Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stone Embrasures in Carlisle - from Journals ~2003

This is from Great Brook Farm, a state forest open to the public. As you enter the farm driveway and park, get out and walk all the way to the end of the field behind the farm. Go to the northeastern corner of this field and head into the woods and uphill. You will see bedrock ridges and gullies in between.
Walk eastward up a few of these gullies and you will soon come across beautifully constructed stone embrasures, made from the local schist bedrock which splits in flat plates. We met a woman earlier who, as a long time explorer of the woods around Great Brook Farm, had researched these and other structures in the libraries of Carlisle and Concord. It was she that directed me to the location of the embrasures, saying that the only reference she and her husband could find was to Bronson Alcott's "Farm in Lowell" which was part of the "Underground Railway". This part of Carlisle was part of Lowell at the time. She described underground chambers that I did not find, and the embrasures I did find would mostly be appropriate for a person seated but not prone. So I question that this explains these stone embrasures.

More recently I asked a ranger at the park what was known about these embrasures, and was told that they were only eight years old and had been "built by a stone mason teaching an apprentice how to work with stone...the park didn't know about it until after". I am diappointed that these are not older, but given how the structures are blended naturally with their surrounding and in many cases are not examples of any practical stone masonry, it is hard to believe this story at face value. What is taught by balancing a cairn as in the following picture? It turns out that these embrasures are on or near the same ridge that the park acknowledges is part of a Native American summer solstice sunset ceremony. Independently of their origin, these structures are a unique location in the park.
From the top of one ridge down into a gully there is a sequence of embrasures. Some overlook the gully at the top, some seem to define "stations" between the top and the bottom. Note the little cairn of rocks against the skyline in the first.
Notice how the second picture shows an un-enclosed space defined by three propped-up plates of rock, seats perhaps.In the third picture, notice how the stonework blends so naturally in with the bedrock ridge.

One embrasure,shown here from the exit, from the middle and from the entrance, seems entirely defined by a large shaped rock at its center. One notices the entrance and that, walking into it, one is led around the central rock. I imagine making an offering on the way past.
If you find this embrasure, notice the strategic placement of small bits of quartz or light feldspar, shining against the gray schist background. One light fragment locates the entrance (in the foreground of the third picture), one is at the center stone built into the embrasure. Another is a feldspar cobble lying loose in the dead leaves (lower left of the next picture). Take time to look at the shape of the central rock.

I have never found, but have been told about many other features at Great Brook Farm which suggest the sacred. Aside from the stone turtle, Great Brook Farm also has stone seats, indian corn grinding bowls and perhaps underground chambers. You might discover these yourself. Walk here, or in almost any woodland in New England, and with a little sensitivity and curiosity you will find locations that suggest a sacred use of the landscape in the past, and sometimes also in the present.

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