Monday, September 22, 2014

Two on Burning, as in "Burnt Hill"

   “(The) WHITE MAN MAKES A FARM to grow hay to feed his animals. He also grows vegetables for food.
   Indians also feed their animals, only in a different way.
   Around the middle of April, the Indian trapper looks around to find a bare spot, mostly up on the rocks where the snow goes first, where there is still a lot of snow at the bottom of the hill. They set a match to this bare spot and only burn where it is dry and bare, so there’s no danger of a big forest fire because the fire stops when it reaches snow.
   Two years later you would find a big patch of blueberries in amongst the bushes. And you would see all the hungry animals of all kinds feeding on those blueberries; fox, wolves, black bear, partridge, squirrels, chipmunks, and all kinds of other birds. No doubt they were happy to find those berries. It was the trapper that got it for them by setting the fire.
   This is what I mean when I say Indians feed their animals too. The berries were for our own benefit too. As we would preserve them for our winter use. After a few years, young trees would grow on that burnt place. Then the rabbits would get to feed from those young bushes. In later years, the little trees would get bigger. Then the moose and deer get to feed from it. So, you see the setting of these small fires can go a long way in feeding many animals (Madeleine Theriault Ojibwa 1992, 74-75).”
Northern Homelands, Northern Frontier: Linking Culture and Economic Security in Contemporary Livelihoods in Boreal and Cold Temperate Forest Communities in Northern Canada Andrew J. Chapeskie 

Some Ecological Aspects of Northeastern American Indian Agroforestry Practices
     “Early accounts of the pre-settlement landscape are consistent in their descriptions of fertile soils, abundant wildlife, and healthy human populations.  Although reliable information is lacking on the number of people that presettlement agro-ecosystems were capable of supporting, it seems likely that numbers were much higher than generally supposed, especially in the upland areas [42, 71].  The Indians were apparently able to produce high quality food and fuel on lands that now generally produce fuel and fiber of only indifferent quality [23].  The following sections of this paper will show that the Indians' agro-ecosystems were in fact elegantly simple, yet highly productive agroforestry systems which were ideally suited to the ecology of the Northeast…
The term "controlled burning" is used advisedly here, considering the lack of specific information in the early accounts about how the Indians actually managed the fires they set, although Martin [52] cited one account of Indians uprooting the grass around the circumference of an area they intended to burn in order to prevent the fire from running back.  Martin stated that "all other early references to Indian burning are unsubstantial" (i.e., unspecific), in making the point that the Indians were not the "irresponsible incendiaries" that some early colonists [20] and some historians [54] claimed them to be.  Indeed, it is likely that in their thousands of years of experience with fire the Indians would have learned as much as (if not more than) we know today about how meteorological, vegetational, and topographical factors interact to control the course of a fire [93].
If the forest fires were set in November or April, as stated in nearly all the early accounts, the soil would have been moist, since these months typically have increased precipitation in the Northeast [69].  Furthermore, during these months very little or no water is being withdrawn from the soil by transpiring vegetation.  Thus, a fire would have consumed only the dry grass and some or most of the dry leaves.  Intense fires which destroy the organic soil layer or reach the tree crowns would not normally have occurred at these times of year.
     Bodies of water such as streams, swamps, lakes, and rivers would have stopped a fire.  Rocky ridges or hilltops, where grass and leaves would have been sparse, would also probably have stopped most fires in November or April.  For these reasons, most fires probably would have been limited by natural factors to relatively small areas between streams and ridges.  If the Indians used methods such as the one described by Martin, above, the areas burned could have been even smaller.”

      What fire proof material may have been used to construct fuel breaks to better control these Indigenous fires, I wonder, as I search for an aerial image of some Blueberry Farm Fields on a place called Burnt Hill in MA:

The farm crew took a field trip to The Benson Place in Heath to pick 600 lbs of low-bush blueberries for the dining hall!
      “The ridge top where the Benson Place is located was named Burnt Hill by the time of the American Revolution, according to at least one historian. Yet there were no known white settlers living in this Heath neighborhood at that time. 
      Had Native peoples burned fields to encourage berry growth for their own eating and to encourage wildlife?
       How long may this have been taking place?
        Is this farmland inherently suited to blueberry culture, or were there cultural reasons why it was selected by early peoples for this purpose? 
      Knowing that there are nearby standing stones with astro(nomical) significance, was this hill a special place to these ancient peoples as well?
     These and many other questions inform the experiences of those of us who spend time on this piece of land…” – Dave Gott

"Burnt Hill is located in Heath, Massachusetts and is approximately 1,850 feet high.  I climbed it from a road on the west side, following a stone wall to the extensive acreage of blueberry fields at the top.  The standing stones are located in the north at the highest point on an exposed ridge of windswept bedrock..." Dan Boudillion ~

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