Early in the century, time and effort had been invested in building a dam across part of the swamp. It formed an impoundment for the cranberry bog planted below. All across New England, people turned their hands at any number of trades and practices in the hopes of doing better than break even. It was true that many places in New England grew a better crop of rocks yearly than anything else. Spinney’s family had owned a hard-luck farm on which they tried growing apples, raising foxes, chickens, dairy, and the experimental cranberry bog. One project after another was attempted to try to wring a living from the rocky coast. And he pointed out, that was before the Depression.
The healthy growth of forests was a later phenomenon, he told me. When he was young, there were few trees; wood got cut for heat. And sheep kept everything else trimmed back. If you went fishing, you followed the fisheries’ seasonality, farmed, and did work for summer residents. Spinney had gone to work as a ship’s carpenter but still had helped out on family activities.
He explained that it had been too labor-intensive harvesting such a small bog and getting the cranberries to market. Once the family got the Roadhouse on route 47 going, they let the bog, chickens, and orchard go. Serving dinners and drinks paid better and less work too.
Spinney explained this as we snowshoed into the swamp. We climbed through fresh snow onto the hillock in the middle of the swamp. On top sat a tumbledown tar papered shack. “this is where us kids would camp while working on the bog.” Off to the southeast, you could peek through the trees and see the bay.
“So why didn’t you leave?” I asked. He looked at me for a while: “Wes, you’re going to leave here to go back to graduate school. You’re going to remember this view someday and wish you had stayed. Then you’ll understand.”
And I do.