When Chris Jerome decided to preserve her land in Ashfield she went to the Franklin Land Trust website and sent an email. “I got a call that afternoon,” she says, and was told, “Whenever we get a chance to protect 100 acres in Ashfield we jump on it.”
Rich Hubbard, FLTs director, visited her soon afterward. He brought a map showing nearby protected properties—The DAR Forest, Chapel Brook, and some parcels conserved by private citizens. “My land plugged in very nicely,” Jerome says.
Growing up in Canadian cities, Jerome’s love of nature began with childhood summer vacations on her uncle’s farm. “I remember standing and watching the wind on a field of oats,” she says. It was just like wind on water. That was one of my first awareneses of the beauty of the earth.”
She and her husband John Jerome visited her brother in Conway and “fell in love with this place,” she says, “In love with this land. I can’t imagine living any place else.”
Standing in a high meadow Jerome remarks, “It’s like being in a park.” From here she can see distant hills, and nearby, her pond and her house. “I love to stand at my window and look,” she says. “There’s such a volume of traffic here.” Deer, turkey, bear, foxes. “And bobolinks, ground-nesting birds.” They have a “tinkling funny song in May. They look like somebody with a tuxedo on backward….One of my concerns, in addition to protecting a wildlife corridor, is managing the fields for bobolinks.” To prevent the young birds from getting “chewed up by mowing machines,” Jerome doesn’t cut hay until July 15th. “Bobolinks were decimated by the beginning of the last century,” she says. Migrating flocks would descend on the huge rice fields in South Carolina, destroying the crops. Known as “rice birds,” they were “sold for food in markets in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, among other cities. This persecution, along with loss of habitat (much less rice is grown on their flyway now) resulted in their decline. Their population has never really recovered,” she says. The grass, now short, sounds dry and crackling underfoot on this sunny November day.
Everywhere in “Jerome Park” there is natural and human history. She ticks off the animals: Mink, otter, muskrats, moose, kingfishers, and a wonderful variety of ducks—hooded and common mergansers, wood ducks, mallards, black ducks. There are herons too, “great blues and small ones,” she says. “Herons look so professorial when they’re walking, as if they have hands behind their backs.” The pond holds “small-mouth bass which the otters love to decimate. They dive in, chase them and climb out and eat them.”
A mixed hardwood forest opens up behind the pond. Now, unshaded by their leafy canopy, streaks of sunlight turn the tapestry of newly fallen leaves to variegated patches of pink, yellow, brown and orange. “The walking trail, about a mile and a third, goes all around this hillside,” Jerome says. “My husband walked the loop with the dogs every day.”
She pauses before a huge boulder, a “wonderful glacial erratic.” And near it, bright green moss that “makes me want to lie down and sleep on it,” Jerome says.
Where the land dips, water has collected, “a nice little ephemeral pond. It comes and goes.” Then, passing a tree, she rests her hand on a very large hole made by a pileated woodpecker. “I have them up here quite a lot,” she says. Their sound is “like a demented chicken.”
Higher on the hillside sits her “Bo Rock, as in the Buddha’s Bo Tree,” she says. “It’s a lovely place to sit. A meditation spot.”
A turn in the trail has now become “Fisher Corner.” She points to a branch where her dog treed a fisher that sat “with its tail swishing. I stood and watched it and it watched me. I was thrilled to see one here. They’re not that common.” But fishers sometimes attack cats. “I have had a cat with a broken jaw,” she says. “I assume it was a fisher. The vet said, ‘Man, you live in a tough neighborhood!’”
Bears, however, “are so shy.” Approaching an old stone wall built perhaps two centuries ago on top of large boulders, she says, “It must block sound.” A bear on the other side of the wall, “hadn’t heard me, and I hadn’t heard him. He saw me and took off.”
Passing a “lovely locust grove,” she explains, ‘Every farmer in the old days used to plant a grove because their wood made great fences.”
The trail becomes straighter and wider, following the remains of a former road between Ashfield and Williamsburg, where people traveled on foot and in carts. Perhaps Salmon Miller, who owned part of this land from 1817 to 1863, walked here with his wife Eliza. “He had been orphaned and bound out to a childless farm couple,” Jerome explains. “He saved his money to buy a 77-acre farm…He gave this land to the town because the town had looked after him. He was dedicated to helping people in trouble. He died during the civil war.”
Jerome was managing editor for New England Monthly and Car and Driver magazines, and has written for several major magazines and newspapers. She is now “helping edit volume three of the town history,” she says.
Her book, An Adirondack Passage, published in 1994, describes a canoe trip she undertook to retrace the 1883 adventure of outdoor and environmental writer George Washington Sears through 266 miles in the central Adirondacks. Jerome followed his trail in a near replica of Sears’ 9-foot boat, hers made of Kevlar instead of wood. In her book, she details the land and people Sears found, the changes now, and the challenges they both faced. She plans to compile the many writings of Sears, also known as Nessmuk (Wood Drake), in another book. “He wrote for Forest and Stream, renamed Field and Stream,” she says. “He used the magazine as a bully pulpit.” Jerome has transcribed Sears’ diaries, and those transcriptions are now in the Adirondack Museum, along with his canoe and her own. Her next book will detail his additional and varied adventures and his advocacy for wilderness travel and preservation.
She can only do that once she’s able to temporarily set aside the editing she does for her livelihood. To her surprise, because of a new state Conservation Land Tax Credit program, putting a CR on her land will now allow her to spend some time on the new book; she will receive a “nice-size check” from the state.
The land trust, in addition to helping Jerome create the CR, has also walked her through the CLTC application process. “Without Emily Boss’s help at FLT I probably wouldn’t have applied,” Jerome says. “When I saw how complex the process was I threw up my hands, but Emily persisted and did most of the heavy lifting…She was great.” When the check from the state arrives, Jerome says she will “buy a couple months of my time” and work on the book she’s dying to create. How fitting—protecting the land she loves in Ashfield will now allow Jerome to write about another who advocated environmental protection, enjoyment and love of nature.
Coming down her hill on the old Williamsburg Road she stops, noting a huge maple tree rising from a rock, “also a Bo rock,” she says, and then adds, “I love these beech trees with leaves that are so pretty that stay on the tree until spring.”