Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Farms As I Remember Them Here I think I'll take a little detour in the story and take a moment or two to describe the farms where I grew up. It's not an exciting or even intriguing read, just a little background to better set the scene for the years of memories that I hope will follow on from this point. The photos show low-bush blueberries, a rake used to gather them, and rakers harvesting rows. The rows are laid out across the barren, using white twine, to ensure a complete harvest by sectioning off the berries. I'm hoping you'll be able to get at least a vague picture of the places, as they no longer exist as they were, lost, not to progress, but to the realities of economics and changing family dynamics. They've now, for the most part, been reclaimed by the forest that allowed the men to carve them out originally. The places lay from north to south one atop the other, geographically speaking, with a state road that ran from hardly anywhere, through much of nowhere, and ended that leg of its journey in the second biggest city in Maine, some ninety-three miles to the west. The southern farm was comprised of a few fields of beans and corn, three small hayfields, a smallish apple orchard, and a few woodlots of poor quality trees growing in marshy thickets. The house and small barn were behind a very small and weedy lawn that was loaded with yellow dandelion dots, and a short driveway to the west of and touching the cellar wall that led to the solo barn. The house was considerably tinier than our house and looked like a small sister of the larger one. The barn also was rather diminutive in comparison to the somewhat sprawling complex of multi-function structures to its immediate northeast. This building was used primarily to store various items that tagged along behind the ancient John Deere tractor F used to work his fields and orchard. There were also innumerable baskets of various sizes and styles used to sort, store, and transport the several crops F reaped each year. The field behind the house to the east was a square one measuring about 300 feet per side. F rotated crops between hay and string beans, with an occasional excursion into the exciting worlds of peas or potatos. The large field to the south of it was of equal width and ran south 1000 feet up part of the hill in back of the house and barn. This acreage was mostly devoted to yellow corn, with a smattering of sweet corn that yielded huge, juicy ears with whiteish kernels that screamed to be boiled, buttered, and messily gnawed to their very cores. These cobby cores then provided treats for R's hogs and goats, having already rewarded the human component of the farm families with full stomachs. Although F's crops went mainly to his small truck-farm store in the nearby "city", there was always, by mutual agreement with R and Dad, ample produce grown between those commercial fields and the "house gardens" to provide all the vegetables the three families could desire or need. I don't recall a meal that was ever served without the fruits of our labors being piled on in abundance, fresh or home-canned. To the west of all this, separated by a well travelled two-rut track running westward from the barnyard and south up the hill to the orchard, were hayfields about 400 feet wide, east to west, and running back to the base of the hill to the south. Beyond them were woodlots split by a hard-packed trace that led to a large lake's big cove on its northern edge. On the shore of this cove, which ran around a half-mile wide for nearly two miles to the west, where it joined the main, and considerably larger, part of the lake, was a cozey little cottage. This is where we kids that resided on the farms for all or part of the summer spent most summer nights. We were a motley bunch and I'll tell of some of the lakeside adventures at another time. Some of us lived and worked all summer on the place, and some were city relatives visiting their parents' humble beginnings. The woodlots ran through a semi-swampy area and measured about a mile or so east-west and probably a mile and a half north-south. Covering all the north slope to the summit of the hill in back, and to the south of the corn and hay fields, was a continuous apple orchard rife with a wide assortment of delicious teacher bribes. I'm not sure how big the orchard was, but I do know F had to hire people at picking time to get all the juicy treats gathered in time to prevent loss from "falls", etc. I do know it was a number of rows wide and grew Macintosh, red delicious, Rome beauties, and green apples akin to granny Smiths. At harvest time a large box style semi-trailer was delivered from an express trucking company in the "city" and was filled with apples and driven to the big city several times a week until the apples were all gone excepting those for our own uses. This time of year was always super busy, especially if we had managed to coax a third, very late, crop of hay from the rocky soil. It seemed that everything that could grow there needed picking or "raking" in unison or close to it at that season. The woodlots on F's farm provided us and several dozen town and "city" families with many cords of firewood each year. We cut, sawed, sold, and delivered it "green" and they would stack it to dry for a year or more at their homes. This was extremely hard work that lasted all winter, with F, R, and myself toiling on F's lots one or two days a week and on R's the rest of the week. The logs had to be removed from the forests prior to spring thaw when the woods were impassable. The firewood logs were sawn over the spring and summer as time allowed using a portable mini-mill consisting of a model A engine and sixty-inch circular saw mounted on opposite ends of a twenty-foot four-wheel trailer. This was constructed from a 1936 Chevy truck frame. The engine was mounted transversely across the front with the transmission end on the left side looking forward. The saw and an extendable log table were mounted on the rear with the saw to the right side. From the saw, a driveshaft ran across to a twelve inch flat pully. This pully was connected to the engine's pully, mounted on the end of the transmission, by means of a four-inch wide, sixteen foot belt. I'll get to using this threat to human health later on when I get to describing working around the place in more detail. This pretty much covers the south branch of the farm complex. On the north side of the road, an expansive lawn dotted with huge shady oaks, ran beside a wider and longer barnyard. The house, which I described a bit before and will visit more extensively eventually, was bounded on the west by two house-gardens. One was tended by F's wife and the other by my aunt, although it was really more of a joint enterprise. Just to the north of the gardens and west of the pantries was an old well and a huge rhubarb patch. To the west of all this and running down a slope to a small farm pond, and far beyond, were hayfields. To the northwest ran additional hay producing acres. On the north side of the working buildings, beyond the paddock and small animal abodes, were four pastures, each several tens of acres and separated by stone walls. These walls deserve a chapter also, so I'll just mention here the crop I forgot, the annual spring crop of rocks. These were pushed to the land surface by the frost heaves of fall and spring and we duly harvested them after "mud-season", when the ground would again support the old-fashioned spoked and steel rimmed wheels of our wagons. We would then spend the evenings of several weeks rebuilding and adding to the great stone walls which retained the bovine members of the family. Beyond the western hayfields to the north, the pastures to the north, and for a considerable distance east, were R's woodlots. These ran on for about four miles to the north to the far side of the mountain on the top of the place, and about two and a half miles to the east of everything. The end of the hay to the west was the edge of the farm. R's farm was much wider to the east, whereas F's ran farther to the west. Much like a rectangle on its side with a larger square sitting on top of it and overlapping it to the east, while the bottom rectangle extended farther west. In addition to the road, a fairly large year-round brook ran through the west side, flowing from northeast to southwest, stopping to both fill and empty the six acre farm pond on its way to the lake near the cottage. Also, from the year-round spring on the east slope of "our" mountain, only about eighteen-hundred feet high at the summit, flowed a small brook. This ran to the river to the east eventually, leaving several excellent fishing and swimming holes in its wake. Another feature on the east was a four acre or so blueberry mini-barren, a collection of glacially deposited rocks, from which only the low berry bushes grew. This was nature's free crop, which we gathered by use of "blue-berry rakes". I hope this gives you a better picture of the place that served as playground, food source, work-place, and school for a constantly amazed boy, who to this day, can spend hours absolutely motionless watching nature's many wonders. Take care.

4 comments:

Sarah said...

Mike,I love the detour.Sometimes the detours bring you back to main road so it is easier for you to remember more details.Love the Blueberries.I guess you have to go thru all that to harvest a lot.When you just need some,you send 2 littles girls out to pick them(My Cousin & I)so you can bake a pie.keep the stories coming.

Mies said...

Your memories of kids working and living on farms in the summer reminds me of George's younger years. After they left the farm in SD, he would be one of those kids that would go back and hire on in the summer. Through the stories he shared with me, I experienced an other era that is long gone. After the hard work in the daytime, his nights were wild and free. He did crazy things, but he also established a work ethic he still has today. I wish more city kids could experience working on farms and learn about nature first hand...

Patricia said...

Good description, Mike. I can almost see it. I know and love that kind of country, it sounds similar to the Pennsylvania mountains where my mother and father grew up, on farms a lot like you are describing. Generations were there before them and worked that land, there are still distant cousins there. But my parents struck out for town before I was born, and left it behind. The apple orchards in bloom on the mountainsides are the lovliest sight I know of, and to walk thru them is heaven on earth. Thanks for kindling my memories.

Mar said...

Thank you Mike, for your accurate description, I think I've never been to such a big farm, but I've felt I could almost seen yours with your precise descriptions, and it sounds as a nice but hard-working place. Keep telling us when you can, please ;-D