Recently I took pictures of the mountain field where I first met Roy 40 years ago. He was bent over like an inchworm slicing through tall grasses with a scythe. I will never forget the image. At that time the road was little more than a steep rock strewn rutted path that wended itself up the mountain, opening onto his exquisitely cared for fields and old foundations. I remember he liked a tree that still lives there at the edge of one of the fields, one he called Balm of Gilead, a tree I had never heard of, I thought. Today I know that the rough barked beauty is an old poplar. He told me that this tree provided people with medicine and of course it did – poplars are part of the willow family best known as a natural source of aspirin. I still have the wild rose bushes he dug for me. Today some of those roses still grow at the base of the old poplar.
Roy showed me other foundations where folks who once farmed here lived all year round. He remarked that they never left the mountain in the winter! He took me to the moon –tide spring and I learned about other natural features of the mountain that I would have never known about or discovered without him. Roy was a fountain of knowledge, always teaching me about local history.
On hot days when we got thirsty we would drink from a little tin cup that he left by the brook; I still recall the taste of the water. I marveled at the wild flora – trillium and giant jack in the pulpits that abounded in the woods especially around the stream. Watercress too. Bunchberry created a carpet of green with delicate white flowers in the spring and luscious red berries in the fall. In June we feasted on wild strawberries, and occasionally we discovered a young fawn nestled in the greenery at the edge of the woods, or surprised a partridge.
Roy demonstrated how much he cared for the land by his meticulous care of it. I remember when the maples in the center of one field were just young saplings. One of the old apple trees finally expired, but he cared for her until the end. To this day I never tire of the views from here; one looks west towards the Mahoosuc Mountain range.
Roy and I met up on almost a daily basis every spring and summer, year after year, until others began to move up the mountain and Roy deeded his land to family. I am grateful to still be able to walk up this mountain road. It’s almost like a making a pilgrimage into the past.
I am also thrilled to see that the folks that now own Roy’s property have taken such excellent care of it. It is obvious that this family loves the land the way Roy once did. An old stone wall has been repaired, debris and brush have been cleared in the woods, the fields are meticulously mowed. Young trees grace one of the fields and there are beautiful gardens too! Another old apple tree lives on. Roy would be so pleased!
This will be the first year I won’t be visiting Roy on his birthday (except for the last two – Covid interfered) because he died last spring at 104 years old. Although there will be a celebration of his life at his daughter’s house, I will not be going because for me, Roy still lives on that mountain. What is important to me is to visit the land Roy loved so much, and the place where I first met him… it is in this field that I still feel his presence… And it is here that I wish him Happy Birthday and thank him for being my friend.