Yesterday I came to this place, the Pukcommeagon, or Puckcommegon, as they say it was called, known today to most as the Green River. Just below the popular municipal swimming area on Nash’s Mill Road, on the west side of the Town of Greenfield (named after the river itself), less happy events transpired a long time ago. Here, on the morning of May 19th, 1676, a stone was cast in the waters of time and the ripples still pulse upon our lives. At this fording of the river (probably rising much higher in mid-May three-and-a-half centuries ago), the commander of the colonial militia, retreating from his attack on the tribal people gathered at Peskeompskut, met his mortal end. Already a broken and gravely ill man, Capt. William Turner was struck here by pursuing warriors and died shortly thereafter on the western bank.
Gazing upon the lazy flow of the river in mid-September, it seemed an embodiment of the circular sweep of time: now, then, still to come. It is all here, sliding into the distance. A slow meander of hazy water, clear up close and opaque at a remove, sliding through the piercing light and the overhanging shadows. Slipping over the ancient Permian shoulders of fissured red conglomerate; alongside shifting sand shoals marked with the skitterings of four-footeds and long-legged flyers; passing silently beneath roads and walkways, heading southward to the Kwanitekw and great salty Sobakw. Up to the sky and down to the mountains. Water is life, the rivers connect the people. Circles and ripples, silence and murmurs, as above, so below.
My friend Joe Graveline, in speaking about the 1676 massacre at Peskeompskut (known historically as the Falls Fight – just 3 miles to the east), has said “at sunrise on that morning a light went out, on twelve thousand years” of community, in a place of peace and sharing. And so it did, abruptly and summarily. The disruption and confusion still reverberates and confuses those who remain. His observation gave me great pause and made me ponder the consequences and implications; it seems so harsh and final. But now I come away from the banks of the timeless river with another perspective, along the lines of the traditional firekeepers, whose responsibilities are to keep the sacred fire burning and to carry fire to the next place. Glowing embers, a small fragment of the original open flame, are secured in a safe receptacle, protected and nurtured until the next destination is reached. The sustaining flame of life has been hidden in this place but it is still here, held in the land and waters; we can see it if we look in the right direction, in the center.