Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Photographs: "And I took your childish laughter by surprise And at the moment that my camera happened to find you There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes" Fountain of Sorrow - Jackson Browne

July 1983
 Everything changes when you have children. Even if you've planned for it, there is suddenly a new aspect to your life you couldn't have predicted. Each one reminds you how unprepared you were. Each has their own dynamics, needs, and lessons for us. I am thankful for what each of those three has taught me and continues to teach me. 

What started,for me, as a safe place in the woods was transformed into a shelter where my family could find their own safe place in an increasingly complex world. At any rate, that was what I hoped. It remains to be seen if I was successful.

I had found my home and my next task was to make it a home for others. With a chainsaw, a shovel and, eventually, a tractor I sought to transform 100 acres of woods into a place to grow and thrive. All that with the encouragement and help of my little family.
We had to finish the house so there would be rooms for everyone with plumbing and heating to provide an element of comfort. The work needed to provide for those basics was nothing compared to the effort necessary to learn and grow as a parent and spouse in a ways that would put others first. It was a transformation that was not immediate and it's hard to even say if I was successful. Perhaps that's not for me to say.

I can't help but come to the end of this phase of my blog with some mixed feelings. The work on the land and in the woods helped me to gain a personal footing in the world. But I failed as often as succeeded as a partner and a parent and the jury is still out. 

Perhaps some background (even further back) is necessary. I plan to go forward with some looks at other times and places. Stay tuned....

2001 Blue Hill
Christmas Visit 2002


Sunday, February 14, 2016

This Path: "But I can tell that its bound to be, Because I can feel it, child, yeah, On a country road" On A Country Road - James Taylor, Carol King

Fall 1977
The year my daughter was born I was in the process of constructing a house. The cabin we were living in was barely enough for two.  This photo shows a view, as I was standing on the roof rafters of the new house, back over the Big Rock toward the Barn and the Camp. In the background is the notch between Winter Hill, a Mr. Winter being one of the first settlers of the town, and Saddleback Mountain through which the Montreal Express would blow in the wintertime. This was not the Saddleback of the ski resort in Rangely but our own local version. A formidable mountain nonetheless facing South over the Carthage Basin and what was called Mystic Valley along the Seven Mile Stream. Looking North from the top you could see Tumbledown Mountain and beyond to Canada. I had hopes to climb to the top someday and spend the night on a vision quest but, alas, never did.
Summer 1974

The enchantment of the area had its history long before I came on the scene. The 100 acres we had bought was crisscrossed with stone walls left by earlier settlers who last used the property in the late 1930's and moved west after a particularly bad year, perhaps one where there was snow every month and crops failed. The property I was on was only a portion of a much larger farm of 300 acres or more. Traditionally, lots in Maine were awarded to Revolutionary War soldiers, many of whom moved west after the Civil War. The original homestead was up the hill. Our property was known as the Ox Pasture. It had been cleared, leveled, and the rocks were used to build the stone walls marking pastures. Those early settlers, in their great achievements, made my work so much easier. I am still in awe of what they did to make that course landscape usable.
They did not work alone, however. I once found an old bucket of well used stone chisels. In those times, there were gangs of workers who toured the countryside and helped to clear the land in return for room and board and not much more.  Large stones were chiseled, blasted, and dragged on sleds to where they were used as fill or to build the stone walls. The wall I am sitting on above, was on the edge of a great ravine that extended down to the head waters of Seven Mile Stream. In front of me is the Ox Pasture with 40 years of new growth. Hidden under this wall was a mass of stones used to act as it's foundation. This prevented frosts from undermining these walls and they stood the test of time unless upset by a falling tree or man's carelessness.

The access to our land was a couple of hundred feet from a three-way intersection known as Tainter Corner. The road originally extended over Winter Hill - also known as Tainter Hill - to Berry's Mills, originally Bowley's Mills named after the second of the original settlers. This road was later abandoned beyond the top of the hill and Berry's Mills was reached by another road from Dixfield. The other fork extended to Dixfield to the West and East Dixfield to the East. More recently, in the 1960's, this road known as Route 2 was rebuilt in order to make travel up and down the hill safer for modern traffic. A huge area was filled with gravel hauled from pits along our own property line and at the end of the Basin Road that extended up the Carthage Basin which adjoined the ravine running through our 100 acres. Before the road was built up, there existed a pond with cabins along the side that were rented to "Sports" who came up primarily in hunting season. The road construction changed all that. There remains an old schoolhouse on a town lot, also, perhaps where there was originally a post office too. The school house later became the South Carthage Fire Department. and existed as such while I lived there.
Around the hills in the area can be found remains of many settlements that were abandoned after the Civil War with the availability of better land out west. Many settlements were less accessible as railroads became established elsewhere (North Jay and Canton). To take a walk in the woods was to travel back in time where history was recorded in the abandoned trails, a farm dump, an apple orchard, stone walls and old growth forests in locations like the ravine where logging was too difficult for oxen, and so, left untouched by the articulating skidders that came along later in the second half of the 20th Century. Those early settlers created a blueprint that helped me in my development on the land. I left what I could of the old growth and only select cut the younger growth with the intention of enhancing what nature had entrusted us with.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Way: "Who will prefer the jingle of jade pendants if he once has heard stone growing in a cliff?" - Lao Tzu

Early 1976

As I proceeded with construction on our homestead, it was easy to stay focused. Working where I lived isolated me from the distractions of the outside world and I was able to pursue my work and nurture my mind with an eclectic mix of life paths. Taoism and Native American philosophies, in particular, kept me on that path. Fantasy and magic from authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Alfred, Lord Tennyson kept me from taking myself too seriously.
Aside from all the building, what was our plan? One important piece was to home school our children. We even considered joining forces with some friends and neighbors in the area to start a school. To get approval from the local school district was an obstacle we wanted to be prepared for. With some money available for education we set out to get teaching certificates at the local University of Maine in Farmington (UMF). My partner was the first to start the process by studying Elementary Education.  It was my plan to study Secondary Education.
Things were moving along fast. We had friends and sometimes family drop by to help with some of the larger aspects of construction. I began work on the house while my partner attended school. The other piece was to actually start a family. Personally, I did not have much respect for marriage or what it represented. But my partner felt it necessary to be married to have children. I felt our commitment was there already, but "oh, what the heck," I agreed to the prospect of marriage. In keeping with my lack of respect, we had a ceremony that was about as simple as it gets: just the two of us with some witnesses and an attorney who was certified for the task. We stepped out on a path into our woods and there it was done with a quiet dignity.
Summer 1976
With all my talk of magic, it was strange that I didn't get more behind what could have been an inspiring ritual. I did not ask the spirits for their blessing. Now, I can only regret my lack of enthusiasm, but perhaps, this was a sign right from the start that this was not the correct path. Unaware of what the future would bring, we moved forward with our grand plans.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Comes A Time: "You gotta tell your story boy. You know the reason why. Are you ready for the country - because its time to go." Are You Ready for the Country - Neil Young

Summer 1975
To create a home from wilderness. You're starting with a blank canvas. Again, the "Whole Earth Catalog" provided the resource and a book called "Shelter" the inspiration. In the 1970s we did not have the internet but we did have a renaissance in thinking and the printed materials to go with it.
During the first year a septic system was added to the camp along with the running water to enjoy indoor plumbing.  At first dependent on a generator it was relatively easy to switch over and get power brought in. In those days, the power company was willing to install the lines and poles to come 1/4 mile into the woods as long as we signed a contract for purchasing a minimum of power for a given number of years.  This was essentially free.  Not the case today.
Once the camp was completed (for those of you not familiar with the expression, a "camp" is a seasonal dwelling not far from home where a person or a family might go to get away), the next step was to create a base of operations. From there, I could begin construction on a full sized dwelling or house. This "base" was to be a  barn, specifically a pole barn.  The pole barn was the first of many pole structures I built over the years. They were horse shelters, wood sheds, a camp in the Carrabassett Valley and a storage building. The value in the pole buildings was the strength gained by placing large cedar and/or hemlock posts 5 feet into the ground.  The structure was then hung on those poles. There was no need to construct walls to support the building.  It was just a matter of hanging the walls on the poles.  The barn was the largest of my buildings and proved itself by carrying heavy loads in the loft and withstanding the raging winter winds known as "The Montreal Express". This was rightly named, as you could hear it coming through the notch in the mountains north of us long before the force of it impacted the woods and our structures.
After starting with the camp and then building the barn, my skills were perfected well enough to take on the task of a real house.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Setting Down Roots: One of these days I'm gonna sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I've known - One of These Days - Neil Young

The Big Rock 1974
Another magical feature on the Carthage land was an erratic boulder. This had been left there by receding glaciers (Laurentide Ice Sheet) as little as 12,000 years ago. The Maine woods are sprinkled with such rocks but this one was particularly large. 15 feet high and 40 feet wide at the surface. 40 years earlier this particular boulder sat in an open field until the property owners pulled up stakes and moved west probably due to some harsh winters. I once had an old timer come by who showed me a picture of the rock he had taken then. It had been known as "The Kissing Rock" as young sweethearts  had ventured out to it for that purpose.  Lying on top,
Perched On Top - July 1974
one could swear they could feel the Earth's energy flowing up through them to the sky.  Years later, I surmised that this boulder could have come from Tumbledown Mountain to the north.
Though a 1/4 mile out in the woods, we chose to build our homestead nearby. It would become a hub of our endeavors.
Rocks hold a certain significance in our history. While everything else may change, they have permanence. In James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Saga, Deerslayer or Hawkeye was to meet Chingachgook, the Mohican, at Council Rock.  This was at the base of  Lake Otsego (Glimmerglass) in New York State. This was next to the lake's outlet which is the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. Though this story is a bit of historical fiction, the landmarks therein can be found today.  Thus magic is woven into our lives.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Stewards of the Land: THE FOREST AND THE EVERGREENS ARE COMING TO TAKE ME BACK - "The King of Trees" - Cat Stevens

Hollow Oak 1974
Growing up in a world where "being an idealist" was somehow questionable, it was refreshing to find that there were perspectives that included ideals, magic, and love.
Our land in the mountains of Maine, amidst the history and lore of forgotten communities, had a power and spirit, perhaps borne of the families that worked there before, or better still inherent in the very soil and nature of the place.
It was Thomas Jefferson who put forth the notion that we should live as stewards to the land rather that feel that ownership gave us the license to do whatever we wanted.
That respect put me in my place and even guided my actions where this land was concerned. I adopted the phrase "Earth Way" because of the natural laws it implied. I learned to take my signals from nature and not try to impose the will of man.
When the White Man came to this land, the Native Americans must have thought we were pretty silly. Our concepts of ownership made us fools who thought they could buy the land or claim it in any way. But if we wanted to pay them  for it, who were they to point out our folly? 500 years later we are reaping the rewards of our shortsightedness and greed.
This single tree embodied a philosophy that was not lost on me. With a hole in it large enough to climb inside, it lent me it's power and embraced my children.  On this Thanksgiving I thank Mother Earth for her selfless nurturing, in spite of my faults.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Preparations: Oh I'm on my way I know I am, somewhere not so far from here...All I know is all I feel right now, I feel the power growing in my hair - "Sitting" - Cat Stevens

1973 Carthage, Maine

Once we had the land, it was necessary to get myself ready.  Hand tools, and certain power equipment including a chainsaw, a truck and a generator are basic necessities. We already had camping equipment from our journeying around New England in search of land.
Before leaving Pawling, New York, I took a job as a framing carpenter.  In only a couple months, I was able to acquire a basic knowledge of the framing techniques necessary for constructing a home. I also got some experience with my chain saws, something that has been a basic part of my yearly chores ever since. I still use the old McCulloch Super 250 chain saw with a 36" bar for cutting up firewood.
The most important thing, with tools, is to find out about and learn some basic safety practices. Homesteading is fairly synonymous to farming and that has always been one of the most dangerous professions. A lapse in concentration can cost you a limb or your life. Using simple safety equipment should be second nature.
One thing that is absolutely indispensable is enthusiasm. Looking back, I wonder how I did all the work and accomplished so much. I can only attribute it to youthful enthusiasm. What only seemed natural then appears herculean now. Today, I marvel at and am in awe of the young folks continuing the traditions of farming while raising their families. The cost of living and equipment lessens their ability to make ends meet with only the same physical limitations our bodies have always had for thousands of years.
From the start, in 1972, the work was the way.  I was lucky to have a small grub stake to help me get started. Pursuing a career with the idea of homesteading later in life, just wouldn't have done it. Now, 40 years later, I sit behind a desk. I do so with the confidence and satisfaction born from performing skills that may prove helpful to me and those around me, should the need arise. Safety in this world is not guaranteed. As true now as ever.