Not long ago I did a post with the headline “The poetry of decay,” featuring photos of an old shed not far from Queensborough that is slowly, and rather beautifully (in a melancholy sort of way), crumbling. (That post is here, if you’re interested in reading it.) Tonight’s post feels like a bit of a followup to that one. And perhaps to several other instalments of Meanwhile, at the Manse, particularly those having to do with The Country North of Belleville, also widely known as “north of 7.”
Now, truth be told this photo was taken south of 7 (that would be Highway 7; click here for an explanation of the terminology), but only barely. I came across this abandoned house and its surrounding farm – the land still being farmed, as far as I can tell, but with not much happening on it on a very early spring day – one recent Saturday morning when I was poking around the back roads north of Tweed. It struck me as a visual summing-up of so much about our neck of the woods, which is central and central-north Hastings County.
There is, first, the abandoned – but, I should note, certainly not crumbling – farmhouse, a reminder of the early settlers who claimed this land, cleared it, and planted crops on it in the hope and expectation of making a go of it in this country. This is probably not the first house built on the farm, but rather a later and fancier (when compared to what might well have been little more than a shed) iteration, put up when the family felt that they truly were settled and were making out all right. I like its typical-of-the-area red colour (Hematite red? Hematite is a common mineral in Hastings County, and dust from operations to mine it was commonly used as pigment, as you can read in the comments on this post), and its semi-rusted roof that I’d be willing to bet still keeps most of the rain out. And it looks so solitary and striking out there in the middle of the surrounding yellow-brown field. What stories could that house tell?
I like the old barns and sheds that you can see at the left of the photo, holding up very well despite obviously being well over a century old. You can’t see them in the photo, but there were pieces of farm equipment stored in the outbuilldings on the day I passed by. Another clue that this farm is still a farm, even if the house is no longer lived in.
I think most of all I love the half-wrecked split-rail fence and the large boulders at the front of the property and in the foreground of the photo. They are silent testament to the hard, hard work that the first settlers had to put in as they cleared the land and made fields out of forest. Big stones like that would have been pulled from the fields and moved to the edge to make fences; you can still see such old stone fences all over central Hastings, a country where there is no shortage of rocks and stones. As any farmer north of 7 will tell you, the task of clearing those rocks and stones is an unending one; each spring a new crop comes up from the Canadian Shield that lies so close to the surface here.
I do not for a second consider myself a good photographer, but I do like this photo. To me it is kind of an iconic image of what central Hastings County has been – and is. There is beauty in the ruins and in the silence and the emptiness and the landscape. Is it desolate? No – because there is life all around. To both sides of this old house and farm, and across the road from it, are newer houses, and people who still live and work here and call it home. But I like the thought that in the midst of 21st-century life is this beautiful reminder of what was. I think its continued existence helps us, whether we realize it or not, to better understand the place we live in, and the people who were here before us, trying so very hard to make it a good place to live. In which, by the way, they succeeded.