We do love stone walls in New England. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote Robert Frost, particularly the ones that are constructed by hand, with no mortar . . . “dry walls,” works of art. I have a dry stone wall, one that my wife and I never knew existed when we bought a property near New Bedford years ago. You couldn’t see the wall, it was so overgrown by decades of trumpet vine and bittersweet, covering the stones completely.
We had the bittersweet and the trumpet vine cut out one spring. And there was the wall. Our community is 146 years old, lots of history. General Philip Sheridan, a commander of Union forces in the Civil War, was one of the earliest settlers. He used to be taken up from Washington by battleship, and rowed ashore. Louisa May Alcott lived here. Scott Fitzgerald’s only child, Scottie, lived here. Wild Bill Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA) in World War II, had a house here. He recruited young men from our community, including the father of the two brothers who first brought me here. He was recruited by Donovan to the OSS and parachuted behind enemy lines into Sicily when the allies were preparing to invade and move up the boot of Italy. I look at the stone wall and think of all the history in the this small community that goes back to 1872. Many people I know are suckers for history. More than a few friends visit battlegrounds, here and abroad: Lexington and Concord, Antietam and Gettysburg, the Marne, Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima, Vietnam.
My neighborhood was one of the first Southern New England settlements embroiled in what became known as King Philip’s War, of 1675 and 1676, which pitted the Wampanoag, an offshoot of the Alongquin tribes of native Americans, against English colonists. In New England, stone walls figured in all of this, whether it was in Lexington and Concord or around Buzzards Bay.
But my summer thoughts go beyond battles, not just to American resilience, which I still think we possess in full measure, despite the rancor around us. But to things eternal in nature, which can give us both joy and hope, and something we should care more about . . . beauty in what surrounds us.
When the choking vines were cut out, wonder of wonders, in the middle of the wall was a rose bush, fully in bloom, that perhaps had been covered for more than 70 years. My family adopted the rose bush as if it were a cat or a dog in an animal shelter. It blooms every year in the middle of July, and the family gathers, no matter how far away they live, to witness its growth and color, as if the bush is a totem, a good luck charm.
The roses are small, feisty battlers, popping out of the stones. One of my kids said, “It’s like going to Stonehenge in July. Where did these shapes come from, the Druids? What did it mean to the people who assembled them? Who planted these roses?” They have never been pruned. They have never been fed except by Mother Nature, salt air, rain, the sun, the smiles of the moon. For my family, the roses have represented feistiness, resilience, optimism.
They are called Fairy Roses, perfect for the magical way they appeared. They are small and delicate, looking like the boutonnieres given to boys for their lapels at junior proms. The Fairies are mixed colors, red and pink, and they seem to get along with each other just fine. They have survived hurricanes and torrid heat waves and the biting wind that comes off the winter bay with temperatures that can kill if you’re out alone like the roses, with no one to cover you with blankets or tell you that everything is all right.
My family still arrives in the summers. They all seem to gather to time the appearance of “The Fairy” on our wall. Introduced to America in the 1930s, the roses may have been planted then, and not uncovered in our wall until the early 1980s. We marvel at their will to live and thrive the way all immigrants can thrive, if we give them a chance. Summer is the time in our year to step back and ponder. And smell the immigrant roses.John D. Spooner is an investment advisor and author. His latest book is “No One Ever Told Us That.” He lives in Boston.