Every so often in my ramblings, I come upon a place that sings particularly loudly of the past. Along with trying to be more attentive to the details in my surroundings that are overlooked during a cursory glance, I also try to discern what a particular area might have looked like before progress, if you will, forever altered its profile.
It might be something about a stand of trees or the way the land dips before being cut off by a paved road. It is also sometimes simply in how a ray of sunlight is interrupted in a spot where it shouldn't be by something that just doesn't seem to belong there. I've come across certain markings in forgotten places, ancient remnants of other times, other lives. Chunks of granite blocks poking up through grass and weeds or the sad remains of what was once a fence that delineated property boundaries, crumbling now and making its way, molecule by minute molecule, back to the earth from which it came.
I noticed, one day last week, a long row of tall regal old pine trees lining one side of a road in Arundel. As I drove slowly past, I wondered at how that tract of land might have looked a century or more ago before a road even appeared there. Oh, there might have been some sort of trail or way to negotiate the area, as most rural roads were once nothing more than paths before the advent of the automobile or lanes composed of pairs of ruts worn by wagon wheels. As more and more of them were widened, graded and paved, the landscapes abutting them changed forever, leaving us now to wonder at what might have been lost in the process; and it's always a comfort to come across an area that appears to be relatively untouched by human hands or affected in some way by the human touch.
I chatted yesterday with several ladies who live in Springvale, and they shared their memories of living in the area. Dorothea, or Thea, as she is fondly called, who is in her nineties and has spent her entire life in the Oak Street area of Springvale, remembered when "all the streets were dirt roads," and "you could walk along the railroad tracks to get to Deering Pond." Peg and Cora, originally from the town of Alfred, playfully reminisced about Mouse Lane, a narrow road that branches off from the Kennebunk Road and whose name has always amused them. "The Kennebunk Road was dirt," said Peg, and added that Mouse Lane was also just a "small and curvy dirt road." Peg also reminisced about the many wildflowers that, as a young girl, she saw growing there. Cora said that Lady Slippers and Lily of the Valley grew everywhere. The ladies collectively spoke of other flowers that grew wild at every turn-Queen Anne's Lace, Oxeye Daisies, Indian Paintbrush, and wild strawberries. "Wild strawberries grew everywhere," Peg said. Thea also shared her memory of a time when elm trees were familiar sights along the streets of Sanford and Springvale. "You should have seen them on Oak Street," she said. "Their tops met over the road."
Cora lamented the disrespect for natural beauty that she sees everywhere in the form of litter and trash. "I don't know why people do that," she said. "It's awful. Empty cans and cups are just thrown on the ground. They just don't care." Thea added that she admires the efforts of local conservationists to preserve the wild places in Sanford and Springvale for future generations to enjoy; and Peg wistfully mentioned how her parents had taken steps to formally preserve some of their land, but that subsequent owners had removed the protections that they had put into place.
Talking with seniors gives us a rare glimpse into the past, when life was slower and, they all agreed, less complicated. Through their eyes, we can travel back in time and imagine what the busy streets we now take for granted looked like as dirt roads, how trees, fields and wildflowers dominated the landscape, and what it was like to travel everywhere on foot or in a horse-drawn wagon.
The ladies all agreed that nature was much more visible back then and played a much greater role in their everyday lives. I truly enjoyed my trip down Memory Lane with them, from Thea recalling how farmers built walls from the rocks they coaxed from the soil as they cleared the land, many of which are still there today, to Cora fondly remembering the garden her family grew that helped put food on the table during lean times. As the conversation was winding down, Peg thought a moment and, with the characteristic twinkle in her eyes, spoke of spending a lot of time outside as a child. "We were always outside doing something," she said, then added with a chuckle,"and sometimes, believe it or not, even getting into some sort of mischief!"