Friday, September 02, 2011

Old stones, new orchard

The old stone fence circles the new orchard, one young enough that it won’t produce fruit this season. When I call the fence old, I mean it is likely 200-250 years old, which is just about as old as things get in this part of Pennsylvania. This state is notorious for its rocks—ask any Appalachian Trail hiker about rocks and they will immediately grimace when they mention Pennsylvania. The reason we have so many stone fences is that our earliest farmers had to get those rocks out of their newly cleared fields before they could plant a crop. Those rocks became the stone fences.

Today, the stone fences are disappearing, giving way to houses or wooden fences. In my area, which is both hilly and rocky, the stone fences are still hanging on, and are often still used as fences. Unlike in New England, where the poet Robert Frost famously wrote about a stone fence as a property line (Mending Wall, where he wrote, “good fences make good neighbors”), here they more typically simply mark the edges of a field. 

Sometimes, when I walk through the woods, I come across the remains of an old stone fence from some long-abandoned farm.  Homesteads far up on the mountains frequently didn't survive very long.  The soil isn't as good, the conditions are too severe for a good crop.   Trees around those old fences are frequently huge, which makes me think the forgotten farmer never fully cleared the land before quitting it.   

The hills around my mountain are perfect for growing fruit. Apples are the main crop, though peaches and pears do well too. The first apples, the tart ones used in cooking, are already being harvested, sitting in big bins or on trucks in front of the farmers’ barns, ready to go to market. These are the Jonathans, the McIntoshes, the Rome Beauty. The sweet eating apples of fall will follow soon, though never soon enough for me.

Today the weather is so gloomy, I am again reminded that the day is not far off when I will have to take all the week’s photos for Roundtop Ruminations during the weekends. As it was, I was forced to take a photo out of the forest and partway down the mountain where the fields and orchards are open to the sky, but that gave me a reason to take a closer look at the old fence, once again.

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