Part 1/March 1st: Inspired by the new month and the slightly warmer temperatures (20s), I decided to climb Dryden Hill through the falling snow and see if I could reach the old tower behind the house once owned by Pete McKenna and then to locate the abandoned steam thresher (ca. 1930s) that Pete said might still be found there. Since writing about Dan Redmond and his “custom threshing” days in my post called A Village Celebration, I’ve been interested in having a look at the old machinery.
It was an arduous 40-minute ascent along the old seasonal roadway to the summit of Dryden Hill, with no real track to ease my walk except for the paths made by the overpopulated deer. I saw only an occasional chickadee, a passing crow or raven, and a couple of ruffed grouse startled from the pine trees. Other than the stronger light produced by the late season, there was no sign of an approaching spring whatsoever.
The wind and snow were more intense along the summit, and I was able to advance but a short distance from the house toward the old tower site. The crusted snow was up to my knees with every step I took. Without snowshoes, I abandoned the effort and began my descent.
Did the old tower and abandoned thresher still remain near the woods beyond the pond, or not? Only a return walk, in warmer weather, might provide me with an answer. The ghost of a season had lured me up the hill, then vanished with a gust of wind.
Part 2/March 14: I had no fly-fishing this weekend but I tied a handful of “back in black” stoneflies and Woolly Buggers in anticipation of the settling of streams and also, in a sense, to feed or nourish the first few sprouts of imminent spring. After that I made another slow climb of Dryden Hill.
Although the wet snow of the woodlands was still deep enough in places to engulf me to my kneecaps, there were patches of the summit fields where the snow had thoroughly melted and was now rushing downhill in a welter of chaotic rills. And small bands of migrating robins could be seen on those patches of brown frozen earth, hungry for the first slimy tubes of life to emerge there in the new year.
Reinforced by the taste of scarlet rosehips pulled from thorny bushes to savor in the desolate afternoon, I approached an old piece of farm machinery that I mistook initially for the steam-powered thresher once used by the likes of Greenwood farmer, Dan Redmond.
The mysterious old machine, reverting slowly to the folds of nature, wasn’t the grain separator that former property owner, Pete McKenna, had told me about. The thresher, a much larger machine, was over at the former site of a small communications tower.
Glancing toward the woods I saw the dark profile of a great reptilian machine. I was surprised that in all my years of hill wandering I had never really taken note of it.
Dan Redmond’s father and uncle had used a grain separator, a threshing machine, powered by a horse-drawn steam engine and a water tank. Three teams of horses were required to haul an entire threshing rig from farm to farm, the job of “custom threshing.”
Dan Redmond was 12 years-old, circa 1920, when he first started feeding grain into a thresher. He followed his father’s footsteps till about 1945 when the threshing era was replaced by mechanization symbolized by the more efficient combine.
Standing near the rusted but remarkably well-preserved threshing machine, I tried to imagine Redmond’s renowned style of hand-feeding the bundles of wheat (as recorded by his wife, Harriet, for the Greenwood Historical Society, 1990), but the best I could do was imagine a grain of wheat being separated from the chaff inside–
…being pulled and tossed by steel claws and rapidly moving arms, encountering a bar with teeth, hearing the rollers whir, feeling the quake and rapid descent into a slotted surface perforated with holes, getting shoved by a blast of air removing the chaff, and being lifted into a bucket, one more kernel added to the load…
Ah, the purity of grain! A new season threshed out by the wheel of time, a cosmos built out of chaos, the seeds of new life…