Josna Rege

291. Stone Root Lane

In 1970s, blogs and blogging, history, Nature, places, Stories, United States on November 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm
Estabrook Woods, Concord, Massachusetts

Estabrook Woods, Concord, Massachusetts

Yesterday I read a post on undercovermole, an epistolary blog that I follow avidly. In it, Ralph, one of the three main characters, writes of a tedious planning committee meeting he has sat through in which a street name in a new development is discussed ad nauseam. The property developers wanted to call it Blossom Drive, but the council objected on the grounds that there is no species of tree called “Blossom.” Eventually, when Ralph was about to explode, they reached a compromise with Cherry Blossom Drive.

Street names are palimpsests of history. In Palimpsest, I’ve discussed the multilayered street names in India, renamed by the British during the colonial era and then re-renamed after Independence. Elsewhere I’ve also mentioned the delightfully named Old Road to Nine Acre Corner in Concord, Massachusetts, protected as a treasured part of the town’s heritage landscape. But Ralph’s planning committee ordeal reminded me of another street name in Concord, one whose origins lie in a less glorious history.

Nine Acre Corner, Concord, Massachusetts © Mark Rainey (butterfliesofamerica.com)

Nine Acre Corner, Concord, Massachusetts  (butterfliesofamerica.com)

Andrew’s family had owned a summer cottage on White Pond in Concord since the mid-1960s. His mother would take the children mushrooming and berry-picking in the woods just up the bank and across the railroad tracks. When I visited Andrew there and, later still, lived there with him for a time, we would ramble through those woods as well. It never occurred to me that they might have been privately owned.

(blog.aps.com)

(blog.aps.com)

And then we started hearing loud noises from the woods. New noises, not the rumblings of the lone freight train that rattled down the little-used tracks twice a day. When we investigated, we found bulldozers and Private Property signs: “our” woods were being cleared to make way for a housing development.

A clear-cut section of forest (homepower.com)

A clear-cut section of forest (homepower.com)

As the days went by, it became difficult to go up there and witness the devastation. A large clear-cut area emerged, criss-crossed with tire tracks, nothing but mud, rocks, mangled tree roots, and earth-moving equipment. By and by they pulled out the rocks and set up one or two of the biggest boulders at the entrance to the construction site. And one day we found a freshly planted street sign bearing the name Stone Root Lane.

Stone Root Lane—how apt! I laughed out loud. The name would fix forever in my mind the carnage of the construction site. I imagined the developers casting about for a name, and hitting upon this idea as their eyes fell on the tumble of rocks and stones pitting the clearing and the tangle of hacked and exposed roots that were all that remained of the old woods.

Steadily, inexorably, the foundations were laid and the houses built. Now we approached the site with caution for fear of trespassing. I don’t remember the day when the first family moved in. We had stopped going in that direction on our walks.

I just looked it up to see whether I had remembered the name correctly: I had. The area is now a settled development, more than 40 years old, with the houses in it being sold in the vicinity of nine hundred thousand dollars each. No doubt, given how often Americans move, a succession of families has come and gone in that time. But there are children, now with children of their own, who call Stone Root Lane their birthplace and have hallowed it with treasured memories of their own.

People have to live somewhere, I suppose, and the March of Progress must go on, so they say. When I think of Concord now, I think of our White Pond and Thoreau’s Walden, of the Old North Bridge celebrated in Emerson’s Concord Hymn, of the historic Old Road to Nine Acre Corner, and of that Johnny-come-lately, Stone Root Lane.

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  1. Hi Josna. I have just switched on and – rather astonishingly – find myself at the top of your interesting post. Thank you!
    Good story. I like the, very apposite, place name which is not lacking in lyricism. And also it is interesting (and perhaps sad) that things only remain the same in our memories: both we, and the places we see and experience, are ephemeral.
    Evangeline

    • You’re very welcome, E. Thank you–or rather, Ralph–for having given me the idea. Yes, my memories of those woods and the construction site are probably much hazier than the memories of the people who moved into those houses when they were first built and grew up there.

  2. Hate to see trees slaughtered like that. A friend lives in an apt in Atlanta and what he liked best about it was the view of the little woods from his windows. That is now bulldozed and more apts are being built. I don’t know who is going to fill all the apts going up here in Atlanta.

    • There should be some kind of zoning laws protecting the view as well as the land itself. Sadly, one can’t easily stop tree-slaughter unless one owns the land on which they are planted or if the town has conservation laws in place that prohibit clear-cutting or any unnecessary cutting-down of trees.

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