During the “war” my grandfather bought an old Vermont hill farm in Washington. Gas was being rationed and it took more gas to go to his camp on Joes Pond so the hill farm in Washington was a good option, at least for him, and later, for me too.
This hill farm was soon for us, “the farm,” and going to “the farm” was my greatest joy. The farm was about 600 acres of old fields, antique apple orchards, black berry patches, an old sugar bush, a couple of brooks, several beaver ponds, and lots of just woods. And true to form, being a hill farm, there were ups and downs, big hills and small hills. My dad used to tell me when we were deer hunting, “We are only going to climb this hill once today so bring your lunch and plan on being up there all day.” No problem for me, I loved eating lunch in the woods and I could rummage in the leaves for hours looking for beech nuts to eat. I might has well have been a bear cub or a deer, I was in my element.
There was a hidden valley on the other side of a long ridge. This hidden valley was big, lots of old meadow, some old apple orchards, a brook with beaver dams and beaver ponds down in the middle of the valley, and an old cellar hole with a couple of lilacs planted a long time ago, maybe a touch suggested by a farm wife. We called this valley, “Lost Valley,” and it truly was a valley that time forgot. When I was young, as the summer came to an end, I would walk up an old logging road over the ridge and hide in a clump of scrub brush around a big rock out in the old meadow. My purpose was to watch for deer coming out at dusk and observe them until it got dark and I needed to head back to the house. I was probably about ten when I started doing this and I often did this at the end of every summer so I could get a good idea of the prospects for the coming deer season. I saw some wonderful big bucks , antlers still in velvet coming out into the old meadow with lots of does and yearlings too. I would do this again in a minute.
Finally, when it was time to leave from my hiding place I would try to be very quiet and not disturb the deer in the meadow. I felt guilty spying on them and then my presence would quickly bring the deer to attention as I made my way back to the house. I tried not to do this too frequently as the deer deserved some places and times when they were safe and not being disturbed.
At the far end of the our ridge bordering Lost Valley, there was an old road that went up through a notch between our ridge and the next ridge. The brook that flowed through Lost Valley and the beaver ponds flowed down through this notch and emptied into the Third Branch of the White River on its way to Chelsea along Rte. 110. Both were just brooks at this end – it is no secret I love brooks and the fish that live in them, but that is a story for another time.
Sometimes, I would walk up this old road between the two ridges and hike up to Lost Valley. There were a couple of old plank bridges on the old road where the brook crossed under. You had to be careful and pick your way across the bridges as the planks were mostly rotten. I would try to stay on the part of the bridge supported by a beam underneath. The woods were always cool going up to Lost Valley this way.
This old road led to the long abandoned farm with just a cellar hole and a couple of lilacs to mark its existence. I used to imagine what it was like back at the time when there was a home here and a family. There was also the remains of a foundation for a small barn near the house and apple trees up in back on the hillside. I am not from that time, but I must confess to often thinking that was a time I am comfortable with.
Further up the hillside from the old farmhouse there was a big granite boulder that had a good portion cleaved off with a square face remaining. I asked my dad about this once and he said that during tough times, farmers would “quarry” some field boulders if they could and get them to Barre to sell to the granite sheds in town if the stone was good. My father reminded me that it was the quality of field boulders that pointed my great grandfather to buy the land he would develop into one of Barre’s granite quarries.
I cannot help but admire the grit and hard work my ancestors and others like them had as part of their lives every day. Granite quarries and Vermont hill farms required lots of grit and hard work.
I have tried to paint a picture of “The Farm” and “Lost Valley” in words. I wish I had the pictures to share. The Farm was my version of paradise and I have spent the rest of my life missing it.