We were driving out to Egmont so the visiting grandsons could play on the old school field (school itself no longer there, the one that welcomed children from kindergarten to grade 7) and I kept noticing the ghosts of ancient trees along the side of the road. Stop, I asked, and I crossed the narrow pavement to take a photograph. I’ve driven this road hundreds of times over the past 40+ years and yes, I’ve seen the trees but somehow this morning they spoke to me. What did they say? Ah, I’m still figuring it out.
The notches were sawn into the trees to support a springboard which would in turn support a logger. The springboards had a steel tip with a lip that gripped the notch. You can see the sawed notch for the springboard on the trunk and you can see the marks of hobnailed boots on the photograph of the springboard in my friend’s uncle’s “museum”. The notches are quite high up, partly because the tree grew on a slope, partly because of butt swell (look at how the trunk flares close to the ground and imagine cutting that with a two person saw. Less work to cut a little further up and in any case the wood in the flared area would have been wasted), and partly because the butt of a tree contains more resin than higher up and the resin mucked up the blades. So the trunks stand still, a reminder of older times and methods.
I’ve been thinking about the ancient trunks every since. The boys had lunch and they’re playing a game in which I heard them replaying their time on the Egmont field. It’s grey outside, a few raindrops falling from time to time. And I’m thinking and it seems to me that a man in the novel I’m writing set in a village very like Egmont might well have been intrigued by the trunks too. He’s not alive in the actual narrative time of the novel but he’s important. He left a house to the main character and her husband and in the house they find his paintings. I’ve been working out his palette and his style and I’ve even begun to describe some of his work. Now I suspect that a stash of paintings of the beautiful ghosts of the woods will be discovered too. Maybe like me he drove down Egmont Road and noticed the trunks and wondered. Maybe like me he knew they held stories that are fading every year and maybe he wanted to tell those stories as urgently as I want to. Maybe. We’ll see.
2 thoughts on “ghosts in the woods”
So the playground is still there, but the school is not? Or, it’s just a big space to run around? I love observing things in the world through the eyes of “my” characters, finding little gifts for them when I’m out shopping, choosing the paint slips with the shades they would select for themselves. It’ll be interesting to see how these trees emerge into your story (even in the background, as you’ve said, or maybe a standalone prequel shorter narrative of some sort). I love the way that Elizabeth Strout’s novels all intersect, maybe this man just needs his own book!
The original school was somewhere else (down by the Griffith place, I think) but then it needed to be bigger and so a half-Quonset hut was erected right in the village. A playing field and a playground grew up around it and when the school was dismantled (not enough kids to keep it open), maybe in the 1990s, everything else remained. Right across from the Post Office and the community hall and near the general store.