Marshmallow Cliff, Scotch Rock, and the Ice Palace: Landowners share their stories about places special to them

Julie Parker on Scotch Rock

Deep in Granville’s Northfield Mountains sits a granite boulder, a glacial erratic deposited far from its origin on the Canadian Shield at the end of Vermont’s last ice age. Over millennia, the barren postglacial landscape around this house-sized rock became tundra and then hardwood forest; maples and oaks cast their shade on it as the climate warmed. Mastodons, caribou, and Vermont’s first humans passed by this rock, birds of prey perched on it, lichens and ferns filled in its crevices. Eventually settlers divided the land, establishing a property boundary right by the rock. In the 1940s, two teachers bought the farm just over the property line. In love with this boulder, they persuaded their lumberman neighbor to trade it for a bottle of Scotch. Boundary lines were adjusted so a tiny cutout surrounded what locals now call Scotch Rock. 

Such storied places occur across Vermont. One of the joys of working at VLT is that we get let in on the secrets of these special spots. In the words of my co-worker Liza Walker, “we get to know landowners’ stories as we get to know their land with them in the process of conservation.”

On Thacher and Olivia Hurd’s ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ in Starksboro, four generations have mapped their stories on the rugged hills surrounding the historic farmstead. Thacher and Olivia’s children grew to love climbing the Marshmallow Cliffs, so named because one parent always crept ahead to create ‘marshmallow trees’ by spearing the candy on cliff plants, while the other motivated the young explorers with tales of delicious flora ahead.

They dubbed a gently sloping, boulder-studded pocket tucked below a wooded summit The Cathedral, because its stately trees create an open, high-ceilinged ‘room’ in the woods. Mineral nutrients wash in to this small hollow, creating rich soils that support robust tree growth, resulting in the arboreal pillars that give the space its sanctuary-like feel. Thacher, an author and illustrator who has occasionally featured the Peaceable Kingdom in his books, muses that “it does become sort of a mythical landscape in one’s imagination…names lend an aura to the land, a sense of timelessness and belonging.” Names personify these places, which take on a life of their own, connecting people with the land across generations. 

The Goddess Pools and the Ice Palace populate a Vershire landowner’s mental map. Her often solitary explorations lead to favorite landmarks, each of which shines in its own season. The Ice Palace, merely a damp ledge in the summer, transforms each winter into a cave with a frozen, translucent walls. The Goddess Pools were named with a group of friends, imagining ethereal paintings of Greek mythology as they bathed on a summer’s day. These wooded hills form a spiritual retreat, with countless unnamed spots also holding special resonance. The landowner’s phone home screen even displays a photo of a tiny patch of wildflowers that she meticulously tends, a pocket connection to her land.

We celebrate these and other stories that populate the land. Soon, Scotch Rock will be part of Peter and Julie Parker’s 555-acre forestland conservation project. No one knows what this rocky landscape denizen will witness in the millennia to come, but VLT is proud to be a part of its story.

This story appeared in our Spring 2017 Newsletter. Story by Allaire Diamond, photo of Scotch Rock courtesy of Julie and Peter Parker.

Topic: forestnature