A Boyhood Discovery Worth Remembering
MIDWINTER meditations entertain me, and just now I was thinking about the time I discovered the ancient settlement of New Vineyard.
True, I did some winter camping, and in the enthusiasms of being 12 and 14 we boys had fun setting up a tent in a snowbank. I made a skiboggan for such outings - a sled with two recycled skis for runners. In those days of white ash skis, nobody kept a pair too long and picking up two odd, or unbroken, skis was easy. I - we - would tie our gear and tent on my skiboggan and snowshoe to the scene of our frolics. This would be on a Saturday, and after a good night's sleep, we'd thaw breakfast and then return .
At this time, since the bloom of youth hath faded, I recall my winter camping trips coolly, but still have fervor about the good times I had afield in the summertime. I discovered the ancient New Vineyard settlement in August, and the event cheers me as memory reenacts the adventure on a midwinter evening with popcorn and a good reading apple at hand.
We have a town in Maine named New Vineyard (population 444; 67 Democrats). But the early settlement of the area was in our adjacent town of Industry, on a stern granite mountain where nobody with any sense would try to live. I had heard the story of the first comers. Weary of the sea, seven families from Martha's Vineyard, an island off Cape Cod, came in caravan to take up seven farms along the mountain, where they'd have a new life far from the raging tide. Much like the sailor in the ancient tale who t ook an oar and walked inland until somebody asked him what it was.
The seven families "squatted" but later bought their lands. But as the original settlers got over in their books, their children moved away, leaving the old folks until one day nobody lived on the seven farms. The road washed out, and the forests reclaimed the fields. The houses and barns fell apart.
I took a notion, along about 1925 or so, to go to the old settlement to see what remained of a noble intention. I had directions and found it, coming with my pack basket, afoot. I found the cellar holes, and nearby lilac bushes and grapevines and relics of fruit trees. Even spoolbushes. Every home needed spools for winding thread and yarn, and pithwood shrubs had been planted by doorsteps. Cut a piece of the bush, push out the pith, and you have a spool. As with Shelley's Ozymandias, nothing beside remai ned.
So I had come along that bright August day and found the brook that flowed down from the ridge, and I stopped to lower my basket and admire. I was looking upon one of the sweetest scenes of my lifetime, and I pitched my little tent and stayed right there for three days - making walking trips up to the cellar holes each morning.
The brook was not, at least in August, a raging torrent, but cascaded leisurely from pool to pool. Below each cascade was a granite pool, big enough to swim in, and the series would have suited a summer villa of some old Roman of wealth who wished to impress everybody with his place in the Umbrian Apennines, where he nurtured trout to titillate their feasts. Indeed, as I stood in reverential awe, a trout rose in the second downstream pool, offering a welcome I gladly accepted. I didn't carry a rod on suc h expeditions, but I had a length of twine and a knife to cut a suitable sapling.
In my midwinter meditation I do not neglect the mosquitoes. Black flies are mostly gone by August, but mosquitoes are less kind. I carried a square of netting to cover my face when I slept, and as soon as my tent was up I made a "smudge." Wet pine needles arranged so their smoke wafts through the tent. It helps. I made out, but the whir of mosquito wings predicted the days of living by a jetport, and lulled me in the smoke under my netting. I was also lulled by a couple of porcupines who pledged their tr oth, as porcupines do, in the top of yonder pine all night.
It was a beautiful place to tent, and I had some salt pork to handle the trout in my frypan. I think about the place often in my midwinter meditations, along with popcorn aforesaid and some reading apples.
I went once to see the place again, but the road had grown to tall trees. Which is all right, because my excellent memory flourishes on demand.