When asked what crop the soil of New Hampshire is most suited for, the astute Yankee replies:“Rocks.”
It’s rocks that rise in the garden each spring. You can hoe ’em out and toss ’em to the side, but next spring (every spring) they’ll be back. They just keep coming. We are, after all, the Granite State. Our symbol is, after all, the (late) Great Stone Face.
In an ancient tale, the newcomer notices a hay field littered with rocks too big to hoe out and set aside. Boulders, in fact. “Where’d all those boulders come from?” the newcomer asks the local.
“The glacier brought ’em.”
“Oh,” says the newcomer, intrigued. “Where’s the glacier now?”
“Guess it went back for another load.”
At the select board meeting, a resident walks in lugging a rock. Good sized. It’s about all he can do to move it from the door to the select board table, where he deposits the rock with a thud.
“Aren’t you people in charge of maintaining roads?” the resident says, irate.
“My road’s a mess. This gawldum rock poked up in the middle of it months ago — bent a rim, snapped an axel. I’m gawldum sick and tired of driving around it.”
“Well,” says the board chair, mildly. “Looks like you’re not driving around it anymore.”
I’ve long contended that you don’t have to be born Yankee (five generations in the ground, pie for breakfast) to be Yankee. If you spend enough time in New Hampshire, this rocky old place adopts you. You become Yankee. Yankee is an attitude.
Case in point: A granite slab fell from a retaining wall. Too big — 2-by-2-by-6 feet — to be moved by hand, so the owner hired a local builder to come by with his backhoe and return the slab to its rightful place.
“Sure,” the builder says. “I’ll be over on Wednesday.”
True to his word, a year later the builder and his backhoe show up on a Wednesday and return the slab to its rightful place.
“Thanks very much,” the owner says. “I’ll be over on Wednesday with your money.”
That’s Yankee attitude.
I grew up in a small house on a rocky patch of land halfway up a long, steep hill (or halfway down, depending on how you looked at it). As the family grew, my parents improved the house and added on a cellar, a bedroom, a living room and a garage.
This required a lot of digging, which my father seemed to enjoy. He used the shovel and grub hoe method. When he came upon a boulder too big to move, he’d say: “I may not be able to out-muscle this rock, and I probably won’t outlast it, but I’m pretty sure I can outsmart it.”
The same could be said of the legendary Bill Twombley of Wakefield. Like my father, Bill used the hammer and chisel method — wedges, half rounds, feathers — to outsmart rocks. To split a rock with a feather — that’s really something. Bill could. You pound long enough, hard enough, steady enough in the right place on any rock, it’ll give eventually.
Bill used to demonstrate the art of rock-splitting at the New Hampshire Farm Museum in Milton. The audience would gather. Bill would place his wedges and feathers. Then, he says, “Just as the rock is about to split, I tell them, ‘Now you’re going to see something no one has ever seen before.’”
One more strike of the hammer…and there it is. Something no one has ever seen before: the inside of a rock.