stones

my neighbor recently paid someone to come in and cut down some venerable sugar maples and pull up a short stretch of century-old stone wall that ran along her property between her lawn and the road. there’s a bleak scar now where the wall used to be and no sign of why someone would do something so bewilderingly pointless. she has a couple acres of flat, grassy, sunny property. removing the trees and wall removed all the charm without adding any benefit as far as i can tell.

the boundaries of my property are bounded by stone walls of a similar vintage. stones are plentiful here. as farmers cleared the land for pastures and fields, they gathered the stones and built walls to bound both. every stone was handled by a person: picked, moved, set. the stones have a patina of blood, sweat, and tears.

most of vermont, but particularly the area where i live, is a glacial debris field, dotted with stones, from the size of your hand to the size of your SUV. stones are plentiful to the point where they are a nuisance. my summer pasture can’t be mowed because of the glut of large stones. at some point, a family, with the help of oxen, horses, and a stone boat, cleared what they could and put up a wall around what they couldn’t. there was no question of tilling this land, so it was likely fenced for grazing sheep. what a perfect symbiosis: pick up rocks to build a pasture and use the rocks as fencing. on some corners, you find massive cairns that likely marked Yours and Mine.

there’s a cellar hole at the bottom of my driveway that is also made of field stone with a big, flat stone on the road side that was their front step. the house burned down long before i came along, but the old stones abide. the hole fills up with snowmelt in the spring now and breeds frogs. i just let it be.

the stone walls have weathered, heaved, toppled, but still mark the boundaries of farms, pastures, and fields. they are messages of industry and ingenuity from another age. like stone circles, they endure in stolid silence. they provide habitat for rodents and snakes. they are, in my view, sacrosanct.

i’m not a person who objects to change. i like modern technology a lot. and not everything that’s old is untouchable; some old stuff is just crap. i just can’t imagine taking down a harmless piece of history like that for what seems like no reason at all.