Gerald and I first met when he was in his early 80s. Although he lived on the family farm, Gerald did not farm, perhaps due to a disability with which he was born. Whenever anyone asked what he had done, Gerald would modestly say that he worked in local industry.
In every way a gentleman, Gerald never married but had several loves. Gerald loved his land, loved trees and loved bluebirds. He spoke of his forebearers clearing the fields and providing room and board to the itinerant wall builders who constructed the extensive and beautiful stone walls that encircle the farm’s fields.
Gerald loved his land enough to forever protect it from subdivision and development. The fields are covered by a conservation easement held by the county’s agricultural preservation program. But the bulk of Gerald’s property is woodland that is protected by conservation easements held by a regional land trust. In addition to his home farm, Gerald protected hundreds of wooded acres he owned on a nearby mountain. Those mountain acres had once been farms, but the farmers had abandoned their land in the early 1900s, after which Gerald acquired the properties.
As a young man Gerald planted trees on some of those mountain acres as well as a number of marginal acres on the home farm. Into his 90s Gerald was still planting trees on the farm, a living example of “He who plants trees loves others beside himself.”
A devout Catholic, Gerald nonetheless read the entire Koran – twice – to better understand another of the world’s major religions.
Anyone driving past Gerald’s farm couldn’t help notice the white-painted birdboxes along the edges of the fields. A walk around the property would reveal even more boxes, places for Gerald’s favorites, eastern bluebirds, to raise their young. But, not just bluebirds used Gerald’s handcrafted boxes; tree swallows, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, flying squirrels and white-footed mice made use of the boxes as well.
Even when he was 90 Gerald heated his house with wood that he cut and split himself and burned in a stove that he had fabricated and welded himself. Since he truly loved trees, Gerald didn’t cut live trees, instead he salvaged trees that were already dead or had blown down. Once when he was in his late 80s I stopped to see him and got no answer to my knock at the door. Since he knew I was coming, when he didn’t answer I became concerned. And then, from beyond the shop behind the house came the sound of a motor starting up. There was Gerald splitting firewood with a hydraulic wood splitter he had constructed years before.
It was in the shop behind the house where Gerald built the birdboxes and crafted home furnishings for his extended family, friends and his own home.
Anyone who knew Gerald liked and admired him – I’m a lucky guy to have met him and to have known this special person. Gerald is gone now, but he lives on in the memories of those of us who knew him and in the hundreds of acres he cared for so deeply.