Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Bell Tolls Today

A few years ago we bought a bell on the way home from vacation in Maine. It tolls as I write on this damp breezy morning. The bell tone is called Chatham, supposedly calibrated to approximate the sound of the harbor bell there. It does conjure up foggy seaside visions, even forty miles inland at 620 feet above the ocean.


I was in the act of writing an “issue post” to comment on yesterday’s Providence Journal article, “Theft---another threat to N. E.’s stone walls” , when the tolling of the bell lured me away. I was copying “---hoping an appeal to landowners’ sense of history will be more effective than heavy-handed rules.” The alchemy of sound, sea and old walls conjured a vision of the Native Americans who trekked forty miles inland to winter hunting grounds in the woods of Foster and nearby.


On our land there is an immense boulder surrounded on three sides by stone walls. About two hundred feet to the east are “standing stones”. We have been told by people knowledgeable about Native American culture that this configuration of rocks indicates a ceremonial site. The large boulder might have been used as a kind of altar, facing east, where the sun rose directly over the standing stones.


The land we live on is a remnant of the Abraham Walker farm (the Walker brothers operated a plow factory in the nineteenth century) and is crisscrossed by thousands of feet of stone walls, which mark the old pastures and attest to the back breaking labor of our forbears.


I have no answers to the question of how we can prevent the loss of the old walls that have tales to tell of Foster’s past. But I think we ought to talk about it. I’d like to learn more about Smithfield’s tax exemption of $5000. on the property of those who preserve old walls. Foster is currently seeking a candidate to fill the ceremonial position of Fence Viewer. Perhaps the time has come ‘round again to create a serious job description for the position.


I hope you will give this some thought and post your ideas. The Society exists to preserve our heritage. Let not the bell toll for the demise of Foster’s stone walls.


Here is the passage taken from John Donne’s Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, written in 1624:
Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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