I took a break from leaf clean-up the other day (one of the penalties I pay for my garden’s wonderful woodland site) and took a walk to enjoy the late fall woods. This presents a very different aspect at this season, for with the leaves all down, the interior of the forest is revealed.
In particular, when I walk down an abandoned woods road, I can see the remains of no less than five old houses. There’s nothing left of these residences besides the cellar holes. These must have been dug by pick and shovel – a near impossible task in our boulder-rich soil. The floors of these former basements are earthen, and the sides are clad with beautifully laid, un-mortared walls. Many of the stones in these are considerable. I wrote in my last post about my own adventures with lifting stones; these are far larger than any I have attempted to budge. It must have taken a team of oxen to drag them to the site and a block and tackle to lower them into position.
With nothing to hold them together other than gravity, these walls have outlasted all the beams and boards that once stood above them.
I took a map marked with these cellar holes to our town historian, and he found that houses stood on those sites at least as long ago as the mid-nineteenth century and, he suspects, much longer than that. He has told me that if I bring him the measurements of the cellar holes and any evidence of where the doors and chimneys once stood, he can probably reconstruct the style, and so the era, of the houses that stood over them.
It feels a bit melancholy to know that the site my wife and I chose because it is so remote – we have regular visitations from owls, bobcats, otters, even a moose – was once a thriving community with its own school. At this time, though, of such turmoil and division, with neighbor turned against neighbor, it is reassuring to think that there is a cycle greater than any of us.
One of the things I value about gardening is the way in which renewal follows death, year after year. Witnessing this makes death and decay easier to accept. Many things, I fear, are coming to an end now in the greater world. Indeed, the powers-that-be brag that is the case. But no doubt someday someone will be peering down into the cellar hole of my house, wondering who lived here, while he or she takes a break from caring for their own garden.Posted by Thomas Christopher on November 21, 2016 at 7:30 am, in the category Tune In, What's Happening.