They straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. “Floods” is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. — Toni Morrison
In 1966, when I was five, my parents bought a piece of land right on the Fairfield/ Easton line and had a house built. The first thing I noticed when we moved in, were the handmade stonewalls all around the property line and post and rail fencing adjoining the gaps between the walls. The previous history of the land struck my curiosity even at age five.
“What are these stone walls and fences for?” I asked my dad. “This was once a farm,” he explained. “The walls and fences were made to keep the cattle in.”
When I was older, I discovered that there was an even earlier history to our land, before the stone walls and post and rail fencing. I came across an old book on Greenfield Hill and Easton in my high school library that mapped the location of our property as an Indian burial ground, which would also explain the arrowheads we would incidentally dig up around the yard. Farmers were not the first people in these parts. There are several stories of humanity that lie beneath the walls and fences.
I really missed my friends on the other side of Fairfield from where we moved. I missed the pedestrians walking by, the sound of the cars and the train. But children are resilient, and once I met my new best friend, Charlotte Sargent, who lived across the street, I had quickly forgotten all that was left behind. Charlotte had a southern drawl, and her mother had an even stronger one. Right next to the Sargent’s house stood a giant old barn with swings and rafter bats flying overhead.
There were two giant chestnut trees that grew in front of her house reaching across the street and into our yard. We loved cracking the thick spiked outer covers revealing the chestnuts inside and then throwing them as far as we could. Her older siblings would occasionally join us in the barn and tell stories of how they would all walk over to our construction site to hang out and sometimes even help with small tasks.
When we were growing up, there was no such thing as after school activities. Brownie and Girl Scout meetings were held at night, and band practice was held during school. Once we arrived home, checked in and did our homework, we’d all meet up in someone’s yard. Our Easton friends, who went to different schools, lived in the houses behind us, and would join our group making our clan even larger. We’d venture off into fields, farms and walk through the surrounding woods like frontiersmen. Even the neighborhood dogs would accompany us.
Niles pond was the most fun, walking on the ice (it was shallow) in the winter and catching pollywogs in the spring. Uncle Otto (a nickname we gave him) would let us visit the animals on his farm. He had rabbits, bunnies, goats, cows and horses. He’d always let us take baby bunnies and kittens home, which was a constant challenge for our parents. In the fall, we would hide from the adults in Uncle Otto’s giant pumpkin patch, sometimes until dusk, looking up at the vast sky, talking and laughing, much like something out of a Shultz cartoon.
When we were a bit older, we’d venture off to the Audubon to feed the ducks, get lost on the trails or walk down to the reservoir at the end of Burr Street. On occasion, we would ride our bikes to Aspetuck Reservoir in Weston by way of back roads, even though our parents asked us not to.
The one common denominator to all of our childhood experiences was the landscape. Nature was our playground and the backdrop to everything we did as children. It allowed us to be creative and to express our young selves. It was entertaining and sometimes dangerous, if we didn’t pay close attention and stay alert.
It was where we were taught about the world and where we developed kinships and friendships. When we were out there, I seldom remember anyone bullying or taking the lead. Walking through woods of vast forests of trees reminded us we were not the first here, nor the last, and that we were no greater than our surroundings. Even though we knew the woods, the woods owned us, and we recognized this at an early age.
The landscape of Northern Fairfield, Easton and Weston is about as pretty as landscape gets. The indigenous oaks, maples, chestnuts and rows of endless pine were in their prime in the 1960’s and 70’s. The Hemlock Reservoir was particularly special, since it was less than a five minute walk. Looking out at the large body of water, especially on a hot summer day, we imagined jumping in, but never did, since we were lectured by our parents that it was a drinking water supply, and we had to respect and uphold the reservoir’s purity.
In high school, when we all started driving, my friends and I would hike many of the different Aspetuck trails and find more beautiful spots. The trails on Valley Forge Road along the reservoir were a favorite. In the summer, we’d sometimes pick a place to pitch a tent. Then, one day, we all went off to college. Having lived in both urban and suburban settings for many years, my husband and I made the decision to move to Easton several years ago.
Before the Corona virus hit, we defined our lives as being made up of family, friends, school, work, hobbies and social activities. But now that we’ve all had time for reflection, we realize, much like we did when we were children (or call it a remembrance if you will), that our natural surroundings are an essential part of who we are, offering us both emotional and physical shelter and hope for a healthy future.
Whenever I start to feel blue or uncertain during this pandemic, I find myself, once again, looking to these familiar places for solace and comfort, remembering the inner peace they’ve always brought me.