Godstones

What a difference a day makes.

When I first sat down for this weekly chore Tuesday afternoon, my intentions were good but the mood was wrong, a gray and somber day, windows closed to seal out moisture, downpours splashing loudly off my hidden flagstone terrace. I found it difficult getting started, my mood dark and brooding, not right for writing; well, unless I intended to take someone to task, which I did not. So, I didn’t fight it. Knew better. Saved what I had, stood up, headed for the kitchen to prepare supper.

Wednesday morning greeted me with a different disposition. I again rose early, dressed warm, wool socks and cap, and opened the windows to let the cold, dry, refreshing air push out the dampness while I caught up on the news with Morning Joe, toggling back and forth between it and NESN for Patriots chatter. Forget the Red Sox, fellas, they’re old news. And, now, here I sit after a brisk, refreshing Sunken Meadow romp with the dogs, they too invigorated in cool air driven by a strong north wind, it pushing enticing scents kitty-corner across the field for them to chase. They were as frisky as I’ve seen them in some time, sprinting wide left, maybe 60 yards ahead through small Christmas trees, before taking a sharp right turn, noses high, tails wiggling, and heading for a collision with the dense, thorny, rosebush perimeter, where they’d stop, wheel around and race back at me to start another rambunctious quartering mission. They didn’t stop until every inch of the large field and thin surrounding swamp was covered.

The air was so refreshing that neither Lily nor Chubby ventured into the swollen, muddy Green River at the spot by an apple tree where they have swam all summer while lustily slurping-in cool water. No need for that Wednesday, when the entire puddled meadow took on the character of a graybeard granddaddy, belt loosened, watching the football games in a La-Z-Boy recliner after Thanksgiving dessert, belly full, the old geezer content, ready to doze into temporary slumber and intermittent snores.

Back to soggy Tuesday, it’s not like it had been unproductive; no, not at all. I had risen early to finish an intriguing book I found squirreled away at Montague Bookmill a few weeks back, one I knew I had seen footnoted in other books read about pre-contact history of New England Native Americans, including the Pocumtuck, Norwottuck and Squakheag tribes of our upper valley. The thick paperback titled “Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization,” is a 1989 James W. Mavor, Jr.,-Byron E. Dix collaboration that dovetails snugly into my daily Green River rambles. Along that river named Picomegan by Natives, I often wander upstream to a large red boulder poking prominently from the stream’s opposite bank, and have confessed right here in print to feeling indigenous spirits. Now I know what it is that I feel there and at other other sites harboring large rocks buried under forest canopies on high ridges and in mucky marshes alike, ancient altars where I have since a boy rambled. What I feel is Manitou, still lurking on the forgotten ritualized landscape.

Other than that river rock, relatively new in my world, the two salient sites that immediately came to mind when reading the Mavor-Dix book were a North Sugarloaf shelf cave I visited hundreds of times as a boy, and a massive balanced rock high atop a prominent Williamsburg ridge on our western horizon. In the days before the Pynchons built Springfield and put native tribes to work in the fur trade, the wide, flat mountaintop was likely burned clear annually so that it’s sacred rock could be seen from eastern hills like the Sugarloafs and Toby. Who knows? It may have even been a solstice sunset marker of some type. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. There’s more research needed. To be honest, I can’t wait to study topo maps, poke around on field trips, always welcome this time of the year when assessing deer-hunting prospects, mast production and whatever. Is there a better time of year than autumn to hike?

I know well the two stone objects I intend to visit but now want to explore the surrounding terrain, looking for unusual ditches or earthen mounds, stonewalls, standing stones or short rows of large stones, all part of ritual landscapes the Manitou book describes and pictures; also stone embrasures and markers near springs or along streams, C-shaped prayer seats, maybe even large, manicured hardwoods that have been miraculously spared by loggers, unlikely indeed.

I would recommend this Manitou book to anyone who spends time in the woods, including that vanishing breed called hunters, observant nimrods who know of large perched or stacked boulders, balanced rocks or impressive stonewalls they’ve asked themselves many times why anyone would ever spend time to build in such unlikely, remote spots, high and thin on topsoil. I am familiar with such stone walls, even one location where two parallel works of art not 50 feet apart run up the south spine of the forest’s highest ridge. I would have never guessed that pair of walls could have been there before the white man appeared, a possibility that opens exciting new territory for exploration — all because of this book discovered on a quick trip through the local used bookshop. That’s why I regularly search through the same bookshelves and make it a point to learn where new books are placed by staff. It’s another form of hunting to me. I hunt down the book, hunt the book for information and will now use the information gleaned to hunt for ritual landscapes that have for five centuries gone unrecognized. It’ll be a great excuse to get some exercise, run the dogs, search for clues and get a fix on what to expect come deer season.

I like to think my antennae for ancient Manitou is in my blood. That old Sanderson farm at the foot of Mt. Sugarloaf stood on Native croplands where Edward Hitchcock and many “grave robbers” after him, including my own ancestors, mined freshly tilled soil for Indian artifacts after pushing their makers to a last refuge on Indian Hill to the west, known today as Whately Glen, before that Sanderson’s Glen. From the Glen to the balanced rock of Williamsburg lore is not far. And, yes, there are many large Glen boulders and stonewalls I’d like to investigate, too, all likely connected on the ritual landscape.

Yeah, I know, the local preachers will call me crazy, say I’m off my rocker, may even try to silence me with letters to the editor. But, remember, early New England clergymen like the Mathers intentionally erased the legend of stones with spiritual significance because they considered such “godstones” as pagan objects for devil worship. Christian preachers are protectors of their doctrine, not truth seekers; and, yes, that includes Deacon Thomas Sanderson of the early Whately church.

Yet, still, in defense of those in my family who displaced Native tribesmen, I am proud to admit it was spinster great-aunt Gladys who shared with me the oral tradition of Indian legend passed down by the keepers of that old Sanderson farm that burned to the ground in July 1882. Some of that east Whately acreage, first the Canterbury section of Hatfield, is still owned by distant Sanderson kin. I suppose if the Indians were here today, they’d call that branch of my family “those with many greenhouses.”

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2 Responses to Godstones

  1. Yes, Bob, would love to talk. Let’s set something up. I’ll check my email. Didn’t see anything there a few minutes ago, so must have dropped into my Barracuda filter. Will check and respond.

  2. Bob Hall

    Just sent you a long message about my search for historic and archaeological sites in Northfield — including a rocking boulders and stone seats mentioned in old Northfield history books. I would like to talk to you about Indian (or other race of men) stone structures found in New England. Perhaps you could give me a call and we can talk about searching for the past. My number is 413-498-2105. Hope to hear from you and that you received my earlier note I inadvertently sent to you aboutn 10 minutes ago. Bob Hall

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