Monday, February 25, 2013

Hubbard's Black Birch Hill - Concord, MA

From Reader J. Brown, responding to a question:
The location comes with story, so here goes.
I have walked by, and around the base of E. Hubbard's Black Birch Hill countless times in my life.  In the past few years I have always had a strange feeling walking up the narrowed path to the west of the hill as it borders the newly created beaver "swamp."  Something about the dying trees and the light flooding in to illuminate the bank of the hill close to my right with the dark woods above was always intriguing.
Earlier this winter I found myself at that spot on a dark day just as a snow squall was passing by.  In a curious state I ventured east up the hill and was struck by the open nature of the woods, feeling like I could detect signs of an old road, or cart path.  I also noted the old pines and other trees damaged by Hurricane Sandy.  The wind was starting to swirl and howl at that point as it bent the tree tops while cresting over the hill.  I made my way down until I hit the stone wall bordering the swamp, turned west through a thicket of White Pine saplings and rejoined the trail there.
That was somewhat unremarkable, but it did interest me to search on-line for any of the history pertaining to Hubbard's Hill.  Recently, I have referred to Steve Ell's map of the woods for place names and general locations. That led me to the Rockpiles blog and a walk you took with Walter Brain in 2009 to a stone chamber located somewhere in that area [see here - PWAX].  I related that story to my good friend and walking companion Julie, and we agreed to go out the next day to try and find this intriguing site.
We hiked out and turned up the hill at the same point I had done earlier.  Julie led the way and wanted to see the top of the hill, when I had previously veered left, never getting that high.  At the summit she immediately pointed out the perfect four foot circle of rocks reminiscent of one left from an old camp fire.  The center was filled with pine needles and the rocks were half buried, so it clearly hadn't been used recently by kids or others.  We thought that was interesting and then turned down the hill walking more or less north.  About half way down to the stone wall, at the base of the hill, I began to see several mounds of gravel  close by.  I pointed these out then looked around detecting many more in the slope of woods surrounding us.  They were clearly elongated piles of sand and gravel dug up from the surrounding material as they each had a "moat" where the earth had been excavated.  Some I noticed had a several larger rocks on top.  We thought these to be very curious and warrant some further investigation, but we were there to find the stone chamber which I surmised to be along the stone wall I had walked along previously.  That was the case; we came upon it quickly when we turned east for a couple hundred feet.
I wrote above that I went back yesterday to get my bearings before writing this.  I thought it was odd in your write-up about the stone chamber that you mentioned the stone wall running north-south.  In fact it runs fairly east-west and I wanted to check that with a compass. [I get my directions confused up there - PWAX] If you look at the north facing hillside as a large triangle with the east and west running stone wall and stone chamber as the base, the stone circle at the summit becomes the apex.  The mounds fall within that triangle, approximately 100' west and 150' south, or uphill, from the chamber.  There is still about six inches of snow on the ground and that obscures the details of the mounds, but they can be seen clearly.  I measured one to give you a better sense of the size, and with it's layer of snow roughly was:  96 inches L. 36-42 inches W. 18 inches H. with an 12-15" wide "moat" of excavated material surrounding it.  The snow needs to melt before an accurate count of the number and position of mounds can be made.  On a couple I could see the larger rocks on top poking through the snow cover. 
The remarkable event of yesterday's excursion was my trip to the top of the hill to look again at the circle of rocks.  They were still buried in snow, as I expected.  Upon reaching the summit, I saw a large gray area or patch in the snow about the size of a dining table.  It was nothing but tufts of gray fur covering the ground mixed with some balls of ground grass (stomach contents) and coyote feces.  There was no blood really, just ruddy patches here and there.  I was thinking what large animal has this much gray fur, and then slightly off to the right I noticed the hoof and eighteen inches of leg bone from a deer.  The sense of awe and amazement at the sight was broken only by another hiker coming up the hill a few moments later.  We remarked at the spectacle, and he snapped a couple of photos with his phone, as I had forgotten to put mine in the knapsack.  That's the first time I have ever stumbled across a large kill before, and I'll remember it for many years to come. 
So there you go....


Chris Pittman said...

Cool post. That's a neat story.

Chris Pittman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Menotomy Maps said...

I came across the same thing 2 winters ago in the woods I hike. Eventually everything except that ‘ground grass’ will be consumed by other creatures. Could not take a picture though – disrespectful.

Norman said...

About that above-ground chamber tied into the wall, I was shown that by Steve Ells in the late 1990s. He told me that Mark Strohmeyer had examined the structure and sent a report on it to Harvard University. Steve then suggested that if I wanted to know more about the chamber, I should write to Mark, which I did. Mark then told me to read Manitou, which I had not heard about before, and then put me in touch with a friend of his in Pennsylvania, Fred Werkheiser. Fred eventually showed me the Oley Hills site, and from that point on, I was hooked on ancient Indian stonework.

pwax said...

I think, Norman, that this same structure may have something to do with how you and I met. Or maybe I heard about it from you? I remember it was one of the first things I tried to search out in Concord. (In the end, it turns out there are 3 chambers in Concord and rumors of another wall structure somewhere else in Estabrook Woods.)