Friday, December 13, 2013

Caretaking at Nonnewaug

      There’s a group of mounds here at Happiness Farm where my wife and I have lived for 30 something years, my wife’s childhood home that her mom bought back in the early 1960’s. The house dates back to sometime around 1700, possibly first “owned” by John Minor, a man who spoke several Native languages and signed many Land Deeds according to many local histories. 
      More likely, I conjecture, there was more symbolism than ownership to the act of the house being built, recalling that there’s much debate about whether those early “deeds” were actually transfers of ownership or treaties that Indigenous People made that were agreements to share the use of certain tracts of land. I’m making an educated guess that the Pomperauge Plantation elected to plop the house here on the other side of the river from what were known as the Nonnewaug Wigwams, just as was done in New Milford by that Plantation, waiting for the Native People to move from their homes around their fields and fishing place and “improve the land” by putting up rail fences (sometimes over existing native built stone fuel breaks) and claiming ownership.
Eric Sloane Illustration accessed from:
(Some of the planks that cover the timber frame of the house show that the house was built over a long period of time. There are pit saw marks on some of them, predating the Minor/Atwood Mill about an eighth of a mile away. The wall is made of a single log – rather than a squared timber as above - with the cambian edge (and chestnut bark) still existing, one board "bole end down," the next fitted with the wider “base of the tree” end upwards.)
      I’ve been “caretaking” those mounds for going on 20 years, ever since the day I was looking for deadfall kindling and looked down at the Turtle Petroform behind my old chicken coop, eventually overtime realizing that I wasn’t looking at “field clearing stones with junk piled on them,” but rather some mounds alongside what remains of a stone row (not wall). My sketchbook entry and some really bad scans of some 35mm photos appear here:
      And it’s absolutely true that chickens started the “excavation.”
     These mounds may be on my property but I don’t consider them “mine.” They belong to the Paugessett and Schaghticoke People, and in fact to all the Indigenous People who by blood or circumstance are related. They are part of History - and that history is lots longer ago than 1659. They may be graves, they may be prayers, they may be something else, or they may be “all of the above.” I may blow away leaves on occasion, pull out day lilies and poison ivy, cut down sprouting trees and pick up dead fall, but I’m never going to take anything apart. I may brush away the humus, neatly pile modern trash in a pile, but I’m not going to dig for artifacts to attempt to date the thing since the actual artifact is the pile of stones.
        Besides, I’ve seen enough scary movies to know what happens to people who mess with things like this.
      Instead, I’m going to look long and think long at what emerges as I take care of the stones. And I’ll wonder about every stone construction made after 1700 on the property – is this stone and that stone from the mounds or the stone row that used to be beside them? After all these years I’ll tell you this: some of the same sort of artwork occurs both in the mounds and the “stone walls” – that aren’t really “stone walls.”
     A quick look at something is one thing. Returning one time to look again is another.
To be able to walk a short distance and quietly contemplate 100 times or more is really something else.
Well, consider this:
(Update - I realized I left this out of the original post:)
It only took a couple years for me to realize that this just might be: A baby turtle and the remains of the egg! There are a bunch of these kind of turtles here:
If I weren't care-taking (or is it care-giving?) I'd never have noticed this similar stone buried beneath the leaves and humus, sitting nicely on a flat stone platform:
Well, maybe I'd have recognized this as testudinate:
    And I’d love to have a conversation with Doug Harris. By all means, if you know him, call him up and tell him I’d like to talk to him about what I’ve been looking at and thinking about for the last 20 years or so.
Or at least ask him to look at this and these Almost Chronological Chickenyard posts:


Curt Hoffman said...

Tim -
If your farm is on the east side of Nonnewaug Ave., I believe that I can actually see the rock pile you showed in the last photo on GoogleEarth!

Tim MacSweeney said...

Curt: it probably is - but if I hadn't been care taking, you wouldn't be able to. I'm looking for some images from the 1934 and 1967 aerial photos at the CT State library...