Monday, March 9, 2009

The Vanishing Fields

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Farm fields, how precious a commodity. And now they’re gone. Some of our fast-vanishing fields date back to when the first European settlers established farming communities in what is now Maine. And over the intervening years, families lived on the farms, generations being born, living and dying, buried on the edge of their fields.

Until only a short while ago, even during my lifetime, fields carried the names of the families that owned and worked them. As farming gave way to working in towns and cities, many of the fields grew up into alder, poplar and birch. Stone fences separating one property from another were the only way to determine that here was once a field.

Some fields remain. The price of hay having soared, a scant few entrepreneurs cut their hay and sell it. But mostly, the fields that haven’t all gone to scrub growth are gone, felled by the developer’s proverbial axe. Subdivided into postage stamp parcels, the fields are now house lots, front yards.

What I find particularly sad is this. People have forgotten the names of the old fields. Once, a casual conversation might include a reference to seeing a deer or moose in Smith’s Field, for example. The hearer immediately drew a mental picture of the place. Everyone was familiar with Smith’s Field. We knew these places by name. But now, place names are forgotten.

The whole process bespeaks of the breakup of communities. We don’t know each other. Many, appear not to even want to know their neighbors. It’s just sad.

At one time, most small towns had their resident historians. These were people who could name each field, even grown-up fields. They knew every woodland burying ground and could point out sites where churches, grange halls, mills, stores, dance halls and taverns stood. These living repositories of local history are, like our fields, vanishing.

It’s a new age, for sure.

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