How a Miller Lost His Gold And a Treasure Was Found

The Associated Press has told us that certain good folks of Concord, Mass., are striving to save the birthplace of Henry David Thoreau, which seems about to be the victim of unrelenting progress. Concord (which the AP did not explain is pronounced konqu'd) has simply outgrown the quiet philosopher of Walden Pond, and needs his turf for apartments, parking lots, giant plazas, and economic support. Rip the thing down and let's get on with it. The situation reminds us that we have altogether too many people. And that, in turn, leads me to another subject.

Back in my youth, when I began my continuing scholastic study of the habitat of Salvelinus fontinalis, I walked maybe a mile up a certain Maine brook that I suspected arose from bubbling springs on the side of New Vineyard Mountain. It was an agreeable spring day, and I carried a pack basket with all I should need on this kind of cultural excursion, including a frypan.

I expected to find no moccasin tracks this day save my own, but I was well aware I was approaching the area settled in the 1700s by folks from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. They were sea weary, eager to find a new happiness far from the tide, and they could have land from the Commonwealth for the settling. Why they chose this granite mountain nobody knows, but they came, seven families in a caravan of ox wagons, and if they never prospered they did have forest and scenery to make up for it.

Later they persuaded Chesley Pinkham, not of Martha's Vineyard, to come and set up a mill on the stream I was now exploring pool by pool.

Chesley, I was told, was prosperous, and converted his miller's fees to $20 gold pieces, or as they were then known, double eagles. With a pod auger he bored holes in the timbers of his mill, and one by one pushed double eagles into a hole until it was full. Then he would drive in a plug, and this was his bank, his hiding place for his treasure. When he needed one, he would bore another hole.

But when the spring flood came, Chesley's mill went down the stream in the roar of a spring freshet, dam and all, and was scattered up and down Franklin and Somerset Counties. Chesley Pinkham was financially doomed to walking the stream, and then the river, looking for certain timbers, but he never found any.

I was not treasure hunting. I accepted the facts: that Chesley had spent years looking and I didn't need to look further. I had been told I would come to the place where Chesley had his mill, and just above it his home was among the trees, chewed considerably by porcupines, and ready to tumble.

I left the meadowland by the river and walked upgrade along the stream. It was a beautiful stream, serene between grassy banks. But as the land rose, I came to quicker water by places, and then to small beaver dams one after the other. At one larger flowage I paused to set up my rod, and decided there would be brook trout when needed. I put the trout gently back in his beaver pool, telling him to take advantage of his good fortune and replenish the earth.

Then I came to the broad side of the mountain, where the stream came down in a series of short cascades, pool after pool discharging its surplus to the next below. I had to walk uphill, steep climbing, until I could look down to get the right view of this part of the stream. And now I was standing so I could see. Pool after pool, down the face of the mountain, showed bubbling water where the flow from above dropped, and then each was clear as a mirror the rest of the way.

Smooth as porcelain, each pool scoured from the gray granite by grinding glacial grit so long ago, just for the speckled brook trout and for Chesley Pinkham. And, you might say, for me. Like Tennyson's knight, long stared I. Some rock crib-work told me I had come to the place of Chesley's mill, and I did find his house behind the trees. With my box Brownie (Kodak, as you go!) I made a snapshot of Chesley's house and later gave it to the library of the closest village. That much somebody has.

I did go back a couple of times, but I had the place in mind always. I spent the night, that first time. I made a small fire about where Chesley may well have bored a treasure hole in a safe-place timber, and I thought about his cruising the stream, pool by pool, destitute, bankrupt, and hopeful.

Certainly the Concord birthplace of Henry David Thoreau must be saved. Why should its necessity be questioned? If the people of Concord don't want it, I'll tell you what let's do! Let's pack it up, board by board, and take it by helicopter up to the mountainside where Chesley Pinkham had his house. Chesley never wanted for breakfast trout, and Thoreau would like that. In spite of what the Maine Woods owe to Thoreau, there is no memorial to the Great Man in Maine. Up there, by those granite pools, people are not yet too big a problem.

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