Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Back to Zigzag 2012



Please note that the URL for the photo I refer to often has changed to:
Aerial survey of Connecticut 1934 photograph 07599


Twenty years or so later, it always seems to come back to those Zigzag Stone Rows. Of course if you count the very first stone row I wondered about, thinking why someone made an incredible number of “stone walls” in a lightning bolt shape, it would be between forty or fifty years ago.



Eric Sloane was the first source I ever came across that made a simple explanation of Zigzag stone “walls” in New England. He tells us that they were sort of accidently made stone fences, composed of stones from field clearing that were thrown at the base of a wooden “Snake Fence” or “Worm Fence,” a post less early wooden rail fence that was easily constructed. Sloane wrote about that in the 1950’s and everyone who has ever written a stone wall book or is considered an authority on such matters repeats that explanation.

I’ve been looking for a long, long time now for at least one zigzag stone row that fits this description. I haven’t found it yet. It’s something I’ve never seen.


I’ve found a few places where the old rails still sit on stones:


I’ve looked for evidence in old paintings in hope of finding at least one zigzag stone row that fits the standard myth about these “walls.”


The only thing that even comes close is the “piling of field clearing stones up against the already carefully made zigzag stone row.”



I was reading about prescribed burns the other day when I came across a “How to Guide” sort of thing that mentioned establishing a firebreak that’s at least eight feet wide. Then I thought about all the roads I drive along that are bounded by what we’ve been brought up to think of as those famous New England Stone Walls as I commute to work. It struck me then that these roads, former Indian Trails still called by their Native American names, would make pretty good fire breaks.

Dry Land Double Stone Rows

Many of the water features you can see in the old photo show that they too are sometimes bounded by double stone rows. Over the past 20 years, I’ve found that almost all the smaller water features that you can’t easily see are more often than not bounded in stone, more often than not zigzag rows. These would make good fire breaks as well – and as a bonus there would still be a green living canopy shading the water, a resource riparian zone that was perhaps burned on a different schedule.

These zigzag stone rows are said to be rare:

A video of one such zigzag stone row:

I contend that the famous stone walls of New England (and beyond) are older than they are thought to be, their colonial and later origin a myth rather than the truth:



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