My hometown was friendly in the 1940s and 1950s, when I was young. Swift, forest streams, which fed meandering valley rivers, connected the fields and forest surrounding the town. And I was free to wander over hill and dale without running into a “no trespassing sign” on every gate and seemingly every other fence post.
The code of the day was to leave open any gate that was open and to close after one’s passage any gate that was closed. It was also understood that one was free to cross a farmer’s property as long as one respected the property by walking around planted fields rather than through them. If I asked permission, I could wander almost anywhere I wished, accompanied by the songs of birds and vast flocks of band-tailed pigeons.
Much of the Coast Range and most of the Cascade Range of Oregon that I knew as a boy were covered with unbroken ancient forests and clear, cold streams from which it was safe to drink. Although the streams and rivers were still filled with native trout and salmon, the forests and mountain meadows were already devoid of wolf and grizzly bear.
In the valley that embraced my hometown, the farmers’ fields were small and friendly, and the quiet, secluded fields and pastures were home to burrowing owls and meadowlarks, the latter filling the air with their liquid melodies. The fields were surrounded by fencerows sporting shrubs and trees, including apples and pears that proffered delicious fruit, each in its season.
In spring, summer, and autumn, the fencerows were alive with a multitude of brightly colored flowers that were ministered to by myriad bees and an airborne flotilla of butterflies, which was accompanied by an annual parade of hummingbirds. The trill of rufous-sided towhees and the songs of house fiches, song sparrows, fox sparrows, robins, Bewick’s wrens, yellow warblers, and MacGillivary’s warblers graced each fencerow. In addition, they harbored deer mice, meadow mice, moles, shrews, woodrats and rabbits, pheasants and deer, squirrels and red valley foxes. The air was clean, the sunshine bright and safe, and the drinking water among the sweetest and purest in the world.
To me, the fencerows of my youth were both habitats for creatures wild and free and corridors of song that thrilled my heart and filled my soul with joy, peace, and eternal wonder at the beauty of it all.
Text © by Chris Maser 2011. All rights reserved.