Cellar Holes

Cellar Holes

I took a break from leaf clean-up the other day (one of the penalties I pay for my garden’s wonderful woodland site) and took a walk to enjoy the late fall woods. This presents a very different aspect at this season, for with the leaves all down, the interior of the forest is revealed.

In particular, when I walk down an abandoned woods road, I can see the remains of no less than five old houses. There’s nothing left of these residences besides the cellar holes. These must have been dug by pick and shovel – a near impossible task in our boulder-rich soil. The floors of these former basements are earthen, and the sides are clad with beautifully laid, un-mortared walls. Many of the stones in these are considerable. I wrote in my last post about my own adventures with lifting stones; these are far larger than any I have attempted to budge. It must have taken a team of oxen to drag them to the site and a block and tackle to lower them into position.

With nothing to hold them together other than gravity, these walls have outlasted all the beams and boards that once stood above them.

I took a map marked with these cellar holes to our town historian, and he found that houses stood on those sites at least as long ago as the mid-nineteenth century and, he suspects, much longer than that. He has told me that if I bring him the measurements of the cellar holes and any evidence of where the doors and chimneys once stood, he can probably reconstruct the style, and so the era, of the houses that stood over them.

It feels a bit melancholy to know that the site my wife and I chose because it is so remote – we have regular visitations from owls, bobcats, otters, even a moose – was once a thriving community with its own school. At this time, though, of such turmoil and division, with neighbor turned against neighbor, it is reassuring to think that there is a cycle greater than any of us.

One of the things I value about gardening is the way in which renewal follows death, year after year. Witnessing this makes death and decay easier to accept. Many things, I fear, are coming to an end now in the greater world. Indeed, the powers-that-be brag that is the case. But no doubt someday someone will be peering down into the cellar hole of my house, wondering who lived here, while he or she takes a break from caring for their own garden.

Posted by

Thomas Christopher
on November 21, 2016 at 7:30 am, in the category Tune In, What’s Happening.


    • admin
    • 24th November 2016

    Lovely and haunting. Sad and scary.

    • Pat Webster
    • 26th November 2016

    This is a wonderfully evocative piece. My mother and father grew up in southwest Virginia and about 20 years ago, my sister and I travelled with them to visit the sites where ancestors had lived. One house had a small part of its brick chimney still standing and the sight was quite a touching reminder of the past.

    • Laura Munoz
    • 12th December 2016

    This is a great post. I can’t say it any better than Susan did above.

    • Sue
    • 16th December 2016

    Lovely blog. I get the same haunted feeling when I see an abandoned home or building in the city. Please keep writing. Thank you! The times they are a changin’.

    • Brooke Beebe
    • 16th December 2016

    Lovely and haunting meditative piece. Thank you.

    • Wendy Peterson
    • 17th December 2016

    Such a thoughtful, beautifully written piece. Remembering the cycle of life has always been comforting. In the Jewish religion, when someone dies, a common response is ” may your memories be a blessing “,so to the extent that we can, remembering those before us confers blessings on all of us.

    • John Bales
    • 17th December 2016

    When I was a geology student/grad student back in the late 70s-mid 80s at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, I used to do field work out in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas. I remember several times hiking to sites and coming across these old stone basements. They were serene places, even then the knowledge that these were once thriving homes in the wilderness during the early settlement of that part of the state. I can still see several sites in my mind even now and would love to have land with one that could be incorporated into a woodland garden setting.

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