NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 3, 2013

At Maudslay, passing through place and time

I entered the woods in a falling snow. The enveloping darkness of the Maudslay pine forest said “medieval,” though we had crossed the boundary into the third millennium.

The agricultural history of both man and that specific site were apparent in a line of old, no-longer-functional, fence posts. Rusty levers and latches marked the site of what was once a gate. A gate to where?

A pasture, I assumed, for I was indeed traversing the rolling knolls of a former farm. I followed a pathway, worn into the side of the slope. By what? Horse-drawn wagons? The feet of a dairy herd? More modern gas-powered equipment? Strands of broken barbed wire poked up through the snow, twisted through the brush, occasionally swung between fence posts. The function of the wire was no longer needed, though its past work was still apparent in the existence of the pathway. Old habits had lingered on beyond the factors that forced them. While no longer restricted by wire, the path still followed the old way.

Trees, both large and small, covered the hillsides, testimonials to the relentlessness of nature in reclaiming pastureland. Yet, while the forest is eternal, each tree is time-limited. Large trunks, the victims of age or storms or both, had fallen randomly onto the floor of the forest. A few hung suspended in the arms of still-living neighbors. Every now and then a heroic trunk still stood, its limbs long having succumbed to death, decay and gravity. I imagined homes for owls in the recesses of the decayed interiors, the access through the ringed openings of old limbs. Those survivors, too, would fall, but not yet, not yet.

Nature’s work was not finished, nor would it ever be. The elements would be reclaimed into the continuous cycle, fodder for the next generation of the species, as well as sustenance for the intermediate species of insect, worm and bacteria that would do the work of decomposing.

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