ROOTS, ROCKS, AND STONES – Marilyn Armstrong

New England was one of the first place in North America that Europeans set down roots. I’ve always wondered why. Especially in New England.

Those people were farmers and if there’s one thing you can say about this area is that it’s not great farm country. Not only is the weather awful, but there is no topsoil in most places. It’s not a bad place for orchards and dairy cattle, but everything else? It’s pretty hard to find a large, flat area with good earth.

Up the driveway, stone fence holds up the garden. Owen hauled those boulders from the middle of the woods

Between the hills, mountains, boulders, and trees, there’s almost no earth you can plow without moving a lot of rocks first. That’s from where all our stone fences emerged. They were not created to divide areas of land. The farmers just needed a place to put all the rocks.

This is also why you find rock walls in the middle of nowhere. The middle of the woods. Where the stone fences were put didn’t really have a lot to do with location, just how far they could haul that rock before they said: “Okay, this is as far as I am going!” The horses always agreed.

Eventually, someone got the bright idea to dig up the rocks and pound them into gravel. It turns out that you can never have too much gravel and sand in this world. We also have a lot of big holes in the ground that have filled up with water because no one is using them anymore.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Is there a child who, one hot summer’s day, won’t take the plunge into an old quarry? This doesn’t always work out well. Over the past few decades, cities throughout the region have been trying to fill in those holes. Too many kids diving in, hitting unexpected rocks and drowning. It would also seem that diving into a quarry is the easy part. Getting out can be fraught with challenges.

Last night, my son pointed out this his house is actually built on an old gravel pit. That probably explains why they have such a nice, flat piece of ground … but also explains why the backyard is about 12 feet lower than the front yard.

New England has quarries. Lots of them. In use, out of use, full of water. That’s what you do in a land full of rocks and roots. Dig!

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

12 thoughts on “ROOTS, ROCKS, AND STONES – Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. Rocks and roots — but at least in California, there’s also some SOIL. Here, we have hard rooty earth, virtually no topsoil. You can create topsoil because all the woods now produce mountains of it if you are willing to do some serious digging. But if I were farming? I’d look for a better place to grow things. This isn’t a great spot.

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  1. My Uncle and my grandparents had a farm in southern Ontario. As a kid I would make frequent visits. I still remember going out “Stoning”. We took a horse drawn flatbed out to the fields and we’d spend hours picking up the stones and putting them on the flat bed and that’s how we cleared the fields of stones. The stones were often used for fencing.
    Leslie

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  2. Most of the stone walls were built from 1810 – 1840. New England was more than 80% deforested at that time – even the big mountains were sheared of all of there trees. At the same time, sheep were imported. All of those mills? The wool came from the country side around them,over a half a million NH alone. So as they cut down almost all of the trees for houses and to use the wood in other ways, the open land was used for sheep. Many of the rock walls, and almost all that are back in the woods, were put there to keep the sheep from wandering too far away. Most were topped by a wood fence at one time. In the 1850s the farms were being abandoned and the land reforested.

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    1. I figured that was about the schedule. Because by then, cotton was much more “the thing” than wool and a lot of the mills were factories. Around here, a lot of the big rocks got moved as far as reasonable and fields were formed wherever — rather randomly shaped. Remember, the Blackstone Valley got it’s industrial stuff going about 60 years before the rest of New England — that’s why we’re a sort-of national park because the FIRST mills were built on the Blackstone. It also means we began to give up sooner. The land is so broken here by rivers and streams and Blackstone tributaries and rocks the size of small planets, it is very poor ground for anything but cows, goats and sheep. And horses. Mustn’t forget the horses. I think most of our trees are about 100 years old, give or take a few decades. They are looking a bit unhealthy too. The two years of heavy gypsy moth infestation didn’t do them much good and there’s some kind of fungus going around. At least they aren’t falling over.

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      1. Yeah, not just moving more to cotton, but as you said originally, any type of farming here is awful, so with opening of the canals and then the railroad, all types of agriculture moved to more fertile grounds….

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        1. And there was the matter of roads. New England is such a twisted, complex area … and other than sheep, we don’t grow any cotton at all. Moving the mills down south moved them much closer to the cotton, of which at that point, there was a lot … and wool could as easily by shipped by train and ultimately truck. And then, as we started making it increasingly difficult to use migrant workers to pick cotton, there was less and less cotton grown here because — as it turns out — no, Americans WON’T pick cotton. They’d rather live on the street.

          So they then closed the mills entirely and sent them to the countries where it’s grown.

          So now, we have no cotton. Cotton is grown in India, Pakistan, and Israel. Just another stupidity of recent creation.

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    1. When I was setting up my tepee, I had to put a dozen plastic hooks into the ground to hold the ropes in place, They only went down 6 inches each. How many times did I have to battle my way into that hard, hard ground? We have NO topsoil here at all!

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