The Witness Tree
Cranbrook Park had provided two tasty additions to my omelet the morning I decided to determine where Harold Ward disposed of his fieldstones. His pioneer farm lies at the heart of my neighborhood park, and the stones were glacier rocks that much troubled early growers. Winter's cycles of freezing and thawing would heave them to the surface each spring and threaten to make lame any grazing stock or to blunt any plough. Erratic rocks, geologists call them, abandoned during their slow retreat by long-gone glaciers.
Come spring, Ward would have hitched his smartest horse to a wooden sled with a collecting box (in Frost's New England, a "stone boat"). Together they would crisscross the muddy fields, performing hours of hard work for man and beast. The horse needed a destination point once his load breached tolerance, usually some far corner of a field bordering someone else's land. It had to be clearly visible to the horse, and in Michigan that tended to be a prominent tree--a witness tree. I went out looking for three things after breakfast: a very old tree, remnants of a farm fence, and a duff-covered mound. I found them.
Barely twenty-five years old, Cranbrook Park is what survived of Harold Ward's farm when the rest was built up in the 1980s. It is ringed by housing, with two narrow access paths off Oakbrook Road, but the developers saw the wisdom of grading their adjoining properties smoothly into park grass, and it worked. Visually they doubled the size of the place. A wooded section of soft trails defines much of its eastern edge and shoulders the meandering Malletts Creek. Joggers, bikers, and moms with toddlers are there most days. I am probably the only fungophile.