Late Summer Visits to the Sylvester and Daniel Homesteads

The following article was published in JFA newsletter no. 12, March 1999.

On a late summer mid-morning, our small party gathered at the Scotland Road home of Alan and Betty Junkins, piled assorted long-handled clippers and Alan's sturdy lawnmower into two cars, and drove to the Kittery Water District gate on Kingsbury Lane, ready for the trek up the mountain. We were only five, but we represented four states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Maine.

It was a blue sky morning, and the woods were warm. We took turns spraying ourselves with Deep Woods Off. Alan raised the wheels of his pull-lawnmower, and we took turns dragging it along the ups and downs of the frequently rock strewn first mile of Kingsbury Lane: Don Junkins and his twelve year old son Yunwei Chen; Don's friend and Hemingway Society colleague, Richard Davison from Newark, Delaware; Family Archivist Roland Junkins; and President Alan.

On the way to the Sylvester cemetery we stopped at the cellar hole of the Sylvester Junkins homestead and spent a half hour cutting and cleaning the new grown brush. The mosquitoes were thick but we were fortified and we got the better of them as we did the job. Further up the road we turned off to the left and did the same at the Sylvester cemetery overlooking Kingsbury Marsh. And what a surprise for this writer! What had been a grown-over, heavily wooded area twenty-five years ago on my first visit with Roland, led to the spot by Marvin Swain who knew the Sylvester gravestones as a hunter, when that one stone was initially visible seemingly in the middle of nowhere, had been transformed over the years by the repeated visits of Alan and Roland, into a clearly visible cemetery plot, fifteen by thirty feet, with many graves clearly marked by unearthed old-fashioned stones dug from the ground where they had lain undisturbed, with no names on them, for a hundred and fifty years. We dropped the wheels of the mower and mowed, and clipped, cleared fallen branches from the winter storms, rolled formerly unearthed boulder to the edges of the plot, raised the wheels of the mower, and headed up the mountain again.

Twenty minutes later we approached the top of the mountain where the Daniel Junkins homestead once stood surrounded by fields that were now thick forest woods. On this writer's first visit twenty five years ago, a garden was visible, and I had found a great pile of horse bones near the foundation of the former farmhouse. The root cellar was symmetrical and sturdy, but now half collapsed.

I had then wandered the woods in sight of the farmhouse foundation, and had picked up pails and blue agate pans once used by our forbears. Now only the path leading out to the old cemetery was visible, and we proceeded in a line, on top of the ridge in the sun, to the Daniel cemetery where a huge tree trunk had fallen in a winter storm and broken one of the perfectly carved, white headstones into two pieces and a small pile of crushed limestone. On a recent pilgrimage, Roland had supervised the removal of the menacing tree trunks left overhanging the grave plot, with help from friends. We mowed the plot, cleared branches, shaped up the cemetery as best we could, and headed down the mountain.

Back in York, we lunched at Ruby's, and headed back to our respective states. It had been all in a day's work, but the day had been special. We had worked in the present together on the past that brought us even closer together.

As Frost says in his poem, "Birthplace,"

Here further up the mountain slope
Than there was ever any hope,
My father built, enclosed a spring,
Strung chains of wall round everything,
Subdued the growth of earth to grass,
And brought our various lives to pass.

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