John* has lived in three homes along this three mile stretch; he has spent his entire life in this same modest dimension of space. He walked these roads as a boy when they were gravel, and when a light sprinkling of old farmhouses shone the only lights among long, deep fields and passing automobiles were rare occurrences. He remembers. He carries memories well over half a century of this one rural point on the compass, and that makes him an uncommon man these days when speed of turnover, housing developments, strangers living next to strangers and cul-de-sacs turned in on themselves have become the new paradigm, one that has swept away the old country sense of possession — that unspoken, ancient feeling that the woods and fields belonged to oneself and to all the neighbors who could recognize each other a half mile away by their gait and height. One family helped another bring in the summer cuttings of hay. They took wind-blown trees from each other’s wood lots for their stoves, built walls with stone scavenged along the verges of many fields, picked summer berries together on the scrubby edges of a common road, and the fathers and sons hunted grouse, squirrel, pheasant and deer and did their butchering while they talked about the weather.
John remembers the March blizzard of 1958 when a few miles west of here Morgantown was buried under 50 inches of snow, and this road was closed for a week until big yellow highway road graders were brought in and opened a narrow path so the dairy farmers could get their milk out. He and other men and women walked from house to house checking to see if everyone was safe.
Yesterday he told me that a friend had taken a 10-pointer out of the corn across the way, and while he admired his kill, he said, “I never shot no bow. I’m no Indian. I only ever looked down a barrel.” He still walks this road every day. He tells me about the depth of the water in his wheelbarrow if we’ve had a heavy rain, and when I ask a specific question, he’ll give me another bit of history about this landscape. He watches out for our home when we’re gone. He remembers.
*I’ve changed his name.