Summers in Plymouth: Clearing the Land and the Burning Bush(es)

Mom and Dad standing in the driveway behind the house
Mom and Dad standing in the driveway behind the house

When I was growing up, my father would once or twice a month make what we called Saturday family announcements, such as “Today we’re going to clear land.” These pronouncements were made with a veiled threat of “or else” and all the imperiousness of his New England stock. If it weren’t for the fact that “the land” was about four acres, we kids might have laughed ourselves silly.

There were five terraces leading up to our house, wild and full of brambles and wild blackberries. The lowest terrace, where our house had once been, based on the foundation walls we found there, was next to the main road, and it and the next one up had ancient apple trees that bore fruit sporadically. However, you put your pants and legs at risk if you wanted to eat one. The third terrace up was half-full of orange daylilies, which bloomed spectacularly in the summer and spread a little each year. The next terrace up contained even thicker bushes, and the terrace after, just before you got to the lawn, was where Dad had established a beachhead for brush burning. My father was determined to clear those terraces, and the fact that we couldn’t do this enormous job in one or two weekends a year meant that the brush never was truly removed; it just grew back to be cleared again. Nevertheless, Dad was undaunted, and we suffered on together in true pioneer form.

We usually cleared the land in late spring/early summer or early fall, when it was warm and humid and the poison ivy was in full bloom. Dad would get a burning permit from the town and start bushwhacking early Saturday morning with his machete. Mom, my brother Jay, and I would find gloves and haul brush to the towering inferno below our lawn. In the early days, Dad wasn’t too good at recognizing poison ivy, and if we were really sweaty, he and I would come down with a good dose of it. Burning poison ivy also proved to be dangerous, since a good dose of the smoke would also cause insufferable itching. For some genetic reason, Jay and Mom were impervious to poison ivy, so I was also insufferably envious.

Despite her lack of sensitivity to that evil weed, Mom found a great way to get out of the bush burning: she would haul brush for about 30 minutes and then retreat to the house, where she told us she had work to do. Dad believed her, and Jay and I would have been only too happy to join her.

After each of these attempts to clear the land and despite the precautions taken – long sleeved shirts and long pants which became soaked with sweat – I never failed to be scratching away at my rash and wearing pink calamine lotion to social functions for the next week or so.




21 thoughts on “Summers in Plymouth: Clearing the Land and the Burning Bush(es)”

  1. oh goodness, so many memories. My grandmother lived in a house set into a hill, so the front garden had some fifty steps up the front door and then the garden behind had about five or six levels up to a lane at the back which my brother and i only discovered when we were about eight or nine, so overgrown was it, Dad half heartedly tried to hack some of it back but never got anywhere but he did reveal the Andersen shelter, an air raid shelter he built with his dad in the war. What a den. Thanks for the jogger, Noelle. And calamine – went all crusty-we used it after sunburn mostly.

  2. Gosh your garden sounds much like mine! I only have 3 layers but they sound just as unruly and unkempt. As nature intended, I believe! What a lovely glimpse back into your childhood!

  3. I enjoyed your childhood memories, prickly and sweaty though they sound. I’m not usually too envious of Mums but in this case I think she had it sussed! 🙂
    ‘Death in a Dacron Sail’! Intriguing title- though I’m not really into thrillers? Just saw it in the sidebar 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your comments! Both my books are cozies – mysteries with little gore, no sex. They have a strong chick lit flavor due to the protagnonist! Try one!

  4. Calamine lotion reminds me of the time I had Chicken-Pox. It was pink in colour and stopped the spots from itching, so I can see why you used it. Thank goodness I’ve never encountered poison ivy. It’s bad enough falling head-first into stingy nettles.

    I love the photo you added to this post. Some great childhood memories even if they do involve lots of work and sweating. Thanks for sharing a great memory Noelle.

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