Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Idea of Farmhouse: Roadside Trees


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It was an early Colonial tradition for a farmer to plant trees along the road that passed through his farm. I'm amazed that so many people fail to notice when the trees begin to march in even steps on both sides of the road, or if they notice they think that the thinning forest fell that way naturally or through a bit of pruning. Jane and I always look forward to finding these in our travels, and it has become one of our games to comment about the farmer who perhaps 200 years earlier had put them there knowing that he would be an old man before they provided much shade.

The tradition was not confined to gentleman farmers but was common among country farmers who lived off the land. It began before there were front yards, when the front yard emulating town was nothing more than a hill of bush beans, but the dirt road beside those bush beans was lined with saplings, most often maples, in evenly measured spaces. They would be nurtured so that some day when the farmer or his children drove their buggy back from town or returned from church on Sunday, long before he reached the door of the house he entered an arched, shadowed space like a cathedral nave where in spring and summer nesting birds sang and welcomed him.

The farmer planted these trees not just for himself but for his children. Was he also thinking about his relationship to that piece of earth and its importance as a legacy and as a stake in a new land? As Jane and I discover and pass such roadside rows, we always look for the farmhouse and to see what is left of the barns. There were always barns. We also notice how the power lines have cut their channel to bring light and heat and television and email. We count how many trees are split fragments, how many are carcasses rotting, how many are just double-width gaps.

This is what time does. Today most of us drive by at thirty miles an hour with windows shut tight, but it's a privilege sometimes to walk beneath the boughs and think about where the road has taken us and where it seems to lead.

8 comments:

Jane said...

Wonder if the farmer was also planting maples for maple sap, and a "maple syrup crop" over the winter.

Ted Roth said...

That must have fit into the calculations for some. The settlers learned maple sugaring from the native Americans, and for a long time cane sugar was unknown in the Colonies. Even after cane sugar was imported, maple sugar was preferred because of cost.

Trotter said...

Hi Ted! I see that white has returned to your posts... It's amazing the farmers' planting policy!!

Blogtrotter 2 is waiting your comments in the blue sky of Haiti. Hope you enjoy and have a great weekend!!

Ted Roth said...

Yes, it has, in fact, snowed again, but today temps are supposed to reach the 50's F. That's almost tropical by standards for early March.

Trotter said...

We are having too much rain here; it seems that the anticyclone of the Azores has moved south and is letting the storms of the Atlantic come through. Can't imagine Lisbon with NYC weather, though the latitude is roughly the same... ;))
That's why Blogtrotter 2 has moved to the Reggae Land. Enjoy and have a great week ahead!!

Ted Roth said...

We are well north of NYC and in the foothills of the Berkshire Mtns, so our weather is very different from NYC. I'll take snow over rain most of the time. The exception is when the rain comes with picturesque thunder heads or draws wonderful clouds in its wake. We're having another spring day today. Enjoy Reggae weather.

jeannette stgermain said...

Love this pic! Didn't know that getting maple tree sap came from the Native Americans!

Ted Roth said...

Thank you, Jeanette. How did you find your way here? Yes, Native Americans evaporated the syrup using hot rock. It must have been a very time-consumin g process.