Historic stone fences are monuments of strength. They symbolize the willpower for a better life. Timeless works of perseverance and back forty landmarks that shaped our countryside. Rock solid, like the character and determination that took on the heavy lifting to make a humble living. The metamorphosis of rugged real estate into gentle meadows is the legacy of work ethic, land stewardship and a vision.
Canada was new when these fence lines were drawn, and so too was the ink on the Queen’s Crown land patent. The township’s first private land owners were sworn by her Majesty’s land grant, and a dream.
If these old fences could talk perhaps we would learn more about farm kids in the 1870’s who picked and piled every piece. Their backbreaking labor achieved what machine driven contractors couldn’t possibly quote. No entitlement. No shortcuts. No rest until the job was done. Farm life meant following farm family orders: Venture into the backwoods and scratch open a new farm field.
Form followed function as these fences were never engineered to impress the neighbors. Built to keep livestock in or, at the very least, to pronounce a boundary, stone fences were a practical use of the raw material that interrupted the walking plow that cut the furrows. A blacksmith-made plow point found on Pye Acres helps tell the story.
Acres of rock surfaced by the frost, lifted by hand, loaded onto horse-drawn stone boats and then strategically stacked. Bring on the cold, then the heat, and the nerve-wrecking black flies, mosquitoes, poison ivy, wild predators and all of the other elements that challenged the young homesteaders’ fortitude. Did childhood even exist for the architects of these stunning stone creations?
Today, the fallow fields of Pye Acres serve as an oasis for wildlife and family recreation time. The smiles and freedoms of the Pye Boys shines as big and bright as the historic stonework. The boys climb up high onto the fences. Their shoes shuffle across the rocks that were painstakingly maneuvered with youthful hands over a century earlier. The boys race each other over grassy drumlins to a home with electricity, running water and every other on-demand privilege that our rural roots simply never imagined.
A window to the commitment and hardship of this lands’ past is what our countryside home represents. On her 101st birthday, our property’s predecessor enjoyed a cup of tea and the eastern view from our dining room table. No one owned this land longer than Madeline McCarthy. She pointed to fences she crossed, and described the special places on the property that gave her heart comfort. When Madeline was widowed at age 54, this land soaked up the tears as she privately sat in the fields and mourned for her husband Joe. Solo sits are personal moments of escape and soulful reflection, and it seems that Madeline started a trend.
Nature therapy is the motivation that brings bus loads of high school students to Pye Acres. Since 2006, annual field trips are literally just that. Fields and forests, watersheds and wide open spaces for Cathy to connect her classroom lessons about life sciences to the context of real outdoor life, past and present. Her science students collect plants, mosses and pond water samples to help identify the parts of their world that are sadly estranged from today’s adolescent norm. This is where science and history lessons meet. Cathy’s science lab is delivered against the backdrop of a stone fence where students consider the realities of early settlement and how they would have survived. The field trip concludes with a solo sit – twenty distraction-free minutes to contemplate an idea, process a curiosity and untangle anxiety.
Outdoor experiences provide the power of perspective. Gone are the days of shaping the landscape by hand but the resilience required to turn obstacles into prosperity will never change. Stone fences lead us back to our roots.
This blog is dedicated to Madeline.
A great article Rob! Love it! Joey
Thank you very much, Joey. We appreciate you following the blog!
Very powerful and true……….coming from a farm boy picking rocks in the 60’s……..we did it with tractors but sill needed stone boats to move the “big ones”. Great documentary …….thanks.