Friday, January 15, 2016

Oldest Trails, Older Trails, and Old Trails In Among the New Trails (Part Three – the Row of Stones on the Hillside)

    Where the newest trail meets the older trail is an interesting spot. I first came across it in November of 2014, just as the sun was about to set and snow was about to fall. I had the impression then that these “stone walls” were not Euro-American constructions and this intuition hasn’t changed. The photo below is from that day over one year ago from when I am writing this:
    Observe: the maintained Land Trust trail just below the older trail, bordered by fairly intact stone walls, considering their as yet undetermined age. There is a gap in the lower east/west running rows that lead into two sections of land divided by a third perpendicular segment extending southward beginning on an outcrop of bed rock, an ancient oak tree also of as yet undetermined age on the north side of that stone row. It’s on my “to do list” to measure the oak’s diameter which I estimate to be at least ten feet.
(2014: note the pedastled boulder.)

  Before scrambling up the outcrop and ridge-line, I should mention the end of the stone row to the left has a large boulder at its end that could be interpreted as the head of a snake or Great Serpent, shown here in yet another photo from 2014:
Two views of the north side, back to January 2015:

Looking south (kind of): 
Looking east:
   This row undulates in construction, like the profile of a roller coaster, up the grade of the outcrop ridge, and it is my impression that a resemblance to a rattle snake was intended by Indigenous builders, the composite head (rather than a single boulder) resting on the exposed outcrop…

Consider: "The significance in aboriginal thought of exposed bedrock at a topographical eminence, then, is understood by reference to a set of beliefs held by the Algonquin speaking Cheyenne, but also so widespread throughout the Americas that I doubt any professional ethnographer would find quibble with it. In the native view, expounded at length by the Cheyenne Elders, there exist three worlds: the world below, the domain of the ancestors, the middle world, that is the land of the living, humans and all their relations – the winged ones the four-legged, the creepy crawlies, the swimmers, the two-leggeds – and the world above, the domain of the Powers Above, the Sky People of the starry world. On earth the domain of the world below, begins at bedrock, the womb of mother earth, from which all life comes and to which it returns. It is the responsibility of the living to honor the struggles and sacrifices of the ancestors, by maintaining harmony in the middle world for the benefit of all living beings through ceremony properly conducted, as taught by the ancestors, involving offerings to the powers above. When a human being stands on a high hill, feet on bedrock, head in the sky, with the intention of making ceremony, he or she is therefore at a place of unusual power, connected to all three worlds simultaneously – past, present, and future, the domains of the ancestors, of the living, and of the higher powers." - William Sullivan, PhD.

   Above: just past a damaged segment, most likely from a branch fallen from the tree, the fallen stones still beside the wall, an intact segment rises in a second undulation. Below: looking back down toward the trail at that damaged spot where a large quartz boulder is included on the wall, the bedrock visible below an accumulation of leaves. The stream shown in part one is down in that valley, leading into a Cranberry Swamp (and Cranberry Pond), photos of the low stonework at the edge of the riparian zone can be seen in this post as well as other views of stone walls on this hillside:

Observe: again the cap-like stones (like bumps of bones along the spine of a snake), the shapes of the stones stacked here and the inclusion of more white quartz (and yellow quartzite too) as well as the round stone in the center of the photo and the segment. Consider: this property has been a nature sanctuary since 1913 (the pines may have been planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps sometime after that) and probably pasture land reaching back into the 1700’s when the predominant fencing was wooden rails. Consider: Indigenous history reaches back for 12,000 years in the area with a great emphasis on maintaining the landscape by use of fire – which to my knowledge hasn’t been investigated to any great extent in this locale and remains largely understudied, let alone even considered a possibility in Connecticut and the rest of New England.

    Back in November 2014, I happened upon a blog post that just happened to include photographs of some of these same stone walls. As I was considering the very real possibility that these stone constructions might have come into existence over thousands of years of Native American land stewardship, the blog author waxed romantically about the very short period of time in which intrepid early colonial settlers reshaped a wilderness landscape, building stonewalls as they plowed and cleared fields, resulting in the now “abandoned stone walls (that) are the signatures of rural New England, the “relics of a vanished agricultural civilization,” in a rather myopic view that really has not been proven scientifically. As I pondered (and continue to ponder) how these walls may reflect the land use of Indigenous People, using informed (and imaginative) speculation, I was troubled that the blog author was reinforcing a myth that is really a form of “Ethnic Erasure,” to put it as politely as CT State Archeologist Dr. Brian Jones puts it, misinterpreting stonework that could be considered monuments of the previous Indigenous cultures that inhabited the region long before the 17th century.
     The saving grace of that blog post is its last paragraph that seems to be supportive of protecting CT’s stonewalls: “A 1939 study estimated that there were 240,000 miles of stone walls in New England, which contained more stone than the remaining monuments of the ancient world put together. Unfortunately, Connecticut (unlike Massachusetts and New Hampshire) has no law that protects its stone walls, and they are slowly falling victim to bulldozers or being quarried for new stonework.”

      Chainsaws were whining in that parcel as I took one last photo of that stone wall before moving eastward, observing other stone work and I leave you with that for now:

1 comment:

  1. Lovely photos.

    I wonder if the Algonquian ideas apply to everything. I am never sure if any of the stonework we are looking could pre-date the Algonquian dominance in New England.
    Certainly bedrock is present at (what I think are) burials.