Myth Debunking

OK, time to correct the record. Uhm … well … let’s just say set it straight as can be expected, because, you know how hypothese can change.

I’m not here to apologize, and, frankly, have no regrets. It’s just that, having read and pondered and listened and spoken to scholars and authors and experts of all stripes in recent years, and watched archaeologists uncover before my fascinated eyes 12,000-year-old artifacts, well, my outlook on some bedrock concepts have changed dramatically. We’re talking about notions nourished in youth that take root and die hard. Like everyone else, I’m guilty of accepting at that young age what from some Houghton Mifflin textbook said and was reinforced by some misled, unimaginative grammar-school teacher who accepted it as gospel. I’m guilty only of listening like a good boy, accepting what I was taught and at times actually reciting these common misconceptions instilled in all kids by institutional logic and star-spangled history written to fill the loyal flock with chauvinistic valor. So let’s call today’s lesson a simple case of elderly reassessment, with me 60 and embarking on my 35th year at the newspaper of record in the county where I was born and my roots lie deep, yet shallow indeed compared to Native Americans.

I’ll begin by defining my goal in any intellectual endeavor as a search for truth, one unencumbered by ideology and knee-jerk opinion, prevailing wisdom be damned. Because, you know, what I’ve discovered through years of open-minded probes and ponderings is that such diluted types of pseudo-wisdom are often ignorant of the facts, often even intentionally so. It’s doctrine driven home by the rounded end of a ball-peen hammer, the finish nail a sturdy concoction of deceptive half-truths and outright lies crafted by clever spin-doctors employed to shape public opinion in support of political agenda. All I can say is thank the heavens rhetoric classes were still chic when I attended college, way back when defiant Sixties dissent and defiance were still palpable in the air we breathed. Without those Liberal Arts lessons taught in the dark, dingy bowels of Bartlett Hall, I would not harbor the cynicism and skepticism I in adulthood have so learned to value. Maybe innate curiosity and suspicion was in my blood all along; that and a hereditary anti-Federalist Yankee bent. Thus I was different, questioning conventional wisdom and refusing to embrace those crew-cut guardians of freedom, liberty and justice attempting to build legions of flag-waving Boy Scouts, polite alter boys and the truest of true believers. Somehow, I was able to see through and reject their empty slogans and pledges, their tidy dress codes and Christian ethics aimed at building conservative views framed by purposely planted misconceptions.

As I sit here in this familiar, comfortable seat for the first time in more than a month, coming off extended vacation time selfishly used to read, explore and reflect on subjects dear to me, I find myself — go figure — thinking back to the walk I just showered off from; it was a ramble that took me and dear four-legged companions Lily and Chubby through icy, crunchy Sunken Meadow, down by the free-flowing Picomegan. As I followed the narrow four-season path I’ve carved into the circumference of two adjoining bottomland fields bordered by a dense collar of naked rosebushes framing slim frozen marshland, it occurred to me how tempting it is, even for animals, to follow beaten paths. After heavy rains and frigid overnight temps, the snow was compacted and more than solid enough for the dogs to run comfortably atop without breaking through. Yet most often they ran ahead of me right on the trail, meandering in and out of the thorny rosebush border to investigate random swamp scents but always returning to our daily path. I remember thinking how then interesting it is that even animals prefer established ways?

Actually, I have noticed this many times in my daily rambles, snow or no snow, the path always discernible, me, almost always, and the dogs, for the most part, following it. For that matter, even the deer that stay in the margins to avoid us daily when we’re there walk our trail when we’re not. I see their tracks all the time. So don’t believe those who say deer vacate an area ripe with human scent. It’s fiction. I’ve many times witnessed deer following my trail right past a hunting stand in season.

As I pondered why my dogs seem to prefer returning to the beaten path, my cranial wheels started to spin to a shrill hum not unlike the sound of a mosquito homing in for a landing behind your right ear. One thought led to another, all of them relevant to where we’re going with this narrative. As so often happens when I observe animal behavior, I realize we too are animals, no matter what Sunday School teachers and PTA moms tell you. I believe that those of us who admit we’re animals and learn to accept and savor basic, primitive, wild impulses and cravings, are ultimately happier, psychologically healthier and overall better grounded, even more open-minded than those who spend their entire lives fighting such urges, fearing evil. Which brings us back to trodden trails; that and setting the record straight on any propaganda I may have passed reflexively along right here in this space over the years before I discovered reality, saw through the dense institutional, red, white and blue fog, which is never easy under constant bombardment by doctrine and patriotic idolatry along conformist trails. I learned as an inquisitive lad that it’s often enlightening to wander off such trails and cut your own, aware that it’s seldom difficult to find your way back if necessary.

Think of it. Didn’t caribou trails lead humans to areas they eventually settled along rivers left behind by melted glaciers? Was it not those same game trails, beaten into the ground by large ancient beasts and followed by primitive hunter/gatherers, that later led more advanced man from south to north as the climate warmed suitable for habitation? And as those migrating, evolving Paleos became Archaic, settled, multiplied and assimilated with other people from other places, were they not eventually led, perhaps also by animals, to nutritious berry patches growing on otherwise barren upland tundra. And wasn’t it they who learned to annually burn off these vast tangled berry patches, improving the annual bounty on fruitful, scenic ridges they kept open for seasonal camp and ceremonial sites where food was  gathered and celebrated? And, while we’re at it, didn’t the berries attract deer, moose and bears that humans killed for meat? And weren’t those same ridge tops and the slopes falling from them later invaded by hickory and oak groves, which Indians learned to manage for protein-rich nuts, not to mention the foraging meat animals nuts attracted in the fall, all the while maintaining open berry patches where they worked best in natural gardens?

Yes, I’m now convinced that the story with which we’re all familiar, the one about our Bunyanesque colonial forebears carving their hilltown farms out of primeval forest by felling massive timbers with primitive axes is romantic myth, because the first lands settled here were already cleared by the Natives here for thousands of years before them. The wholesale rape of our forests came a generation or three later, propelled by greed that ignored ecological balance.

When the French explorer Samuel Champlain toured the New England coast from southern Maine to Cape Cod 15 years before the Mayflower’s arrival, he marveled at large populations of physically impressive people who had cleared vast acreage for their maize fields within sight of his ship and up the major river valleys. Behind these fertile, agricultural landscapes stood open, park-like forests adorned with massive spaced trees on a barren understory cleared by seasonal fires that removed brush, vermin and poisonous serpents. A decade later, English explorer John Smith of Jamestown fame visited the same region traveling in the opposite direction and described a veritable slice of paradise he feared to be off-limits due to the large populations of physically imposing, healthy Indian tribes permanently settled in impressive coastal villages. At the same time Smith was exploring our New England coast, Dutchmen were sailing from Long Island Sound up the Connecticut River to just above Hartford. They too reported a populous agricultural valley, which, even though it wasn’t then known, extended all the way to busy Pocumtuck villages in Deerfield/Greenfield, where four rivers flowed into the Connecticut River near sacred fishing and ceremonial falls called Peskoumskut, taking a sharp left turn below an ancient village site called Wissitinnewag. But then came disease epidemics from overseas that ravaged the Native population and wiped out more than 90 percent of many villages, leaving prime, open, cultivated land ready to be claimed and settled.

The first PioneerValley towns incorporated by colonials were Springfield, Northampton, Hadley, Hatfield, Deerfield and Northfield, all of which presented cleared riverside acreage that was rich and ready for settlement between 1636 and 1675. Then, by the time outlying areas in the eastern and western hills opened up in the early 18th century, even though much of it had become thickly overgrown with infant forest brought about by Indian exodus and demise, it would not have been as daunting a task to clear as patriotic historians would lead you to believe. In fact, had the frontiersmen been willing to take a lesson from their Native predecessors and put a torch to the dense, young, reforested openings, the clearing process would have been fast indeed.

Don’t let anyone kid you — the settlement pattern in what are now our western hilltowns of Conway, Ashfield, Buckland, Heath, Charlemont and beyond began around habitation sites left open by a noble race that occupied the territory for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years prior. Take it to the bank that Conway’s first settler, Cyrus Rice, was led to his farm by a prominent Indian trail and staked his claim at a pretty promontory clear and lived upon for centuries before he discovered it. Remember, the Norwottucks who occupied the sandy terraces on Mt. Sugarloaf’s southern skirt claimed as their last refuge following the French & Indian War a place called Indian Hill, now Whately Glen. The site of Rice’s farmstead sits on an extension of that wooded upland terrace, which was likely maintained as a nut grove and fall hunting ground by contact-period Indians, who would have moved their wigwams a mile or two to set up temporary annual campsites used over and over again for fall hunting chores. No problem. That’s when men were men, and women were in many ways their equal as physical laborers.

Unlike European Christians who viewed life as a linear journey, Indians’ world view worked in circles. When Indians met in council, they sat in a circle, which had no starting and ending point, no seat more powerful than another, a sphere where everyone’s observations and opinions were received without interruption, anger or insubordination accusations. Find a business or organization that works like that today in our ranked corporate world and you’re very likely viewing a successful operation, one receptive to open and honest discussion aimed at improvement. Which reminds me that I myself have come full circle, right back to those days of the old Bartlett Hall rhetoric lectures. We’d study news accounts of the same incidents and events from different political perspectives, as presented in various newspapers, magazines and television sources, comparing the spin, analyzing the motives. Time and again the professor reminded us with a wry grin that you can’t believe everything you read in newspapers and magazines, or see on nightly TV news. We were taught to dissect stories, read many accounts and explore what really happened, why various accounts and official government statements were often contradictory. Well, never has “news” been more suspect than it is in today’s Orwellian America ruled by intentional, invisible TV manipulation aimed at consumerism and patriotic loyalty. But, if diligent and open-minded, you can still find a route to the truth.

A case in point is the enduring controversy surrounding certain local Indian issues pertaining to long-lost villages, sacred fishing sites and sandbank burial grounds, all of which have endured heavy-handed misinformation campaigns reaching deep into local and state government, institutions of higher learning and, yes, the media. But the truth is out there for the taking with a little legwork. No! Strike that. A little legwork won’t cut it. There are way too many clever obstacles constructed by powerful people with political and economic agendas, and vociferous rabble support. Yes, it can be a toil to uncover the unvarnished truth, cut through the media fog. To get there, you must cut your own path through a dense, foreboding swamp, uninviting indeed but still among Mother Earth’s most fertile ground, in places rich moist soup that’s capable of swallowing a man with one pornographic gulp from deep. oily-black mud.

It’s a treacherous morass worth braving. The alternative is to believe your grammar-school textbooks, punch your time card, salute patriotic symbols, genuflect to alters glittering gold and, most important of all, shut the fuck up.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top