Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The 100-Year Flood

The 100-year Flood:
It was a heavy localized thunderstorm. The old timers said it was worse than the “Flood of ’55.”

I’d been working on the drainage problems on the backside of my house. I’d made a zigzag trench about ten feet from my back door, on the other side of the original well. I had a serpentine sort of swale along my flower gardens above that. Water would pour down from the highway above my house, down the upper driveway by the highway, then through the yard, and into my basement during storms (or ice melt) and I was trying to fix that. The 100-year flood storm, flowing into those depressions, actually removed soil in the center of the channel, the shape sort of forcing all the power to the middle rather than the sides.
I remember going out the backdoor to remove some debris in the zigzag and getting poked in the eye by the stalk of a plant but still being amazed that the channel was being dug out by water power for me - instead of by shovel and “me power.”
Totally soaked in seconds, I went from back door to side door to stand on the porch to watch the water flow down the side of the house and down my lower driveway to the street – it was like a good sized brook flowing through the yard. I could hear the thunder up in Bethlehem to the north where the center of the storm cell was.
The storm moved off, but in a short time I heard the strangest kind of roaring in the distance. Since it sounded like it was coming from upstream on the river, I went to my front door where I had a clearer view of the river; I can see one of the weirs the water company maintains to fill a reservoir from there across a field on the other side of the road.
The roar got louder as a wall of brown water suddenly appeared on the distant river. In minutes the floodplain turned from fields to a lake about a half-mile wide. On my side of the floodplain, the water at it’s highest flowed along what appears to be an ancient glacial lakeshore. Near the linear row that I’ve been writing about with this road re-alignment, at the low end of it, the water washed clear a row of boulders, possibly natural, perhaps not.

Somewhere I’ve got some video footage of the flooding that day and a few days after as well.

I’ve written about a stream that flows around the Burial Grounds. This big flood cleared a lot of the ancient zigzag above the first terrace “island” that is the Burial Grounds - and the serpentine rows at the low end. The branch that had been diverted to flow to the field and the river got blocked by trees, filled in with rocks and dirt. It moved back to its original location, the lower or western edge of the Burial Grounds. The serpentine row of stones on the edge of the BG was washed clear of leaves and debris, as well as a second row on the field side of this stream, a row I didn’t realize even existed.
At various places down stream, I could see remnants of the stone rows that once bordered both sides of the riparian zone of this stream, along the edge of what I think of as the “Village.” All my suspected habitation sites stayed above water.

There were many other places that the rows minimized flooding. Along one of the largest tributaries, zigzag rows on both banks of the river prevented flooding, but at a bridge that disturbed the rows and their function, the water washed away the bridge and scoured out the river almost 20 feet deep, taking away the zigzag rows downstream of the former bridge for hundreds of feet. I regret that I never took photos of those rows before the flood, back in the days before I had a digital camera. The same construction company that is working in front of my house as I write rebuilt the bridge - also destroyed those zigzag rows above the bridge site in the process, used the stone in their rebuilding efforts. I should walk up in there to see what remains upstream…

So there is a ‘hydraulic” (spell check prompts me to spell, even though I wanted to write “hydrolic”) or water management aspect to the stone rows too (Mavor and Dix mention this in “Manitou, I believe, spelling it “Hydrology”).

A drought followed the flood. I could walk streambeds and see that as the flood subsided it formed a sort of natural zigzag pattern of stones in some places. I also went up to a beaver dam that I know of, that I found by following zigzag rows, to find the flood had knocked it out – and the rows below it for quite a distance. The beavers began rebuilding it very quickly – by building a series of zigzag walls of sticks, sod, mud, and stones up from the streambed. This may be a glimpse into a similar observation made by Indigenous Peoples in the past, a bit of Traditional Ecological Knowledge inspired by the "Helping Beaver," who also participates in many versions of the Turtle Island Creation Story.

So the 100-year flood taught me a thing or two about zigzag rows. The natural processes of flooding (and beavers) could have inspired the Native American building of zigzag rows. The rows could focus the power of the water to the center of the streams, keeping them fairly clear and “in place,” protecting burials and habitation sites. A scheduled occasional burn could selectively be used to manage the land inside and outside the borders of the stone rows.

And I should add that shortly after, while making a antique furniture house call in North Salem NY, very near the famous perched boulder, I took a lunch break along the little river that flows by that big stone, just a little south of it. I sat on a zigzag row of stones on one bank, looking across the water at another zigzag row on the other bank…

The photo above is not mine but is from an interesting article:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cooper Site

"Some time between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, a group of Paleoindian hunters gathered in the late summer or early fall in the Beaver River floodplain in Harper County...They prepared a red ochre paint from local stone rich in the blood-red mineral, iron. They then painted a powerful symbol on the bison skull and placed it at the head of the gully where it could draw another herd of bison up to the waiting hunters. The plan and the ritual succeeded. As many as 30-35 bison were killed...

That skull, the oldest painted object ever found in North America, is now on exhibit at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History."

And what was that symbol?

A Zigzag.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Stone Pile and a View Looking North

Past the now obliterated zigzag rows, past the glacial lakeshore, past the trees in the distance (between the machines on the right), the stone fishweir site continues to erode away...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An Old Drawing

I was looking for something else when I found an old drawing of mine, no date on it. It must be from before the big 100 year flood (1994?) because I only have a single serpentine row of stones at the border between the Burial Grounds and the agricultural (or is it Horticultural?) fields.

That big flood washed clear some stonework here and there as well as destroying much stonework that was disturbed by bridges and roads etc. At the Burial Grounds, the flooding revealed another row of stones that must have originally bordered the riparian zone of the stream. And it washed clean a few more features - like the original stream (later "ditched" to the main river and another modern construction) that flowed from a certain spot I can't name because it's too much of a big giveaway about where this is and the stream that was diverted to flow around the burial grounds and then meet up again with itself, as shown in blue marker in this next scan...
That red circle is the Calendar by the way...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Funny How It's All Connected

Way back at the beginning of this blog, I mentioned Trudy Lamb Richmond and Enduring Traditions, writing about how history is recorded, often from a biased perspective. On page 110 of her section of the book, she mentions ancestors named Cotsure (Cogswell). The next page has a photo of Will and Sarah Mauwee Cotsure (Cogswell) in 1865. I've written about one of the Mauwees, the founder of Schaghticoke.

That name Cotsure has gone through some transformations and has been recored with many different spellings. Here's one from Orcutt's History that mentions a fence that belongs to "Cocksure," a spelling of the name that is uncomplimentary to say the least.

But here's a record of a Native American fence, built by the ancestor of a Schaghticoke Elder that I know.

The name later transformed to the one found on this deed, "Cotsure":

Hmm...this is not as clear as I had hoped.

It's the third one down...

But anyway, he had a fence in the years around 1700...
Is this better? Yes it is!
That John Minor who witnessed the deed was probaly the person who began building the house my family lives in...

Some Quartz and Quartzite

Some more power lines pix with quartz for all you "quartz fans."

Just a rock on the eroded trail?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On the ATV Obstacle Course

This partial row ends at perhaps a rock pile with an interesting big stone at the end of it that's waitng for me to find my compass. I'm wondering about what it might be while other people seem to enjoy driving over it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Under the Power Lines

First you have to look over at Rock Piles ( and think about how two guys, hundreds of miles apart, just both happened to be under some power lines, looking for stone constructions that might be Native American in origin.And actually finding them...

Well I walked up to a place under the power lines, up near that Mound Swamp I was writing about just this past October ( ). I wrote, "The zigzag rows are disturbed by the road but they continue to the south, concealed by brush. And if I did follow them in the past, I don't remember well enough to tell you where they lead."

Yesterday just happened to be the day that I actually followed the first stone row I came to until it ended, followed the next row I came to after that one fizzled out, eventually ended up following a couple more - and then finally ended up at the spot where I was talking about when I confessed I didn't remember where the row led.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Old Friend

Digital pix of an old friend who looks pretty safe, hidden along a now unused trail. He's still balanced on the big stone, still rocks when you touch him, and still has that same expression on his face.
The Old Bear was the first animal form - but perhaps not the first"spirit form" - I realised I was seeing that was Native American made. Those zigzag rows that first got my attention and led me to this stone construction were the first. Those zigzags represent lightening and water, as well as "mystery" or, really, "Manitou."

The old story:

Gladys Tantaquidgeon in "Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians (1972,1995)" (pg. 60):
"Wild animals, as pointed out by F.G. Speck (1931: 28-29), are in general considered to exist in clan relationship with humans. The latter are said to be "kings among animals." Clean pure animals of the forest are referred to in terms of human relationship and their spirits must be propitiated before they can be sought for food. If the supernaturals are appeased through sacrifices, the animals will allow themselves to be taken, but if the proper ceremonies are not carried out, they can never be approached by humans. Therefore, a hunter is obliged to pray and sacrifice tobacco before starting on the hunt... The Delaware consider the bear and deer to be the greatest of all animals. The bear is also called "Our Grandfather." Both animals are considered closely akin to the Indian, but the Delaware believe that the bear has the most human-like traits..."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Listening to the Sound of Distant Thunder

Angry Voice of the Great Serpent

I’m listening to the sound of thunder in the distance. I’m hoping we will get a heavy rain and maybe some pottery or an arrowhead will appear out along where the zigzag row of stones used to be.

Maybe near some of the remnants that remain, where the humus layer is gone now, something will appear. I picked up a few stones, possibly something, like a shaft abrader or two, a hammer stone. Nothing definitely humanly formed so far…

It’s been a week of chain saw and trucks, bulldozers and shovels, diesel fumes in the air, the sound of earth being moved.

With the brush cleared, where zigzag row meets linear, there's a big stone I never noticed before. It seems to me, I've seen that face before, perhaps a sad old turtle looking down toward the river,sighting along that linear row that's now half gone, a tear flowing down the hill.
I know just how he feels...

I'm listening to the sound of distant thunder - perhaps it will rain if I take a little walk over there…

Monday, June 04, 2007

Protecting Stone walls

Harwinton Hails Its Stone Walls
By: Amy Mulvihill

HARWINTON-By a voice vote at the annual town meeting Tuesday, residents approved the so-called stone wall ordinance. Championed by selectmen and preservation-minded residents, the ordinance is meant to provide greater protection for stone walls bordering town roads, and it will implement a permit requirement for residents wishing to alter or remove such a stone wall on their property…

“I often meet with community groups, heritage trusts, town officials and others seeking advice about protecting stone walls. In the past, I suggested that they sort their walls into categories and develop a plan for each type: Abandoned walls should be left as archaeology and woodland habitat; heritage walls should be inventoried and maintained; and recent and rebuilt walls should use original stone in a manner that respects local tradition. Since Harwinton passed its law, however, I have simply advised town leaders to review this trend-setting ordinance and adapt it for local use.” Robert Thorson

ORDINANCE # 2004-10-12 B
A. It is the intent of this ordinance to protect one of the Town’s important
cultural resources, historic stone walls, saving one of the beautiful
features of the Town for the people of tomorrow and preserving the
rural character of the Town. It is not the intent of this ordinance to
deprive a citizen use of their property, detract from that property’s
value or cause financial hardship.
B. Provisions of this ordinance will apply to stone walls flanking or
abutting Town and State roads and public ways within the Town and
provide a working process to identify and provide for the protection
and preservation of the Town’s stone walls of historic, aesthetic and
cultural merit.
For the purpose of this ordinance, the following definition shall apply
unless the context clearly indicates or requires a different meaning.
HISTORIC STONE WALL – A vertical structure of aligned natural stone,
originally constructed in the 17 th , 18th, 19thand 20th centuries, to designate
a property boundary between farmsteads or to segregate agricultural activities within a single farmstead.

Friday, June 01, 2007

"The Fence the Indians Made"

Somehow or other, looking for something else entirely, I got to the Google Books digital copy of

"A History of the Old Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut" By Samuel Orcutt, published in 1886 by the Press of Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor]
Original from Harvard University
Digitized Sep 6, 2006

There's lots of interesting stuff, but "the fence the Indians made" just sort of jumped out at me, as the machinery moves in on the stone wall "of no great significance..."