Friday, December 04, 2015

Arguing with My Hero

     I wasn’t always the Crazy Turtle Man (in the hat), trying to tell the unbelievers (seemingly ranting) that New England’s iconic stone walls may be far older than we collectively are led to believe, remnants of an Indigenous Sacred Cultural Anthropogenic Landscape - a Ceremonial Stone Landscape - created sometime during that other 97% of the total time that humans were living in the region. I used to be a young boy, believe it or not, following farm paths behind my mom’s house where I could see ruins that were the heritage of our agrarian past (as I was led to believe), such as abandoned farm junk and cars, the occasional lonesome stone foundation or chimney, one even with an almost intact privy beside it. Even back then I would follow the stone walls’ courses to see where they would go, sometimes leading up to (and sometimes crossing) a big bedrock outcrop or down into a wet land swamp.
(Above: My First Zigzag and outcrop that I ever pondered about. Soon to be surrounded by condos, I believe.)

   More often than not, I could walk the edge of those swamps without getting my feet wet on stones that ringed the swamp, old zigzag stone rows that Eric Sloane in Our Vanishing Landscape, published in 1955 (the year before I was born), let me know were "a small mystery," accidental constructions he described as unintentional “Chimeras” (mythical fire-breathing beasts that resemble a lion - but with a goat's head in the middle of its back, and a tail that ends in a snake's head) winding across the land in “a crazy manner.” What a coincidence that he calls the wooden structures Virginia Snake Fences, mentioned a beast that has a snake head head at the end of a tail in a colorful turn of phrase...

   Yes, Eric Sloane is still a hero to me – about the subjects he knew well, such as those ancient tools we wonder about when we encounter them hanging up in the exposed rafters or on the walls of New England restaurants – inland restaurants anyway, away from the mounted fish taxidermy, lobster traps and assorted boat junk you find along the coastline. I learned to assign approximate dates to old furniture and old houses reading and looking at illustrations of saw marks and nail heads. Eric Sloane, often plagiarized in stone wall books and sometimes even referenced, also knew well and documented the art of wooden fence-making in what became known as the United States of America as well as the later stone fences, but he admitted somewhere in one of his books that he knew little about “Indians,” by which he meant the earlier Indigenous Cultures that lived on the very same landscapes he loved, going back to the times when the glaciers melted. Back then there were very few people who would have taken into consideration that there may have been visible stone remnants of those earlier civilizations up here in the North East, other than arrowheads and spearheads, mortar stones and pestles, and all those other stone implements that artifact collectors love.
(Chicken and Egg Situation: I'd argue with Eric about the "stones added" under the cross and rail fence. I suspect that most of the stones were already there when the fence rails were added to make it comply with the early New England fence laws that defined what was and was not considered improved property. I'd be looking for turtles and bears, "god-stones" and human-like effigies - zoomorphic and anthropomorphic inclusions - placed just so rather than just tossed or dumped. I'd be looking to see patterns of stacking found in other forms of Indigenous Artwork, as well as courses that could be the bodies of entwined snakes that begin at snake-head like stones.)

    I actually began to doubt and criticize my hero (and every stone wall expert who repeats or re-words what Sloane said) because of those zigzag stone walls. To date I’ve never found one that fits that description of how and why he deduced those sorts of fences were made. The more I look at details of how they are actually constructed, the more I continue to be surprised that no one (including myself sometimes) has ever noticed certain things before such as the large triangular stones at certain points of these “fences” and the resemblance they have to a snake’s head, the other effigy-like stones carefully placed in these rows, the artwork aspect of something that is supposed to be just a mess of tossed stones up against long gone rotted wooden rails.
   It was from the features in the zigzag rows that I learned to recognize those same features in other "linear" or straight line sorts of stone rows or mounds of stones as well. It is an ongoing learning process and there is some back and forth that recognizes similarities in all kinds of Indigenous Artwork as well as the stories, legends and myths of neighboring (and sometimes distant) Indigenous Cultures. It was neither Turtle nor Snake that was my original clue to the possibility that stone effigies even could still be found on these ancient landscapes, found by following the zigzag stone rows that bordered a riparian zone of a stream:
(Above: my first effigy)

(Above: small serpent effigy "head stone" in a zigzag stone row, below: large boulder snake-head effigy at a "gate" into a prominent first minister's property, now a land trust preserve.)

   I should talk; I’m really only beginning to grasp the great variety in all the stone work that may be Indigenous in origin. I constantly come back to those zigzags, learn a little more each time I look, surprise myself at what I’ve missed in the past that seems so obvious to me now…
   So don’t get me wrong: I always loved Eric Sloane’s artwork and always will. So does my mom. So do many other people who love the way the New England landscape looks, beautiful in every season. I wish I could be half the realistic artist he was.
    I love the way he explained things using simplified and easily understandable drawings. I should take a hint from my hero, get out the pencil and pens, start drawing and stop just arguing with him in my imagination, reverse the sequence of the accepted wisdom…

    I've been to so many places, visited a wonderland most people don't notice or deny exists, following those zigzag stone rows that it would require hours and hours to tell you about them, require days and days to take you to them.
  Click here and you will start to see what I mean:

Chimera - noun, (plural chimeras.)
1.        (often initial capital letter) a mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail.
2.        any similarly grotesque monster having disparate parts, especially as depicted in decorative art.
3.        a horrible or unreal creature of the imagination; a vain or idle fancy: He is far different from the chimera your fears have made of him.
4.        Genetics. an organism composed of two or more genetically distinct tissues, as an organism that is partly male and partly female, or an artificially produced individual having tissues of several species.

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