Relics

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 9:15am
Category: 

Autumn is lying on the grass in the front yard, watchful for any activity on the road, ever hopeful a vehicle will turn this way. It is warmer than it was, the temperature creeping above freezing as noontime approaches, and the sun is shining.

My dog, as an exploring adolescent, first discovered a gap and what must have been a deer path in the brush at the end of the lane behind my house. Since then she has been prone to following the track and taking walk-abouts in the pond lot. I don't worry much about her back there, the little peninsula is surrounded on two sides by water, the third by a swamp.

My other dogs had a clearer path to the muck-lined pond and would return looking like plump golden foxes, with their pale plumed tails and legs coated with dark mud which, thankfully, quickly dried and fell from their silky hair. The vegetation around the edge of the water has increased since then and keeps Autumn land-bound.

The only time she came back filthy she had an audience to impress with her excavating skills but, again, that silky hair is a marvel.

“Where was she digging?” I asked and was told down in the far northeast corner, perhaps trying to get to a mouse or vole nest. Clearly there is, or she thinks there is, something of great interest back there.

This morning I watched her traverse the lot. I no longer have to go upstairs; now that many scrub trees have been removed and the leaves on those remaining have fallen, I have an almost clear view from my desk. Where Autumn would disappear in the thick weeds and threatening vines she now trots across mowed grass, today ignoring the pieces of a make-shift riding course set about it that other days merit serious barking.

It is not possible that she can see me, across the fields and though the window, but she pauses and turns back, looking over her shoulder, before continuing over the crest of the land and disappearing into that mysterious northeast corner.

Eventually, when I am not watching, she returns and settles in the sun in the yard.

I decide instead of going back there to investigate to take a much shorter but decidedly more tricky walk out to the front lot. It is finally above freezing in early afternoon but the water in the dish left outside for the dog — not that she ever drinks from it — is solid and I look over the wall to see the ice slab broken from the horses' trough — Autumn's choice of outside watering locale — still intact, lying on the ground.

But it is to the front field I continue, carefully picking my way through that maze of broken branches and persistent vines that are the start of the first clearing in years. “There is a millstone out there, and a granite slab and old cement steps” I have been saying for months now, a cautionary tale, remembering them clearly, when the ground around them was hayed every year and rampant invasives were in the distant future.

The cement and stones have been in the same spot for decades, much closer to the house than I would have guessed such is the length of time they have been hidden. The slab and what I was told was a millstone, never mind it is mis-shapen on one side, it had a hole through its center, used to be at the front door. They were the sort of thing one finds at the entrances of old farm houses, the granite a very imperfect step, the round piece set in the ground in front of it.

They were hauled off one day, behind my dad's tractor, making room for a new cement slab upon which an entry was built, and a cement walk to the barnyard, a banishment of the mud that was there too much of the year. The steps led to what my mother always called the “piazza,” an old porch, lacking an entrance door because it had been replaced by a window.

Off came the porch. It was sort of The Way They Did Things Back Then. A few weeks ago, a former pastor of Harbor Church told an assembly of a proposal from the 1960s to remove the third floor from the building, the vacant hotel rooms finally retrofitted over the last year to apartments.

That long-ago notion was more put aside than defeated. A ground-level porch one big man, accustomed to physical labor, could rip off with a little assistance; removing an entire third floor of a building was another matter. The church lacked the resources in the still Depression Era 60s.

I read once some of the best friends of preservation are — within reason — “poverty and neglect” and I think with horror of that building above the harbor with a flat roof where its tower room turret and high gables rise.

There was a lack of funding and of energies and, perhaps, a start of a turning away from the tearing down of things. It is easy to presume the Adrian House dining room was today's Fellowship Hall but it was, instead, in a building set on what is now the back lawn of the church.

My memory of it is dim, primarily of the dads carrying oil-cloth covered table tops back into a dark space after Roll Call Dinner. Then it was gone.

The steps down in the field are half broken, showing a dark rock, I am sure one of several, around which the cement appears to have been poured; the granite slab and millstone looks to be intact.

Returning from my little exploration, I see the rusty, never-to-be-used-again harrow and think too many relics are a problem but these few, reminders of another time, recovered from both the brush and fading memory, are just fine.