07 September 2007

A Sense of Place: The Tosh Farm near Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Leaving Bradford, Pennsylvania, we brought Emily to Buffalo, New York, for her flight back to college in Boston. What visit to Buffalo is complete without a quick sidetrip to Niagra Falls:

Which Sam had not seen before:

In Montana, we think of a family as having deep roots if they are of the third or fourth generation in a place, having been there a hundred years or so. Certainly, even in that short time, people can come to feel a part of the land that they live in. I have long taught "sense of place" as a concept in my Technology & Society classes, using readings from authors such as Wendell Berry and Rene Dubos, and so I was sensitive to this issue after we left Niagra Falls and Bradford behind for a visit with my brother-in-law and his wife near Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Carol's people -- the Tosh family -- have been on the land there since shortly after the Revolutionary War. Their family and the old Tosh farm played a role in the Whiskey Rebellion -- an early test of federal power -- which resulted from the US Congress whiskey tax of 1791 (blame Alexander Hamilton for this). The Scot-Irish farmers of Western Pennsylvania depended on distilling and selling a little rye (not corn) whiskey to supplement their income. In response to the new law, they formed a loosely-organized mob and attacked tax collectors.

In 1794, the feds (i.e. President Washington) sent a force of about 13,000 soldiers to put down the rebellion. About 150 rebels were arrested, farmers began paying the tax (many were probably forced out of business), and federal power became a cornerstone of the new nation.

There is lots of evidence of long habitation on the Tosh farm, such as this old spring box:

And this barn and corn crib:

And the family homestead:

Despite this intensive use over the past 200+ years, the ecosystem appears healthy. There are still a few corn fields under cultivation, but much of the land is a fantastically diverse hardwood forests. On a walk around the place, I spotted many native trees, including oaks (white and red or black, I wasn't sure), sugar maple, hickory (shagbark and pignut), white pine, hemlock, birch (yellow and black), butternut, walnut, basswood, poplar, black cherry, beech, ironwood, and tulip poplar (or cucumber tree, I wasn't sure). No wonder that turkey, deer, and other game abound. Oh yeah, and there seem to be a few snakes around, as indicated by this nice black snake shed skin the dog found:

My nephew Sam (the oldest of the three brothers) is interested in hunting and recently won a nice 20 gage shotgun from a Wild Turkey Federation banquet. Here's Sam busting a few clays, with his dad Bill on the Armstrong Thrower:

Speaking of throwing, my arm is still sore. Bill's oldest two boys, Sam and Alex, constantly have a baseball or football in the air. No wonder Bill says his elbow is shot. Sam and Bill are also avid golfers, and Sam has converted the spacious front yard into a driving range and several greens. He's currently negotiating with Dad on excavating & hauling sand for the bunkers. Good Dad. Oh yeah, there's a pool for those hot summer afternoons. Both Alex:

And Domenic (yeah, that's my foot flipping his raft over) love the water:

To cap off the visit, Bill & Sam built a big fire and we all sat late into the cool night toasting marshmallows, roasting hot dogs, and swapping stories. I'd forgotten how well hardwood burns and how sweet it smells.

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