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Going back to the Old Ways

Stone walls tell stories. Their gray script pencils a quiet history across the New England landscape, a history concerned not with names and dates but with how things were done. They’re the perfect symbol for Old Ways Days, coming next weekend to the time-forgotten Canterbury farm of Dave and Anne Emerson.

“You can learn a lot about a place by its stone walls,” said Dave Emerson, who will lead a stone wall walk with master stone wall builder Kevin Fife. “We have about every type of stone wall there is on this property.”

The lower, more utilitarian walls usually served to delineate property, neatly separating neighbor from neighbor. Those with rails around the top usually cordoned off cattle and other livestock. “Tossed walls” were hurriedly constructed from the stones turned up during tilling and could often be found at the back of a property. In contrast, the walls at the front of a property were often works of art, erected primarily for aesthetic purposes. And then there were the double stone walls built to hold – are you ready for this? More stones.

Fife, who several years ago conducted stone wall talks at the Smithsonian Festival in Washington, D.C., (tell your kids you’re taking them to see a rock star), will explain the many functions of these New England fixtures as he and Emerson lead visitors on a ramble through the fields and trails on the farm.

“We have trails all along the property. It’s a really neat area because it’s contiguously connected to land that’s under easement and the Shaker land, so you can hike and mountain bike all over,” said Emerson, who grew up on the 25-acre farm, originally owned by an 18th-century ship carpenter.

Accompanying guests on the hike – held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, and Sunday, Oct. 20 – will be some rather unusual four-footed friends: a group of very large, very friendly pack goats from Healthy Herds farm.

“These are probably the biggest goats you’ve ever seen,” Emerson said.

In fact, you’re liable to see a lot of things you’ve never seen at Old Ways Days. Ever heard of a bean winnower? A portable capstan? A spoke shave? Well, you’ll find them all here, and get a chance to try them out too. There will also be old steam engines, a lathe and an antique planer.

And what would any old-timey event be without a blacksmith? Zach Archambault, who last year left a career in medical device engineering to pursue blacksmithing full-time, will be on hand to demonstrate blacksmithing techniques.

Adding to the days-gone-by mood, there will be plenty of toe-tapping tunes. The Homefolks will perform on Saturday at noon, and the a Fiddling Thomsons, an award-winning father-son duo, will break out their banjos, accordions, whistles and, of course, fiddles.

“We try to pull together a good bunch of stuff,” said Emerson, who is busy whipping up food for the shindig too.

Old Ways Traditions is located at 418 Shaker Road, Canterbury. For information, call 783-4403 or visit oldwaystraditions.net.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when Old Ways Days will take place. It is next weekend.

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