Saturday, May 07, 2016

Field Observations

Still a field on the Nonnewaug floodplain, Woodbury CT
   I’ve literally been making field observations for over half a century, mostly in Connecticut but in other places as well. And when I say field observations, I also mean that literally as well, as I have observed many farmland fields succeed into untended woodlands or which have been bulldozed into housing developments or shopping malls and car dealerships with acres of asphalt parking lots during that time.
Former fields, "linked outcrop" in Watertown CT
   And I should qualify that statement a little more, tell you that you I’ve been making field and stream observations, since I’ve wandered not only along the paths that lead from field to field, but I’ve also followed many a stream to see just where they begin or where they empty into, and many times to both beginning and end.
Indigenous Stoneworked Spring,emerging below a present day hayfield in Woodbury CT
   There’s always been stone walls close by to many of those paths and those streams as well, each a unique creation although many of them, like the fields, have sometimes disappeared or have changed shape by being rebuilt into a different shaped construction over that half century plus.

 (Above: My First Zigzag and outcrop that I ever pondered about. Soon to be surrounded by condos, I believe. Below: Common conjectured "explanation" of zigzag stone fences by Eric Sloane, a myth taken for granted to be true...)

   For the first half of a century, I took for granted that everything I read or heard about stone walls was true. I believed that these were farmer’s walls dividing and separating property into homesteads and fields, wood lots and meadows, a wilderness turned into civilization by settlers from another hemisphere only in the last five hundred years, half of a millennium, one hundred times longer than I’ve been alive more or less.
Great Serpent Gateway at homestead of Bethlehem CT's first Puritan minister.
   This second half of a century, I’ve been unlearning those facts about stone walls, looking more closely at stone walls than I ever did before and reading about the civilizations of the Indigenous Peoples of this hemisphere, observing and not just seeing the stone walls that surround me in Connecticut. The timing has been lucky for me since in the last half of my life the wilderness myth has been exposed as just that by many. A good overview of the myth has been illustrated by Charles C. Mann who ends his book 1491 by saying something like that if you want to get a good mental image of the hemisphere before Columbus’ voyage, you have to imagine “the world’s largest garden,” created over a span of over ten thousand years and perhaps even longer. The keystone species that shaped the landscape was the Indigenous Peoples that populated the hemisphere, their chief tool human made fires and, localized to Connecticut and the rest of what has become known as New England, stone fuel breaks to control those fires and connect rather than separate those places enclosed by what we call stone walls. A quarter million miles or more, as an often repeated estimate of the number of New England stone walls, may perhaps instead illustrate the stone borders of one of the world’s largest gardens, the humanized cultural landscape (or domesticated landscape as some term it) of Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast.
Turtle Petroform amid stone mounds (possible graves) and modern trash
   There are many, with far less field experience than I, who insist that New England’s stone walls are Euro-American creations. They write books and give lectures, even teach at Universities, repeating statements that are more myth than science. Me, I’m just making field observations and waiting for the science to catch up to me, pondering yet another stone snake or turtle I happened to notice when the light hit it just right, another remnant of the big Indigenous Garden Connecticut once was, interrupted by the changes of the last few hundred years, but still surrounded by Great Serpents, not only in more remote places but almost everywhere I go, sometimes right in the middle of a town...

Serpent Gateway, Thomaston CT (Spring 2016)

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