Over the past few decades, when I’ve stopped by to visit friends and neighbors in my small town, and I’ve discovered them busy at a variety of tasks. On casual visits, I’ve come across my rural neighbors milking cows, boiling maple sap to make syrup, cutting grass with a scythe, building a barn, burying a waterline, removing stumps with an excavator, pulling stones with a chain and a pickup truck, canning tomatoes, shelling peas with an old wringer washing machine, skidding logs, splitting firewood, butchering a hog, digging a pond, rototilling a garden, grafting apple scions to a wild tree, building a stone chimney, pruning Christmas trees with a machete, and collecting eggs from the henhouse.
If you live in a rural area, and you bring your kids with you on visits like these, your kids will learn a lot.
If you live in a city or the suburbs, on the other hand, you and your kids probably won’t have as many opportunities to watch skilled neighbors engaging in the types of everyday activities that our grandparents took for granted.
Making boards the old-fashioned way
In early May this year, I visited my friend Ben Southworth, a designer and Passive House builder who lives in Lancaster, New Hampshire. When I stopped by, Ben and his cousin Dana were doing something I’ve never seen before: they were cutting red oak logs into lumber at a water-powered sawmill.
The mill was built in 1856. The first family that owned the mill, the Garland family, gave their name to the stream (Garland Brook) that powers the mill. The mill stayed in the Garland family until 1888, when it was sold to William Alden. Eighty-six years later,…