Thursday, December 12, 2013

Caretaking - by Sydney Blackwell

The conversation on moving stones brings up a related topic. Peter Waksman ended his October talk in Harvard with the comment that the best way to respect stone structures is to take care of them.  I have wondered what that can mean.

Undisturbed structures in the woods have a beauty and integrity to them, even though they likely were not covered with leaves and accumulated humus when they were part of the regular life of the people who built them.  As more leaves and branches pile up or trees fall over on them, they become even more hidden.

Caretaking might include conservation or historical restrictions and documenting, but how much physical care?  I am thinking specifically of a small site near a quiet little brook with one to three boulder/rock mounds, several marker piles, a big split rock, and a cover stone on the brook. On the one hand, undergrowth, including berries and briars, has hidden and protected the site. On the other hand, a tree has fallen over the split rock, the mounds are becoming buried in leaf compost, a heavy rain redirected the tiny brook and undercut the cover rock support. Elsewhere, a bird-like formation is barely visible as the forest compost builds and swallows it up.

What is caretaking in this context? How much clearing, without moving stones, is appropriate? Who decides?


pwax said...

Let me take responsibility for part of an answer: we should not move rocks. Also I think: how much to "groom" a pile is up to the individual. It is recommended to not groom piles near a trail - it draws unnecessary attention.

It is common practice to occasionally clean a pile down to the soil or, even deeper, to the rocks. I do not do it often but some friends do.

I remember a NEARA video that showed a Native American picking up a rock from a pile and then putting it back. I guess I don't think anybody should do that.

Anonymous said...

Very good question. Up till recently, there was little or no forest to compete with stone structures. Indians burnt the woods regularly and Europeans cleared it. Once a tree takes root in a stone pile, it soon begins to move the stones around. In 50 years, many of these will be reduced to rubble if we don't better manage them as cultural resources.

Jeff in RI said...

A snip in time could save nine! I have on occasion removed saplings without disturbing the stone work. When I can't, I snip them as low as I can with hand pruners, which also come in handy extracting myself from a tangle of briars, a tip I picked up from woods wise walking buddy.....