On a mountaintop in Surry, New Hampshire, above the Ashuelot River, a large flat boulder sits in a clearing. Pecked and hammered into the surface of the stone is the image of a curved bow, with the bowstring drawn back into a sharp V and a three-feathered arrow, aiming southeast. Below the bow is a grid of three long horizontal lines, crossed by three short vertical lines, tilting in the direction of the arrow.
Marge Bruchac Sokoki Homeland from Monadnock: K’namitobena Sokwaki, 2006.
The origin of this provocative wonder is, by nature, uncertain. Some believe it was carved by the original people of this land – the Western Abenaki band called Sokwakiak (or their ancestors). This southernmost group of the W8benakiak, people of the Dawnland, have inhabited this New Hampshire region of mountains, rivers, and lakes for time immemorial, a part of their homeland known as N’dakinna. Others have said the image is the more recent historic work of a Surry farmer named William Mason, which seems odd at the least. Anthropologist and historian Marge Bruchac makes further reference to historian Samuel Wadsworth’s account which seems to qualify the site as pre-dating the European presence in these hills, well before Mason.
Spring runoff courses down the granite bedrock of the trail.
The last signpost to the peak.
Arrow Hill lies in the extreme southwest corner of the heavily-forested Cheshire County town of Surry, northwest of its better-known neighbor of Keene. It is a part of the Indian Arrowhead Forest Preserve, held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire’s Forests. The poised arrow etched into the boulder’s granite face points almost due southeast. I have heard that many hills in southwestern NH have such carvings, all directed toward a very special place, Mount Monadnock; I don’t yet know whether this is true. There is a line of sight cleared toward the prospect (although now overgrown) and in the winter you can see that singular peak in the distance.
The sightline to Monadnock, brushing up but still visible in winter.
There are other lines engraved in the stone to the west side, a series of straight rays, some parallel, some oblique and crossing the others. Their significance is unclear and might be a subject for further investigation. The shallow relief of the petroglyph is difficult to photograph, so I added a few more needles of the koa (white pine) towering overhead into the grooves to clarify the shape. Another reason the outline can be a challenge to distinguish is the fact that the granite inside the bow has been partially flaked off. One would hope that this was at least the work of the freeze/thaw cycle, and not vandalism, although I fear the latter since the neighboring lines are intact with no gaps in the surrounding matrix. Several other photographs located online also show the damage,
A pattern of graven lines immediately to the west of the drawn bow with its arrow.
A quick look at the Aln8ba8dwaw8gan (Western Abenaki language) etymology of the modern place-name Monadnock: Gordon Day says that “menonadenak” translates to “smooth mountain”, and there is also some credence to the idea that it could be from “menadena” meaning “isolated mountain,” working with the root “mna” or “mena” for island. The current popular explanation is that it translates as “one that stands alone,” which is not far from the latter derivation. Joseph Laurent held that it derived from “moniadenak” or “m8nadenak,” literally “money mountain” or more figuratively “silver mountain.” This seems questionable if it is true that “moni” did not come into use until late encounters with the European currency system. Significantly, however, this Abenaki-derived name “monadnock” has become the defining geologic term for any such type of mountain, anywhere in the world: a single peak rising alone from its surrounding plain.
South from Greenfield’s Poet’s Seat, the Great Beaver, K’tsi Tmakw or K’tsi Amiskw, also known as Wequamps, rises in the Pocomtuck homelands at the southern border of the Sokoki. Just to the east, Peskeompskut – the Great Falls – rushes over the Split Rock in the coursing of Kwanitekw. Fertile fields were left in the bottom land of the giant’s vast, flooded impoundment – gift of Gluskabe (or Hobomok), who dealt the recalcitrant creature its death blow.
Looking south along the Kwanitekw in the month Sigwankas, early spring just before ice out, at beaver’s eye level. To the left, eastward, is Wantastegok Wajo shelving into the river. The Beaver is called tmakw – tah-mah-kwah – the “wood cutter” (variants: demakwa, temakwa).This springs from the morphemes “tma-” meaning to cut and “-akw” or “akwa” meaning a rigid or woody stem, a common suffix used in the names of many species of trees. Notice the relationship of tmakw to tmahigan, Western Abenaki for a hatchet or axe, which performs the same action as the beaver. Then take it a step further and you will see understand the Algonquian source of the word “tomahawk.”In this case, tma + higan = cutting tool.
Twilight over the Kwanitekw below Wantastegok Wajo: looking north in the Moose Hunting month, Mozokas.
The February sun sets over the low terrace where Fort Hinsdale once stood, on the north point above the meeting of the Connecticut and Ash Swamp Brook.
Confluence means ‘a flowing together.’ In a literal sense, it is about rivers. But it’s often used to talk about the coming together of ideas or cultures as well. Swirls, eddies, currents, cycles, transitions… Nothing changes, yet everything changes. It is said one can never step in the same river twice. Perhaps the message is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but something much more subtle and profound: it is that some things stay the same only by changing. A river is a river because it is moving and shifting. Here constancy and change are not opposed but inextricably connected.
On seeing: The boundaries and labels we encounter on our modern-day maps are relatively recent political and historical constructs springing from a Western worldview. It can be difficult to view the land clearly with this tangled overlay of demarcations, polities, and hierarchies. If one can see beyond the arbitrary notions that this is Vermont, and that is New Hampshire, for example, and begin to think in terms of watersheds, and in terms of hundreds, if not thousands of years, then the true face of the country begins to appear. This is the Dawnland: N’dakinna. A land from before time, a land that begins anew each day. The same water that flows here now has coursed down the valley of the Kwanitekw for thousands of years, to the ocean and back, in towering clouds with crashing thunder and twisting, silvery rivulets wending down the mountainsides to return to the gathering valley below.