We All Leave Something Behind When We Go

YOUR TURN

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As a boy, I used to love wandering the woods around my home town of New London, Connecticut. I would leave early in the morning and return just in time for supper.

My mother must have trusted me because she never asked where I was going or where I had been. Sometimes she would look at my face, see the happiness there and ask me if I'd had a nice day. The answer was always yes.

I soon came to know those woods like the back of my hand.

At first I used to make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, wrap it in some waxed paper, stick it in a pocket, and eat it when I got hungry.

Water was no problem; I knew dozens of clean clear brooks, not to mention places where ice-cold springs bubbled up out of the ground, or even, in one shady spot, straight out of a rock wall.

After a time, the peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich became unnecessary.

The woods contained everything I could possibly want.

Deep within shaded stands of maples, and elms, and black walnuts I found apple trees, peach trees, pear trees, and even an occasional cherry. Wild grapes, large, cool, and juicy, grew in profusion and ripened toward late summer and fall. In the ground were wild carrots, scallions, and a dozen other plants that could be eaten.

Truth is, I had a pig-out every time I went hiking.

Then, one day while I was sitting halfway up my favorite cherry tree, munching on ripe cherries and a pair of juicy apples, something dawned on me.

A stone wall ran right along the base of the cherry tree and disappeared into the deep old-growth woods on either side. I had seen the wall before, of course, and dozens more like it. They appeared out of nowhere and ran on forever. I'd been climbing over them for a couple of years, but had taken them for granted as just another part of the landscape.

Chewing on an apple, I grew curious, which was nothing new, of course; it was curiosity which prompted me to be in those woods in the first place, that and some deep-rooted sense of belonging.

When I finished eating, I climbed down out of the tree and began following the line of the wall. I call it a "wall," but time had taken its toll and it was really just a long, loose heap of stones, perhaps thirty inches high, mostly glacier-rounded granite boulders, a mix of large and small.

Wind and weather had collapsed what had originally been a dry-stone wall.

By the end of that week, I had learned something.

My "old growth" woods had once been cleared. The walls I had found marked a dozen or more homesteads or farms.

I found stone foundations, hearths, the collapsed remains of chimneys, and even a few faint traces of log walls.

The trees also began to take on new meaning. It was possible with some careful observation to trace the fact that some of them had been planted in straight lines.

I also began to realize that my "wild" carrots, and some of the other green things I picked and ate, were evidence that gardens had existed there at one time.

I thought about that long and hard.

New London was founded in 1646; I was wandering through the woods surrounding it, three hundred years later.

What I was seeing, were homes wrested from the wilderness. People had lived there, loved there, planted trees there, grown gardens, had children and grandchildren.

As they plowed the stony soil of New England they had gathered up the rocks left by mile-high glaciers, built homes for themselves, put walls around land won with hard work, lived and died and possibly fought for that land during the Revolution.

Now they were gone, but like all human beings, they had left some small sign of their passing.

That's the nature of life. We live, we die, and we leave a little something behind.

I wonder where my rock walls are?

And yours?

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