The settlers of Planeville pulled a living from the south facing slope by planting apples trees on the bank, floated spruce and fir down the river to Jewet’s mill so the lumber could be sold in town, and scraped gardens into the rocky fields. The placid life between the banks became a circular turn of seasons, as hay was cut to feed cattle who were milked and turned to grass before the hay was cut again. Far away the trials of other people were a distant banging of pots and pans. Protected from the world’s affairs by the ridges, their valley trapped sound like a cedar trunk. The surrounding forest kept the soft voices of the valley people confined, a low murmuring lapping against the river’s banks, affirming what was accepted to be true.
As far as they were concerned, the river valley marked where life began and ended. As their babies were born they washed them in the still water, hoping to slow their blood so they would keep their feet on the trails their parents had made. Generally a passive group, their children played solemn games that were miniature versions of their parents’ lives. Small gardens were scratched into the hillsides where the children poked at weeds, and they threw branches into the water when people passed in boats, the descending stick only marginally faster than the slow current drawing the boats toward the distant town.
The river people lived in a two dimensional world of up and downstream, caught as they were between the thundering falls above them and the ones below. All people should live along a river, and as far as those who ploughed their fields on its banks knew, that self-evident fact informed everything in the world. The river, with its placid ripples and mercurial waves, its obscure depths and pleasant shallows, its bountiful fish and flotsam from upstream, was the lifeblood of the community. No one went as far as to worship it, but the waters of Jordan were a popular theme in the sermons along its banks, and many swore the river water was more wholesome than that from the trickling creek. From Baptist to Methodist to Catholic, from English to French to Maliseet, the river’s animist spirit flavoured their life, and if anyone spoke against it they were shunned and, in at least one case, hanged.
The settlers milled their lumber by pit-sawing wide boards from the spruce and fir they’d cut in thickets, and slowly they built small houses facing the tranquil river. They fingered each seed they’d brought before dropping them into shallow holes in the forest soil, and although they cleared the land only gradually, by the fall harvest they had cut the overhanging trees. When the stretched plants of their gardens were finally able to take advantage of the rich soil and the last of the summer sun, they produced food and seeds for the following year. The barns represented a slow accumulation of poles cut along the edge of the fields. They gradually became structures and although the cows and horses were at first reluctant, the settlers knew they’d enter more willingly when the frost began to silver the grasses. Piling up moose grass by the shore, and then stooking the first grain harvest, the settlers moved as though they were characters in a Dutch painting. Their contentment richly coloured by the backdrop of their carefully banked lives, they moved deliberately through their first winter, the slowly falling huge flakes of snow a sudden intrusion, and then a blanket of comforting acceptance.