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.