High: 75° FIt’s currently 72°F here in Central Maine. That’s a few degrees shy of the record temp for today (79° F), but it’s awfully close. It’s certainly warm enough for me and Ari to head outside for an afternoon of quality caninaturalism.
Low: 40° F
Conditions: Warm, calm, and clear.
In spite of the amazing warmth today, there’s still a surprising amount of snow left in the woods. We limited our exploration, then, to some of the sunnier environs in our town forest. Luckily, there was lots to see—especially where human ecology is concerned.
Our sleepy little village of 800 once had a population over triple that size. Back in the mid-1800s, it was a booming hinterland economy that supplied butter and ice for the eastern seaboard and the Caribbean. Each week, farmers would load up their carts with timber or cream and take these wares down to the port city of Belfast. There, dock workers would unload schooners, divesting them mostly of sugar and then reloading them with inland goods. The sugar went to a distillery near the docks—one of the largest in all of New England, and one which produced a rum known more for its potency than its quality. Inland farmers and ox cart drivers were often paid for their services in kegs of rum, and the Belfast Historical Society has records of drunken cart pile ups involving upwards of 70 ox carts (and their drunk drivers).
The rise of train transport decreased the appeal of little towns like ours, and they fell into a slow decline by the turn of the 20th century. The Great Depression only worsened things and ultimately began a migration that would send over half the town westward, looking for better opportunities. Most of the deserters left their farms and houses still containing all but their most prized possessions. In time, the houses collapsed leaving only foundations and a few clues about the lives once led there. The land remained abandoned until the town, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, reclaimed and replanted it as official town forest in the late 1930s. Today, these 200 acres provide much of our civic revenue: just about every telephone pole in Turkey came from our little plot of land.
This time of year is a great one for exploring the abandoned homesteads tucked in the forest. Most of the year, the thick understory hides them from view. But each spring, as the snow melts and the leaves choose to wait a few last frosts, ghostly apparitions begin to appear in the town forest--like this disused cemetery, where tombstones date back to the early nineteenth century.
Learning to interpret other potential archeological sites can be tricky. We rely heavily on a wonderful book called Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. He offers great pointers for divining previous land use patterns, like this stone wall.
Some of these structures were built deliberately to contain livestock. Others were simply convenient spots to unload some of the ubiquitous glacial till that makes farming in northern New England such a challenge. The right angles and precision in this wall suggests it was probably used for the former.
An old grist mill used to contain a good part of this waterfall.
If you get close enough, you can still see the beveled bolt holes that secured it to the bank. In general, caninaturalists will probably recommend against this kind of micro-investigation. Raging water is not nearly as interesting as squirrel nests stuffed in the trees around it.
Dozens of foundations such as this one exist in the town forest.
Caninaturalists are particularly adept at finding them. They can also lead you to disused domestic tools, like this basin and mug.
Said caninaturalists will undoubtedly be disappointed to discover that neither of these disused dishes contain cheese or chicken breasts. Hearing that they once did will be little consolation. Still, when pressed, canine investigators will admit there are few better ways to spend a warm afternoon. I agree.