Forgotten farms are now covered by leaves, branches
The woods behind my home are stark and bare now. October’s vivid colors a past memory of a mere few weeks ago.
Most of yesterday’s leaves now qualify as litter, anticipating tomorrow’s compost and next springs mulch. Summer’s lush thickness, once so adept at hiding woodland secrets, has left for another phase of life in New Hampshire.
What’s left behind is now an exposed world for all to see and sometimes ponder over.
Hidden behind the summer greenery are now easily revealed paths and old roadways just begging for exploration.
One of my favorite things to do at this time of the year is to strike out and follow one of these trails while grouse hunting with my setter – trying to visualize what this area might have looked like back a century or so ago in earlier times.
Stonewalls (once called fences) abound throughout this state and they delineate past roadways and paths now surrendering to the encroachment of man and Mother Nature. In many cases these are still are navigable by foot and show us the way to grown-over treasures.
Most, if not all, of these grown over roads lead to old cellar holes and foundation holes of long gone inhabitants that were once born, lived, worked, and died right here on the farmstead where you now stand taking in the outline of past lives. Entire lives played out right here and the families that once celebrated meaningful times and holidays are now gone.
Many are the reasons they dissolved into what we see today – unused and abandoned homes, barns and outbuildings of earnest endeavor.
These old sites are great places for a grouse or two, maybe a fat buck that’s living down along the corner bottomland or even a squirrel if you’re of the mind to make an old fashioned stew.
My earliest recollection of eating game stems from the stove pot of an old timer my dad once hunted with when I was a mere youngster – his favorite meal being a steaming bowl of squirrel meat with root vegetables in a thick broth.
Nevertheless, stew aside, these ancient places are also great places to sit for a while and reflect on life back then; a time to think of their existence and ponder on our place in the scheme of things today.
The wind always seems to sigh softly in these places, the rain falls just a little gentler and time takes on a slower pace allowing you to shake off your daily hectic pace and visualize the working farm that once stood in this spot before time marched off and left it behind.
Look around closely and you might find a creek or brook nearby that could defy the odds and hold a population of small, native brook trout within the shadowed depths of the pools and runs meandering down from here to wherever.
One thing you need to be really careful of during your exploration of past places and their mysteries is abandoned wells or cisterns covered over with rotted timbers placed many years previous. Under a thick layer of old and new ground litter they lie in wait for someone to step onto their frail coverings.
It pays to be very conscious of these innocent traps as you walk amongst the boundaries of any old homestead.
Upland birds, squirrels, hares and whitetail deer particularly like the comforting confines of these long ago spots.
Fruit trees with scraggly apples, green pears, and Concord grapes still bear yearly harvests of one sort or another to attract game. Acorns and Hickory nuts give off their annual droppings of food that most game find extremely appetizing.
I know of a few such spots carefully kept close to my vest (a secret best not disclosed) where I can go for a few hours of quiet hunting, allowing me to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Old dirt roads usually lead us to these out of the way spots but you have to watch really careful, even without the covering of summer and early autumn, for the telltale tracings of yesteryear. Old stone walls snaking off through the woods can lead you to the places of another time.
The dog always seems to work better here, the birds, however, seem to fly faster and the deer sneak along your backtrail, while you lose your modern cares to the surroundings just a little bit easier.
Your daily chores just don’t seem all that heavy when you gaze upon the miles of stone walls left behind throughout the past places and the realization that they were built mostly by sheer manpower and the back-breaking necessity to survive.
Hats off to industrious labor.
Although the availability of these special spots becomes scarcer with each passing year, taken over by names Pheasant Hollow Estates, Quail Ridge Acres and such, there is still enough of them left if you take the time and energy to search them out off the beaten path of the wheels of progress.
I, for one, feel good knowing that despite it all they are out there in an ancient time waiting for discovery by someone like me. The ones who came before me left a legacy behind as they walked into their tomorrow and my future yesterday.
Gordon Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.