I walked through my garden and then to the top of our hill. The autumn tinged world blanketed me, holding me close. And I disappeared—a ghost in place—a place that’s enveloped me for 45 years.
In this way, I was reminded.
I go seeking my ancestors often, mostly in my mind and on the computer. But every once in a long while, I seek them out by place. Not their place on Google Earth or a historic map (though they help in my echo-location). I seek them out on land.
So far no house has marked their lifeline—no barn, no mill, no crumbled remains.
I’ve met their ghosts on the edge of Gladen Run, amongst a host of autumn saplings; was introduced to them as I bumped along on a quad with someone who knew the land—there on that rise is where I think they built their sawmill.
I’ve felt them, knew they worked a mill above that dip in a road in Rose Township, so I took a picture. Sure enough, the woman at the historical center confirmed it. She lived nearby.
They pointed me toward them, by either serendipity or otherworldly intervention, to Tick Ridge Road. I drove the hill, drawn by its magnificent view. Did the Croy family settle in that place because of the view, same as us when we claimed our land?
Most recently I traveled New England—wet, wonderful New England—the place where the Payne part of me began. I zipped into the little park on the Green River where Samuel Payne built his first family home. I knew it had been there, but where? It didn’t matter. The specter of him and Abby Graham Payne danced there.
In Vermont, they hid in the riparian scrub that conceals the little Batten Kill and its tributary, Mill Brook. I tried to find their spirit. But, after three times driving back and forth along the railroad, stopping and going to the workmen’s demands, head jerking back and forth (there? No there?), after crossing the river and sloshing through the grass for a picture, not of river but of the overgrowth hiding it, I nodded to their stealth and said goodbye.
Down in New Haven, Connecticut, I wandered the future their world had wrought. An industrial malaise—the smell, the poverty, the sprawl—crowned by East Rock Park. The ghosts who walked the harbor in the 1600’s had retreated there—out of self-preservation, I think, if such a think exists in phantom beings.
Mostly my ancestor’s human efforts, their marks on the land, are gone: no house, no fence, no garden rose. Repossessed by nature, the reseeding of any human claim to ownership. At times their efforts were erased by progress: railroads, drainage basins, and industrial zones.
Only their ghosts remain.
This week we poured cement to make our aging easier: less weeding, hoeing, back-bending effort. We’ve spent most of our lives improving our land. And yet—in two hundred, three hundred years—what will exist? The ghost of me, imagining the crush of acorns under foot as I walk an autumn road, taking in the crisp air, the buckeye bulbs hanging from the trees, smiling to a human form (a descendent perhaps?) in a place without a trace of me.