MAINE TALES. MAINE ROCKS! MONTICELLO, MAINE. Circa 2012.
Sobering as it may be, there’s no escaping the fact that a Maine farmer’s first marriage will always be to rocks.
There might have been a time when Northern Maine wasn’t rock strewn but that would have been quite awhile back. Over eons massive glaciers have left plenty of rocks behind. That last glacier retreated northward from this area 10,000 years ago.
What we do know is that Northern Maine has some pretty nice soil for growing potatoes, once you haul the rocks off a field. Rocks are patient teachers. Some lessons do come with pain. Farmers have learned rocks bruise up potatoes and bust up farm machinery. Some ground is thick with rocks, and other ground maybe not so much. Not to brag, but our farm – on the edge of the Maine North Woods – is loaded with rocks and is known to be the rockiest farm in Town.
Some years back we cleared the trees off one four-acre field that had been allowed to grow back to woods seventy years before. We knew this history because we saw the rock piles and counted the tree rings on the stumps after we cut the trees down. This field is the one we now call New Big South West #3 or SW#3 for short. As we pulled the stumps out, we came to learn there was a staggering amount of rocks to contend with. We believe sheer rock density is the reason why the old-timers grew discouraged and abandoned this field they had worked so hard to clear of trees.
Fortuitously, after years of searching we had come to purchase a nowadays rare side-boom-lag-style-rock-picker in good condition. These rock-picking machines with side booms were fairly popular back in the 1960s as farmers were scaling-up and grew real serious about removing rocks out of potato fields.
Day after day we crept along with that side-boomer, accompanied by our 12-yard dump truck driving alongside in tandem, and accepting its rock-to-metal thunderous pandemonium. Before it was fit to farm, we hauled 700 yards of rocks off that one little field. It’s now a nice little field with woods bordering on the west and south. We’ve grown some nice crops of potatoes on it, though of course, to this day it’s anything but free of rocks.
About ten years back Aroostook County lost one of its most respected, retired potato farmers in the Town just to the south of Bridgewater. That would be the Town of Monticello (“Mont-Tee-Sell-O” unless you find yourself in a big hurry, then it tends to come across as “Mont-Sell-O”).
Old Mike Brown was a good farmer, a hard worker and a leader in his Town. Like everybody in this country, he grew potatoes for most of his 81 years. And if you grow potatoes in Northern Maine, as Mike did, there is no deliverance. You get to know your rocks. Here is a verbatim excerpt from the obituary of this potato man, printed up in the local paper.
“He was always a farmer at heart who believed in putting back
into the ground more than he took away. He upgraded the
land with miles of drainage tile, sod ditches, strip cropping
and picking and disposing of millions of rocks and rocks and
Caleb, Jim & Megan