Sunday, September 07, 2008

Burning (and Waking Up) Again

It was William Cronon (who as Wikipedia says is, “A noted environmental historian, Cronon is probably best known as the author of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983), a work based on his doctoral dissertation. Two insights in that book have reshaped the way historians think. The first insight was that the way cultures conceptualize property and ownership is a major factor in affecting economies and ecosystems. The second was that the Indians were active intervenors in and shapers of the ecosystems in which they lived.), writing in Changes in the Land, who gave me the idea of stone rows as fire breaks. He never mentions the possibility of the existence of Native American stone rows being built in order to manage the controlled ground fires he says were instrumental in the creation of the Cultural landscape of Southern New England, but it was the light bulb that flashed on in my thinking about the miles and miles of stonework around me.
I even emailed him once or twice to say to him that I found the stonework that fits so neatly into his management scheme, sort of “an insurance policy written in stone,” but he never got back to me.

I’ve quoted him often, as in this old post, where I wrote, “…to the colonists only the (Native American) women appeared to do legitimate work (in the agricultural field and gathering of wild foods); men idled away their time hunting, fishing, and wantonly burning the woods." Roger Williams may have seen this when he wrote: "(The Indians) hunted the Country over, and for the expedition of their hunting voyages, they burnt over the underwoods, once or twice a year." He was trying to defend Native sovereignty, suggesting that the Royal Grant of New England to the Plymouth Colony was illegal. In reply John Cotton, who considered native people savages and minions of the devil, wrote in reply that "We did not conceive that it is just title to so vast a Continent, to make no other improvement of millions of acres in it, but onely to burn it up for pastime…(”

I think that sometime in the future, I'd like to have a Rock Piles meet-up here in Woodbury, when the leaves fall, when the perspective opens up, to spend a day walking some of these rows.
What do you think???

1 comment :

Norman said...

I've written to Cronon too, but he hasn't responded to my e-mails either. Maybe he's too busy or simply can't be bothered with our inquiries. In any case, his book is a very important study of the period of initial contact between the Colonists and the Indians and the effect each had on the other --and the land they both shared.