Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Farmer's Reflections

When we lived in Western New York in the early 1990s, we published a magazine called Family Scrapbook.  Tom wrote a column called "The Family Farm" and we used this drawing he created to illustrate the column.  Today's blog post was one of his columns; it appeared in the July/August 1994 issue of the magazine.

There is a sense of history that comes with land.  I feel it anyway.  It comes over me when I grab a handful of earth or pause to enjoy the heavily perfumed summer breeze as it plays among the leaves.

The apple trees whose blossoms lent their own fragrance to the landscape not so long ago sprang up down by the now deserted B&S (Buffalo and Susquahana) railroad grade.  The rails, laid down to facilitate local commerce in 1905, were prematurely pulled up and sent to Europe in 1915 to support the war effort.  As fortune would have it, they never made it to their destination and now rest someplace at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  However, their legacy remains.  And although not every tree that sprang up along the B&S bore good fruit, those that did represent some really notable old varieties.  When I pick one I can imagine the smoke rising from the steam engine as it wound its way through our valley.  The haunting blast of the whistle is something wonderful that my generation missed.

So the train passed from the local scene just as the canal barges had before them and brings me back to our farm and being connected to the past.  Ownership of my parents' land can be traced to the original deed.  It was issued by the Holland Land Company that had helped develop the New England colonies.  They had purchased vast tracts of land from the King of England, had it surveyed, and sold it to early settlers from the old world.  The farmers that settled these land grants hastily cleared the lush hardwood forests and sent the logs down the canals on flat boats to faraway mills.

When those quick profits dwindled, the land that had been cleared was used for another cash crop -- hay.  The growing nation had great need for this commodity to fuel the horse drawn conveyances of that day.  But crop after crop took its toll, and when the soil was finally spent the land owners by and large pulled up stakes, leaving an impoverished land that is still with us today.

So the task at hand is one of renewal -- to put more back into the land than we take out.  The first job last year was to plow.  This broke up the hard soil, bringing it back into contact with life-breathing air, while at the same time pulling up compacted and much needed minerals.   But along with the minerals came more history.  Not history in the geological sense of unearthed strata left from earlier glacial debris. but really unusual man-made things that, if they could talk, would surely tell an interesting tale.

My finds have all been in the new garden sites by our home.  I regularly find farm implements, but they are not so remarkable, because they have a habit of getting lost and found.  But what stories could that old corroded pistol tell?  Was there a duel or long forgotten battle, and I, years later, had just stumbled on the spot where it had been dropped?  Or how about that 1855 dime hat I discovered completely by accident not ten feet from the spot the pistol had been found.  The plow had turned it up while folding over the soil.  I spied the unnaturally round object while walking over the newly-turned furrows, kicking clods of dirt.  If the blade of the plow had been just a millimeter higher or lower it never would have been seen.
1855 dime on top of the original farm deed

These kinds of things really stir my imagination.  They also add substance to my sense of place and love for the land.  What can each of us learn when we spend just a moment reflecting and considering the "garden" God has entrusted to our care?


barefootmommy said...

What a great story! I didn't know you originally lived in New York. Your husband is a gifted writer.
I always wonder if I might find some old Native American artifact on our property. My parents found a piece of an old cast iron stove on their property. I'm still looking for my treasure.

Joan Husby said...

Loved this! And what a wonderful place to have lived! Who knows what stories lie beneath our feet?