Opinion: Nature offers a corona interlude

Terry Jones of Jones Family Farms

Terry Jones of Jones Family Farms

Contributed photo

I am a fifth-generation farmer.

Spring weather arrived in Connecticut early, and since February the landscape has been greening and tree buds swelling. St. Patrick’s’ Day saw daffodils bursting and forsythia turning yellow — several weeks early!

Today I am in the field walking our “barnyard” hillside with a pail of fescue, flinging the grass seed into the calm morning air, watching it fall into the tiny fissures that crisscross like a spider web over the slightly frozen surface of the land.

“Frost cracking.” My father showed me how; as did his father show him, and so on back nearly two centuries. Spring showers and alternate freezing and thawing will sprout the seed; the young grass will protect the steep slopes of spruce and fir Christmas trees from erosion. This use of dwarf fescue was the result of scientific research at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station — the first station in America. Along with UConn Cooperative Extension, our citizens are given valuable information to protect our environment. Science and education are investments we should all appreciate.

Walking across the land, I marvel at the boulders that seem to breach the former cow pasture, now tree plantation, like whales in the sea. They vary between shades of gray, brown, black and tan while others sport stripes of white quartz or flecks of mica sparkling in the sun. Undisturbed for centuries, many of the rocks are covered with intricate patterns of lichens. Where shade or moisture is abundant, colonies of verdant moss are also clinging to the rocks. We might describe this colorful scene as “Connecticut coral.” A very large and special boulder, the size of an elephant, has awed seven generations of Jones children who see in it a giant frog with gaping mouth … “Be good or the Frog Monster will get you in the night!”

By mid-morning, my legs are tiring and the warm sun beckons me to pause on a bench of Connecticut granite set into the hillside. The bench is a gift from the Connecticut Christmas Tree Growers to honor my father, Philip, one of the association founders in 1960. The granite is a bit rough, but warm and comfortable in the sun. The sky is beyond blue and a small flock of bluebirds is stunning as they alight on the blue spruce trees around me. A pair of red-tailed hawks soars over the distant hayfields searching for their breakfast mouse. Appreciating the morning’s beauty keeps me still while fond memories fill my head.

One hundred yards to my right is an old European larch, having reached its mature height of 90 feet. Philip planted it as a seedling in 1947. Now it will grow no taller and is vulnerable to stormy winds that batter its limbs. But for now, the tree survives and holds a special spot in the landscape. For me the tree is a poignant reminder that life is finite; since I, too, was born in 1947.

Other memorable trees nearby are the pair of ancient “lightning oaks” under which in July 1952, 10 of our herd of 30 milking cows were electrocuted in a thunderstorm. My grandfather found them at sunrise on a Sunday morning, after only 20 were waiting at the barn for milking.

To my left is a vigorous three-foot Colorado blue spruce planted by Gov. Dan Malloy during a farm visit three springs ago. Although he turned down an invitation to join the planting crew, this single tree is thriving.

Further down the slope is the weathered historic farm barn, first built in the 1860s. The foundation was split from granite boulders and hauled down the hillside by my great-great grandpa’s team of oxen. A “new” addition was added in 1944 — delayed 12 years by the Great Depression.

Five generations, including myself, cared for dairy cows in that barn until the herd was sold in 1966. Today, folks enjoy gathering in the historic structure to taste the terroir of the wines produced on the farm by my son, Jamie. Near the barn and in the distance are many acres of vibrant vineyards, recently hand pruned and ready to burst their buds.

From the bench, I stretch my legs to rest on the granite wellstone placed to protect the pure waters that gravity fed the cattle and my family for a century.

I stood up from the bench that honors my father, Philip. My mind was overwhelmed with the beauty of the hills, trees, vineyards, rocks and rills. And interwoven with this land of natural beauty came thoughts of all the humanity — family, friends, workers, scientists, political leaders, educators, artists, artisans and guests — that have found this small corner of the earth to be a special and sacred place. Gazing through the sunlight, I felt the trickle of a tear slipping down my cheek, and saw it fall onto my father’s bench. I remembered his birthday, Oct. 16, 1918, at the nascent Griffin Hospital in Derby. It was during the peak of the Spanish Flu pandemic which claimed so many lives in the Naugatuck Valley, Connecticut and around the globe.

Baby Philip and his mother, Joan, were not allowed to leave the hospital for three weeks. With love and care, mother and son were safe. Years later, she was known to remark of the ordeal, “best vacation of my life!” Philip grew to become a Christmas tree pioneer and member of the Connecticut General Assembly. He lived a life of love and service to Connecticut, lasting a few weeks short of 97 years.

Terry Jones is a Shelton farmer. He serves as vice president of the Board of Control at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station, and board member at CT Working Lands Alliance, the Valley Community Foundation and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.