. They always lived in the country and enjoyed doing the work together. By the way, the last place they lived had several rock walls. When they needed repaired, Mom did it. She was a better engineer than Dad.

  • Emma Springfield

    What a love story. Your love of your home and all the nature that is there is equaled by your love of your wife and family. You have had a truly good life.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I always think and believe that fate brought Maureen and I together. Who knows? The stone walls on the western boundary are a little helter skelter in places but have withstood the test of centuries. They will be there long after I am gone.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I should remember more often how lucky I am in many regards, sometimes I get distracted from what really is important. And you are correct I have had a good life!

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Gator

    I love the greenery in the photos. That wall definitely sounds interesting, I wonder why they did that?

  • http://www.slugyard.com Mike B.

    Great narrative Bill! I haven’t had to do anything even remotely close to your journey on your land, but I am also very attached to my very small slice of heaven. We have the creek and the woods, though we do have a lot of close neighbors. And let me tell you- this land has A LOT of secrets. Sometimes I am amazed at what I find. If these woods could talk…

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    If I ever figure out the wall mystery I will certainly write about it. I still think two different land owners worked on it from opposite ends and it didn’t meet in the middle. But who knows?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    If I ever figure out the wall mystery I will certainly write about it. I still think two different land owners worked on it from opposite ends and it didn’t meet in the middle. But who knows?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    There is no doubt that almost all land holds secrets. Part of the fun in having a relationship with a piece of land is unraveling these secrets! The woods do talk, we have to learn the language.

  • http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com Crafty Green Poet

    What a lovely story! Your wall reminds me of several that grow in the woodlands near where I live, some of them I know the history of, others are mysteries…

  • http://www.beyondplumcreek.com/bpcblog Hudson Howl

    Passionate and insightful. As always thanks for pulling back the curtains and allowing us to view your world. Never took my mind’s eye off the stage once!
    ‘The lens of individual experience’ is a quote I just read in a magazine prior to reading your story, you exemplify this for sure. Exploring and seeking to understand – thanks for the walk, it was a great trip.

    Arrow heads, clay ink wells are just a couple ‘finds’ I still have from my childhood digging in the dirt day’s. They still spark my imagination. To this day I retain them as a reminder that curiosity can reap huge rewards -insight fulness. Though created as a barrier in a distant past, your *wall* now does much the same, not so much a wall as it is a gateway to understanding. Part of me hopes you never do figure out the ‘why’? -am enjoying reading your journey to much. Am so greedy.

    thanks again Bill
    ps……..you get great comments to your post and I enjoying reading them – there’s that “through the lens of individual experience’ thingy again.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you. The walls where you live are much, much older. What mysteries they must hold! What stories they can tell!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I a;ways like to receive your comments. They are so insightful! Imagination, mystery, the stories to be discovered and told are all clearly related. It is the finding them that is fun and invigorating. I’m still working on the wall mystery. Someday…….

  • http://www.beyondplumcreek.com Hudson Howl

    At least with your wall, you can walk around it, walk through it. View it from all angles. And it’s not going anywhere. You could not ask for better wall. The ‘wall’ we slam into, now those a real bummer!

  • http://findanoutlet.wordpress.com/ Find an Outlet

    If only your “ancestors” (as in the people who lived on this land before you) had kept such powerful journals, we might better understand the mysteries of the land. If they did, they are lost. We may disparage technology, but because of it, your stories will survive for as long as the earth does. Since you are as much a part of the land as the bobcats and the coyotes, your presence is just as significant. Without you there, we would never know.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack of Sage to Meadow

    Hopefully the end is not near. But if it is, you are leaving a record. I did not start blogging because of that — I have other notebooks — but my blogging has since picked up that purpose, in part. Given my age, 68, I hope there will be many more years of discovering the little parcel of Cross Timbers I have. I would like to know the trees as well as you know them (I remember your ash post) in a few years. My career has been inside a classroom and forcing abstractions that at the base have a relationship with nature, but I don’t have the time to draw it out for the student. To hunt and fish and know the web of nature is more in front of me than ever before since I am close to retiring. This morning I went out — the wind is blowing like the dickens — in the pickup and took my field book: budding pecans, three ducks, grasshopper sparrows, barn swallows, swallowtails, yucca greening, oaks beginning to sprout, buffalo grass emerging more and more, etc. All within one mile on my place. I think we are fortunate, Bill, to go into the field. And to record it becomes not a duty, but a passionate enterprise that becomes an imperative in our lives. I don’t know how long the story will be, but I’m gonna follow the trail as long as I can. It’s like “it” writes me — this thing with nature and with the land. I do not mean to be presumptive (I think it a grievous error) but I see these characteristics in your writing too. If I was giving the Prairie Sagebrush Award today, this post of yours would get it.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    While I am happy to be a recorder of the natural world, and I am glad to take advantage of the technological world to put my recordings out into the human world, I’m not sure if it really makes a difference, at least to the natural world, if I do this or not.

    I would be truly and greatly flattered if it did. It might qualify me as being marginally significant.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    You are so kind and I am truly grateful that you like my writing.

    Only recently have I understood the importance of recording the natural world around me and sharing it with others. Emphasis on sharing it with others. For the longest time I thought few would care and the meager audience was thinning. The sharing, and reading what others have to share, has given me energy. For a long time I have focused on the presentation of my thoughts, and to a high degree probably always will, but these days I think a lot about what others might be interested in and in what might be valuable to them.

    One of the reasons I like some of the better photographic sites, Montucky, Nature in the Ozarks, GardenPath and others is because these folks can show so much with so few words. The beauty of the natural world is enough to capture anyone’s imagination if artfully presented.

    Sage to Meadow puts a wonderful face on humans in the natural world; how we can appreciate it, how we can live with it, and how we can help it along. And just so you know you are already an exquisite writer because it comes from your heart.

  • http://findanoutlet.wordpress.com/ Find an Outlet

    It most certainly does make a difference! Look at all the people you are educating and reminding to take note of what is happening in our world. Your posts have an influence on me and many others. Your readers’ comments will radiate out too as people click on their blogs, many of which are nature-related.

    And you write for a newspaper too…you are doing your part, without conceit or arrogance. Not to mention your stewardship of your land.

    I know how badly you want to save the earth and sense that you feel helpless among the destructive elements. I want to save all the animals, but can only save a few. We may just be tiny specks, your wonderful readers included, but we are determined to use what small powers we have to do what we can. It’s the multitude of tiny ways that make a difference.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Your words and determination are inspirational. Thank you so much for reminding me to forge on. The importance of what we do on this planet during our short stay cannot be measured. It is our responsibility to do everything within our power to help humans to understand the importance of our natural ecosystems and environment.

  • http://nature-drunk.com Nature-Drunk

    As always, an inspirational account Bill. You have been blessed by experiences that most never will…sounds heavenly.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I have come to the conclusion that my life is a combination of luck, hard work, attitude, and love. A pretty simple formula that doesn’t always produce the same results, so you are correct, I am blessed!

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emilybrisse

    Lovely lovely lovely. This sounds just about like paradise to me (well, most of it; did you sleep in a tipi in the middle of an NE winter?!). Thanks so much for sharing, and may the memories and wisdom your land gives you be ever-bountiful.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I lived in the tipi for two years; summer, autumn, winter, spring. One day soon I will do a post just about life in the tipi, although it may include a lot of shivering and bugs. It’s a good life for those that like to commune with the natural world, otherwise it might be pretty rough.

  • http://profiles.google.com/everyday.adventurer Richard Donovan

    A beautiful story. It makes me think of my own past a little more fondly.

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    You are a lucky man, Bill! You recognized early on the wonderful things that you found, caught hold of them and didn’t let go. So many others should be so fortunate!

    If that wall were in the west, I would wonder if perhaps it had an offset caused by a fault line.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Richard. I am happy that this story made you think of your own past in a different light. Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    The misalignment in the stone wall makes a perfect right angle where the break is located. No doubt about human involvement, either unintentional of on purpose. It is a mystery!

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    After reading about the wall you found, I wonder what some of the land I hike on has been used for in the past. I often think the land couldn’t have been occupied by humans for long enough to have anything like your wall. But even though it’s not quite that old, there is a fence in a very strange place at one place I go. I keep wondering how it got there and why someone would have put up a fence in such a place.

  • Out On The Prairie

    What a treasure to own. The wall sounds real unique, you have mentioned it before. You are in an area where it obviously didn’t pay off to farm row crops, or they lost fertility by trying.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    This sounds like it would make an excellent post for Everyday Adventurer! I’d be very interested to read about this mystery fence.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Although it sounds strange, we don’t think of ourselves as owning the land, it is more like we are temporary stewards. Yes, at the registry of deeds it says we own it, but really it owns us.

    No row crops in these parts for profit. Not even great pasture. Most like to say it does best growing rocks. That seems to be true.

  • http://writingsfromwildsoul.wordpress.com/ Wendy

    What a gift you give the generations to come after you in telling the story of your life with this land and the life you and Maureen have shared there. It is part of you and you “still and forever will be a part of this land”. Beautiful, Bill. Thank you.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    That you think that this writing is a gift to future generations is possibly the highest and best compliment I could possibly receive. Thank you very, very much.

  • Barbara

    Beautiful and moving Bill.

    Stewards of the land – yes that is an apt description of you and Maureen. And I agree with all those who have commented – everyone has been drawn in by you and to you through your loving descriptions of your little bit of countryside.

    You inspire me to continue with my self-appointed role of telling stories about the natural world, around me and around others. Thank you for that.

    Keep writing – your many fans will keep reading and waiting for the next thoughtful essay. And yes your musings will go a long way to inspire other generations to care for the world around us I’m sure.

  • Barbara

    PS I tried to copy your story of Ella and my computer wouldn’t do it – so hopefully it will always be available – I’ll print it. Your kind comments similarly mean a great deal to me, here and on my own blog. Here’s to taking care of this old world – fun, hard work sometimes, and so much mystery and joy to be found and shared!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Barbara your comments are very generous. If we can all learn a little from others about their “little corners of the world” we will be better for it. I’m hopeful that this network maintains a “community” and spreads wide and far. One never knows!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Believe me I’m no expert in computers but I just tried copying the story and it worked. Here is what I did. Highlight entire story with photos. On key board hit control and c simultaneously. Go to whatever word document you use, I use open writer, and hit paste. Should work because it worked here, right?

  • Barbara

    Oh – like the idea of community spreading far and wide – great! count me in!

  • Barbara

    I tried that and my Word program said no – I’ll try again… thanks for the encouragement.

    And just sent a fellow called Damon who is a vet tech up here to your site to read about Ella – he’s got an honours degree in English and is thinking about writing a blog – the stories he could tell – so I told him what you do to encourage him. I KNOW he’ll love your stories and musings. Actually I’ve told many people because I believe in spreading the word about interesting writing and supporting the environment.

    cheerio Wild_Bill – have a great day!

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