It was a cold weekend, and my husband wanted to explore, so we set off. Despite the cold (it never reached above 22f and the wind made it feel much colder) we were dressed for the weather and we were ready to get out and move.
As we traveled along a country road, we came across the Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, MA. Across the street from the vineyard was a sign noting “Bolton Overlook” conservation land. Great–a perfect day, blue sky, no haze–we parked and set out to explore. What we found was a former orchard, farm land that had been worked on over the decades.We encountered a deep ravine, with stone walls heading off into woodland on the far side of the ravine.
On our left was a farm track, clearly created as a way to bridge the ravine. We headed that direction to the wide path, open enough in times past for tractors and other farm equipment to navigate. This day we had to take care to avoid brambles and blackberries encroaching on the open area.
The slope of land was rather steep, but when you have an orchard and live with the undependable weather that is typical of this area, you want sloped land. Frost tends to settle in the lowland, but slopes, especially southeast facing slopes, tend to protect against frost.
What we were walking on was a perfect site on which to build an orchard. As we walked higher and higher up the slope, we found old apple trees. Since this was early March, trees had not put out leaves yet–it was difficult to tell if these trees are still viable, but very possibly they will continue to bear fruit (of dubious quality most probably) this coming summer.
On our walks, I am always conscious of those who have traveled these paths before us. I came to New England, having grown up in South Florida, hoping to become immersed in the history of this area, but I had no idea as a young college student that I would some day become so well acquainted with the fields and paths that were essential to farm life in New England’s past.
Most of the areas’ farms, especially those in proximity to Boston, have long ago been turned into housing. A few precious places have been set aside for recreation, and some have been preserved to help tell the story of an area’s past. Some places, like the vineyard across the street from where we walked, are still working farms.
The land we walked on surely has stories to tell: the broken down building left abandoned served a purpose at one time; the hundreds of apple trees planted may have provided a cash crop of cider for the landowners; dozens of workers were needed to keep an orchard of this size productive. Were the workers all children who were raised on the farm? Neighbors in need of employment? Seasonal workers who traveled about lending a hand when it was needed?
What is left now is the view. We traveled farther and farther up the slope until we were able to see the buildings of Boston. The hills in the distance offered perspective on the landscape. The farm just beyond the stone walls at the top of the slope is still in production. Farm life continues in New England–amidst great pressures, for sure, despite inhospitable soils filled with rocks, and countering the trend toward complete mechanization and modernization.
And so we walked, planning for time to enjoy the outdoors. As a bonus, we were rewarded with a trip, at least in our minds and our imaginations, into life lived in much more difficult times. A time of very hard labor as a fact of daily life. A time when weather, the seasons, the phases of the moon, and the track of the stars were all part of daily rhythms that were taken for granted.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.