Reading the Landscape

What Am I Looking At?

Can you tell who was here before you? Can you see what happened before you walked this path? What the land was used for? Pay close attention to details and you might find some clues. Trees heal around the barbed wire that was attached to them after many years. This is a sign of past farm use.

Most of us can read maps, and know where we are, or where we have been. Many of us readbooks to find those things as well. But did you know that you can read your landscape?

Paying close attention to the land around you can reveal its long history. The land in Maine has gone through many changes. European settlements occurred largely in the 18th century. This changed the wild landscape into a more agrarian landscape as land was cleared for farming.

By the mid 1800s farming started to decline. As these farms were abandoned, the white pines started to grow up.

Old apple trees in the forest are great indicators of past dwellings, orchards or farms.
Cemeteries from years past are a clue to who lived and worked before us and can be found all over, they are a fun way to research your town’s history.

The larger and more mature these stands of trees became the more valuable they became. The pines started to be harvested. One of the most common and valuable uses of these pines was for “box boards” used to make shipping containers.

The clear cutting of these white pines allowed for the mixed hardwoods to grow. This created diverse species of trees and thus wildlife in our forests as they grew.

As you have just read, the fire of 1947 also changed our landscape again. What do you think that this land will say in 20, 50, 100 years? Will there still be a trail?

Much of this information was gathered from the Harvard Forest Museum

Did You Know?

  • White pines will not continue to sprout after being cut down, but hard woods will sprout right from the stump.
  • The fastest growing species that sprout easily: red oaks, red maples, white ash, birches, and black cherry. See if you can find any of these trees. Further down the trail you will find out if you were right!

Gray Squirrel Tracks
Courtesy Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

What's Next?

As you walk, you can get clues as to the history. Can you find more barbed wire? Can you find evidence of stone walls? What do you think the history here was? It might make a great story!