Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Following Medicine Trails

When I was just a kid in the early 1960’s it all started, this business that turned into what I now think of as following Medicine Trails. Trails of Great Mystery, you could say, Trails of Great Manitou, a word that the English language doesn’t come close to ever really defining. I was always following something or other - following the brook that ran through my parents yard, following trails to see where they went, following what every source was telling me were “stone walls,” remnants of our agricultural past, stone fences built to mark property lines and farmer’s fields, stones tossed out of plowed fields and roads and cart paths, even zigzag stone rows that were remnants of old wooden post-less rail Snake Fences…

In the early 1990’s, I began to question all that I thought I knew about “stone walls,” the great grandson of a man who built some well known and quite impressive stone walls on the grounds of a wealthy family’s estate, much like the stone walls in front of his partially stone farm house, not too far from where my family now lives. My eyes were showing me something different than what all these writers had told me, so what was I going to believe: the expert opinions or my own eyes? I’d wandered into what was most likely an Indian Burial Grounds, where there once existed many stone mounds that marked graves before they were identified as such by a local historian in around the 1840’s and then soon after were robbed for the grave goods - and bones.

That probable Burial Ground had a ring of stones around it, some of it visible as a serpentine row of stones, a later stone fence over it in one place, right along a property line of various sorts of wire fencing rusting away. I followed along the side of that serpentine row which turned into a zigzag stone row that joined more stone rows and that’s how it all started. I ended up looking at a flat topped boulder that had a large cobble on it. It looked like a bear’s head. It rocked when I touched it. It had a smaller stone beside it, pits worn into it by a drill type fire starter, a concave edge to it that a clam shell fit up against nicely. The pecked and polished bear’s head had a depression on the top of it and the clam shell fit perfectly into it. A little reading led me to the conclusion that it was a Tobacco Offering (or Tobacco Sacrifice) Stone. Nearby by was a similar Deer Stone. Not long after, at the junction of two stone rows, I came across a large four foot long boulder, humanly enhanced to represent a box turtle shell or carapace with a cobble placed before it as the head of the turtle, that on a flat stone that resembled the lower shell or plastron.

I used to call this box turtle a composite sculpture, but it is a petroform, an artistic arraignment of stones that resemble, among other things, animals. I had heard a Native American story teller recite the Schaghticoke version of the Creation Story not long before; the box turtle figured highly in this story, helped along by a beaver who left it’s paw prints on the shell when it crawled up on top of Grandfather Turtle to place some mud on the shell, creating the first land, the first tree, and the first people.

I could see the claw marks on this petroform, the sunburst sort of pattern that Native People attributed to the Creation Story, that all box turtles ever since carry.

I like to say that, even though I wasn’t really sleeping on that summer day in 1996, that’s when I woke up on Turtle Island…

The Indian Look

Today (Winter 2012),I think I recognize cultural motifs of Native Americans in these stone rows most people think of as “stone walls.” I think there’s more of these Indian stone rows built over thousands of years than the Euro-American stone fences of the last five hundred years (at the most). I don’t understand everything about these stone rows and the “stone heaps” and the petroforms alongside them (or enclosed by them), but at least I see them for what they are, ancient constructions of a people who say they have always lived here…

I’ve met other people who recognize the same thing, what I call “The Indian Look,” - met them in person or communicate with them electronically via this old wood-burning computer of mine. This easy access to communication and research has been made even easier with the development of affordable digital photography.

Northern California Connection

Years ago, I read about the Yurok, Karok and other related People. These People on the other side of Turtle Island spoke a language related to the Algonquin Language and all its many dialects on this side of the continent. Just two years ago I came across some really beautiful photography of the Mysterious Rock Walls in Northern California. The owner of the website calls them “Rock Lines,” sometimes even “Mini-Lines.”

A contributor to this website is Alyssa Alexandria. We’ve been conversing electronically for not even two weeks. Perhaps you’ve read case studies of twins who were separated at an early age by adoption or other circumstances, who when they reunite many years later find that they both similar interests and occupations. Perhaps they both love the Beatles or Elvis. Perhaps they have the same mental illness and share similar delusions. Perhaps they both live in houses where doors open and close by themselves. Perhaps they have Indian made stone mounds in their yards and stone rows with that Indian Look leading away from their houses, stone rows linked to other stone rows that take them to some very interesting and beautiful places. That’s sort of been, to me, the closest way to describe how this feels.

Some of Alyssa’s photography:

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