Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My father's woods - Elderslie Preserve in Woodbridge CT

As part of putting my father to rest, I had occasion to drive back to where I used to live in Connecticut. I interacted with people on Friday and, early on Saturday, drove myself out to the family house on Rock Hill Rd in Woodbridge. It was still dark when I got there, so I spent an hour driving around back roads north of there, in Beacon Falls. Then, when it got light enough, I drove back to Woodbridge, passing a few other things that seemed faintly familiar: a turn, a house, a road that maybe led to my junior high school. Thanks to Tim MacSweeney I knew that the Elderslie Preserve in Woodbrige had rock piles, and I knew it was on Peck Hill Rd across on the other side of the same hill from my old house, so I went to take a walk there. One time my father and I went all the way through from our house to Peck Hill Rd, so I knew there was continuous woods and I was thinking of walking in from the other direction. The "Judges' Rock" is in there and I hoped to see it.  

I have to say that these Connecticut woods are gorgeous: little undergrowth; yellow, red, and brown leaves on the ground. And dark tree trunks rising up from the brightness underneath and massive stone walls undulated along. After parking, I stayed to the right and saw rock piles immediately. I did not have a camera. Were the piles a familiar type of pile? I formed a general impression. Having gotten up at 4 AM Friday to drive down there, and after getting up at 5:45, after little sleep, I was walking around in a bit of a daze.

At every turn I came across places that seemed a little familiar and seemed like someplace I had been with my father. And who could I tell about finding rock piles there? We were blind to such things back in the 60's. So I stayed to the right and over the hill (heading roughly southeast) and down into the valley - because that is what the topo map suggested when I looked it over in preparation for this trip. And there were little clusters of two or three piles every few minutes. The rocks were a pretty black with grey lichen. At the foot of the slope a couple of piles, each with a beautiful piece of quartz at the center. Quartz is not common around there. The bedrock is a schist-like material called "Orange Phyllite". Seeing this material again, I remembered how I used to collect garnets that erode out of its surface. And I kept remembering little bits and pieces of the place. Down in that valley, there was an obvious trail along the wetland (with rock piles every hundred yards) and I remembered the Ansonia Trail - it was part of Connecticut's "Blue Spot Trail System" - which we used to explore. Walking in the woods was one of the few things my father and I did together. So I remember one time following the Ansonia Trail west, as far as we could go. Back then the trail disappeared near the edge of a swamp over by Peck Hill Rd.

Today, I might have better luck finding the trail because my eyes have learned to see subtle things. For example in these woods, there were trails everywhere, crisscrossing the place. We have to conclude: either the Pecks were Indians, interacted with Indians, or never disturbed what was already there when they owned the place. Surely almost no-one has gone into these woods since then. The rock piles were everywhere. This is a big ceremonial area and one wonders: why? My guess is that the wetland I mention is one of the sources of the Naugatuck River, and Peck Hill - with its "Judges' Rock" is a significant landmark for the area. The reason for the name "Judge's Rock" was it was a well-known Indian lookout - from which one could watch New Haven and the coming and going of troops. I think Mavor and Dix may write about how the Indians helped those Judges (they were the ones who condemned Charles I to death, who were on the run later on, when the monarchy was restored). And I walked up, and I walked down, I explored behind a bush and found a little stone box that looked recent. And I came to a flat area and remembered being there alone and maybe being there also with my father. And this time I could see rock piles in almost every direction. The largest I had seen - and they look a lot like what I call 'marker piles" - but with an unstructured layout. And I walked to the north edge, looking down into the valley, remembering the roads and little foundations on that slope and discussions we had about what kind of small village must have been over there. All these small things I had forgotten. As a child, I used to dream of Indians in those woods, I used to imagine them sitting on the same rock where I would camp. Now I see signs of the Indians everywhere. I wish someone could have shown them to me when I was a child. 

I want to say that as you get older, there is an increased desire to somehow express the infinite. Express the relationship one has with parents and children or (for me) between my father and my sons. And as I am walking along feeling somewhat poetic, I realize that the rock pile itself is the best possible expression of these things. It seems more permanent but it also will vanish eventually. Hoping I can show these woods to my sons, I am filled with sorrow about how time passes.


Unknown said...

Peter -
My sincere condolences on the passing of your father.


Tim MacSweeney said...

Sorry for your loss, Peter.

Norman said...

Beautifully expressed thoughts on the passing of your father. Please accept my sincere sympathy on your loss.


Chris Pittman said...

Lovely and eloquent post, your sorrow is tangible. I am sorry for your loss.