Martha’s Vineyard is a dump. It’s a pile of material the glaciers scraped from the land to our north and dumped when they stopped. Think of those glaciers of ten thousand years ago. They were like giant, really giant bulldozers. Science says that the ice that built the Island towered a mile high. Maybe two miles.
About four hundred years ago the European invasion of this continent began. The new people came to land that was freckled with stones and boulders. “Wilderness” was cleared. Farmers wanted fields and defined boundaries. An ocean away from the motherland, a new England formed. The scattered stones and boulders were moved to lines that husbandry and ownership delineated. Over the next two centuries or so, stone walls extended over the landscape, holding in critters and delineating fields.
By the late 1700’s there were tens of thousands of sheep on Martha’s Vineyard. Major Grey of the British army raided the Island in September of 1778, during the American Revolution. He took ten thousand sheep and three hundred oxen from an island that had hoped the war might pass it by. A century later, sheepraising was in decline throughout New England. The 2012 Massachusetts Agricultural Census counted 412 sheep in all of Dukes County.
The farm animals are mostly gone, but most of the many miles of stone walls remain, They extending for miles through former field now woodland.
A few days ago we spent a few hours walking near walls in the woods.
How incredible these structures are.
And how incredible to realize that each individual stone’s position is the result of planning, of determination, of patient labor, and of strength.