News from Vermont #290 Study in Circles

June 26th, 2013

Hello again Maple People,

My brother Elliott and I stand looking at the prostrate stone of Joel Robinson up at the Robinson Cemetery in Calais, Vermont. Elliott has recently glued its two halves back together after nature took its toll years ago and our mission today is to get the stone back upright. We stand there for a longer time than is necessary, not so much to admire Elliott's handy work but to observe a moment of silence for our great, great, great, great grandfather.

The rest of my yarn could be described as a "study in circles". The first "circle" is one from Rehoboth, Massachusetts to Calais, Vermont and back to Rehoboth. Joel Robinson hailed from Rehoboth, a town fifty miles southwest of Boston and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, "hilly and swampy with most of its brooks and swamps feeding into the Palmer River...". Back in 1792, something stirred Joel to trek 241 miles through the wilderness to Calais. The question of what stirred him is answered at best by speculation but I'm betting it had something to do with geography. You see, Joel was a sawyer of lumber which, in those days, required the special geographic offerings of "hills, swamps, and brooks".

It so happened that there was some land available in Calais where there is a brook fed by swampy headwaters of what is now Curtis Pond. Somehow, Joel Robinson found out about this land and came up to investigate. My guess is that he found the Vermont "power" possibilities a sawyer's Garden of Eden compared to the smaller hills and slower brooks of southern Massachusetts (think of a Cummins diesel compared to a lawnmower motor). He wasted no time in sewing up the deal and returning to Rehoboth to fetch his family (and in those days, t'weren't no four hours down I-89!).

Joel first built a mill pond at a location where the ledges could be used as buttresses to support a flag stone dam. He soon had a pond both sizable and deep enough to supply sufficient head for powering his "up and down" saw rig. The last step in his plan was to build a mill, the Robinson Sawmill, which still stands to this day.

Over ten years ago our Uncle Bernard Morse and Elliot plied their mechanical talents to make the Robinson Mill run again. It was no easy achievement but after two years and a lot of hours, they finally opened the gate and let Joel's mill pond perform its magic. In June of 2001, the ancient Lane Mill (an update to Joel's original rig), after more than two hundred years of retirement, sliced through a spruce log by water power! Elliott said there was a big crowd watching including six folks in wheelchairs; "some had tears in their eyes" he said.

The second "circle" of this yarn has to do with people and their never ending quest to harness renewable energy from the earth. These days solar panels multiply like rabbits and wind turbines dot Vermont ridge lines bringing us "full circle" from the days when water power was king. The water power necessary to power Grandpa Joel's sawmill, alas, has been trumped by what some would call "political correctness", others, "environmental prudence"...the mill pond up at Robinson Saw Mill has silted in over the years and needs to be dredged. Repeated efforts by Elliott Morse to gain permission to dredge have come up dry every time..."thou shall not tamper with public water!" say the people. Elliott recently told me that the Robinson Mill will never run again.

Back at Robinson Cemetery, Elliott and I end our moment of silence, muckle on to Grandpa Joel's stone and heft it upright with a grunt. "There" says Elliott, "back where it was in 1832 when Joel Robinson died". It was how he punctuated his last comment, however, that struck me: "That's all we can do for him anymore". May Joel Robinson and his working sawmill rest in peace.

Speaking of "full circles", every spring another season of sugarin' comes to us here at Morse Farm. Although it's at least eight months away, we're already preparing for Sugarin' 2014. Because of all the rain we've gotten lately, our trees are a bit "top heavy". To explain, I'll use some old "seaman" language: while our trees' roots normally provide ample "anchors", right now they are weak because of all the water in the ground. Meanwhile, the lush green foliage acts as a sail on a ship...translation: we're praying for no more high winds because high winds will cause our maple trees to topple over! Unfortunately, there are some down trees out there now which requires work with a chainsaw. The "upside", however, is that we have plenty of fresh, 2013 syrup for sale right now. You can help us prepare for next season by going to www.morsefarm.com and ordering some. Thanks so much!

"May the Circle be Unbroken",+