Rev. Ezra Stiles Visits Wantastegok, 1763

ezra stiles diary excerpt

From Rev. Ezra Stiles’ travel diary, circa 1764, recounting a visit to the confluence of the Wantastekw/West River and Kwenitekw/Connecticut River. He traveled widely and recorded faithfully. This excerpt is from a trip up from his home base in Connecticut state, to scout what became the chartered town of Wilmington, VT. Note his references to particulars: There is no underbrush. White Ash trees 100 feet to the limbs and 4-5 feet in diameter at the base.

How did this happen? Indigenous people practiced a sophisticated permaculture. A nuanced, sustainable forest management regimen – working with water, fire, topography, seasonal changes, succession. This was and is not happenstance, circumstantial, or the divine gift of god. This is demonstrable evidence of reciprocal relationship in motion, the give and take of constant creation.

Kendall and the Weathersfield Pine: Another Memory Marker

pines meetinghouse hill rain autumn

Edward Augustus Kendall was a British traveller, translator, social campaigner and writer. He is best known to Americans as the author of a journal with the self-explanatory title of “Travels through the northern parts of the United States in 1807 and 1808, in 3 volumes” (New York, I. Riley, 1809). His name will come up elsewhere on this blog as a chronicler of the petroglyphs at “Indian Rock,” as he knew the carvings at the mouth of Wantastekw/West River, at Wantastegok/Brattleboro. That account is also found in the aforementioned  travel journal; fyi, the references to Vermont instances of Native carving are all recounted in Volume 3.

Kendall recounts that he saw a pine tree in Weathersfield, VT with carvings on four different facets of the trunk. He may have made some leaps of logic in his explanations, but the observation itself stands as an example of memory marking in the landscape utilizing trees, similar to that of Quintin Stockwell’s account at Pocumtuk. We can discuss his interpretations of the individual figures that he witnessed in another post down the line. As Kendall’s book hasn’t been digitized to my knowledge, but it has been scanned, I post here screenshots of his narrative from the pertinent section:

kendall travels weathersfield 1

kendall travels weathersfield 2

 

kendall travels weathersfield 3

Kendall’s historical attribution of the pine carvings may be a little off too, dating it to the 1704 Deerfield raid.  But that’s not something we need to disparage right now. Suffice it to note that his record is another example of awighigan encoded in landscape features.

 

Quentin Stockwell 1677: Memory Marking in the Landscape

life in the wigwam samuel g drake 1850

Samuel Drake’s Indian Captivities or Life In The Wigwam, 1850 a compilation

From the Narrative of the Captivity of Quintin Stockwell, Who was taken at Deerfield, in Massachusetts, by a Party of Inland Indians, in the Year 1677; Communicated in his own Words, and Originally Published by the Eminent Dr. Increase Mather, in the Year 1684

In the year 1677, September the 19th, between sunset and dark, the Indians came upon us. I and another man, being together, we ran away at the outcry the Indians made, shouting and shooting at some others of the English that were hard by… They now took and bound me and led me away, and soon was I brought into the company of other captives, who were that day brought away from Hatfield, who were about a mile off… About the break of day we marched again, and got over that great river at Pecomptuck [Deerfield] River mouth, and there rested about two hours. Here the Indians marked out upon trees the number of their captives and slain, as their manners.

Recall is made of the story of Roanoke’s Lost Colony, and the tree found with the word “Croatoan” carved on the trunk.

Passamaquoddy Tribe Named Project Developer of the Year

Maine North Woods Passamaquoddy

In exchange for maintaining a healthy forest, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine is being rewarded by environmental polluters more than 3,000 miles away. Confused? Don’t be. The tribe earned national recognition and is developing new economic opportunities while preserving its environmental legacy by participating in an innovative carbon offset program in California.

On April 20, the Passamaquoddy Tribe received an award at the Navigating the American Carbon World Conference in San Francisco for registering the most offset credits with the Climate Action Reserve during 2016. The Project Developer of the Year award recognizes one of the largest tribally owned cap-and-trade projects in the United States. The tribe has registered the removal of 3.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through measured tree growth over a 98,000-acre project area on tribal land in Maine.

Read the full article at Indian Country Today.

Guided Walk in Vernon’s Black Gum Swamps

vernon vt black gum swamp

A trio of experts will lead a guided walk to visit one or more of the Black Gum Swamps in Vernon’s J. Maynard Miller Town Forest on Friday, April 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

This is an opportunity for people who may never have visited the Black Gum Swamps to see them, and for anyone interested to gain a better understanding of their ecological uniqueness and their value to the town.

Leading this excursion will be:

  • William C. “Bill” Guenther, Windham County Forester with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation
  • Laura Lapierre, Wetlands Program Director, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Eric Sorenson, Natural Community Ecologist, Wildlife Division, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Together, these three experts form an amazing team to tell us about this relatively unknown treasure in our town. Some of the black gum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) are more than 400 years old. This is the only place in Vermont this species of tree can be found. Typically the black gum is found south of the Mason-Dixon line, where it is known as the tupelo or black tupelo. One black gum tree in the Vernon forest was measured, some years ago, to be 435 years old. At another location in southern New Hampshire, a black gum was found to be 562 years old. These trees are not only among the oldest trees in New England, but they may be the oldest broadleaf deciduous trees in North America. Read more about the Town Forest and Black Gum Swamps here.

Because of the presence of these trees, the DEC has proposed to designate the swamps as Class I wetlands (they are now Class II) in order to provide greater protection to these natural areas. There have been some questions and concerns in the town about how this may affect the use of the town forest.

Laura Lapierre of the DEC (see above) plans to schedule a public meeting about the proposed reclassification in Vernon in early May (date, time and place to be announced), as an opportunity to learn more about what Class I status entails and to address concerns and questions the town may have.

If you are interested in the swamps, or in the reclassification process, please mark your calendar and join this tour so you can get a first-hand view, and most importantly, first-hand information from the experts who will lead the tour.

Directions: from Pond Road, turn up Huckle Hill Road, then right onto Basin Road. At the end of Basin Road, park in the roundabout; the tour will depart from there. The nearest swamp is about a quarter mile away and entails a climb of about 175 feet over that distance. The tour may proceed to other swamps but it would be possible to head back from the first one, which is known as the “High” swamp. Bring appropriate footgear and a bottle of water.

Going, or interested? Sign up on the Facebook Event page for the hike.

For additional information contact Martin Langeveld, email or 802-380-0226.

W8bimizi: The Metaphor of the Chestnut

w8bimizi-american-chestnut-sprout

American chestnut perseveres on the slopes of Wantastegok Wajo.

W8bimizi: w8bi- “white” plus -mizi “woody plant” = “white woody plant”

The metaphor of the chestnut: The tree may appear lifeless or decaying, but the roots are alive and ready to sprout. Indigenous presence here in Sokwakik may be thought of in this light. Although there may not be much that meets the (untrained) eye, it is all “still here”, awaiting only a return to reciprocity: recognition, acknowledgement, relationship.

American Beech

…Known to the Western Abenaki quite simply as the mountain tree: wajoimizi, from wajo (mountain) + i (connector) + mizi (tree). The moist, well-drained slopes of eastern North America are where you will find the American Beech, an unmistakably familiar inhabitant of the forest. No other tree has bark so smooth and imposing.  Its preference for rich soil was an indicator to early settlers of fertile ground but by the same token, its hard, heavy, tough wood meant a large beech was often left standing, being too difficult to work into lumber.

Wajoimizi is a stalwart, handsome member of the northeastern climax community; its sleek gray muscled trunks rise, twist, and spread into a fine-twigged crown. Though quite tolerant of shade itself, very little grows beneath its broad canopy other than perhaps its own slender offspring, since the beech will spread through root sprouts as well as reseeding with its bristly nuts. Beechnuts are an important food to the woodland creatures that travel beneath its shelter; turkey, bear, squirrel, deer, and grouse enjoy the bountiful crops that fall every autumn after frost. They were perfectly edible for the Aln8bak as well. Sometimes tracking a four-footed harvester to its cache or collecting them from the leaf litter, the Sokwakiak would gather them for winter storage, pound them into flour, roast them fresh, or boil them to extract the oil – over half of the content is fat. A slow grower, a beech will not begin to bear nuts until it is 40 years old, gaining in strength ’til it reaches 60, and then producing heavy crops every 2-8 years; if it is fortunate, it may live a full life of up to three centuries. Sadly, many of today’s beeches are succumbing to bark disease and entire stands are slowly dying. But not all…

american beech wajoimizi

A simple way to estimate a tree’s age is to multiply its diameter by its specific factor, a multiplier which reflects its rate of growth. Wajoimizi, being one of the slowest growing trees of N’dakinna, has a growth factor of 6; by comparison, white oak and white pine are both a slightly faster 5 and cottonwood is a downright speedy 2. As I was circling around a river terrace above the Wantastekw the other day, scouting out the site of a proposed solar farm and thinking it may likely have been a past encampment, I came upon a giant beech in the treeline. I stopped in awe… perfectly healthy and thriving, this monarch (surrounded by its children) rose majestically from a tangle of roots, to a multi-branched trunk and vast crown, just beginning to leaf out. I came back the next day to take its measure: 144 inches around gave a diameter of 46 inches, with an estimated age of 276 years. I was stunned, again. This chief of the wajoimiziak was born around 1740; it is older than the town of Brattleboro. It may very well have seen Abenaki war parties stealing down the River to raid Fort Dummer, built just 16 years before and only 3 miles south on the Kwanitekw. What changes this ancient one has seen! Its wise spirit speaks quietly to those who will stop and listen beneath the broad arms and green cloak of centuries. Wligen – it is good.

Red Pine I

A mature grove of red pine, pasaakw, thriving atop Black Mountain in Dummerston, Vermont.

Written history tells us that when the British first ventured up the Kwanitekw in the early 1700s, they found a glorious stand of yellow pine covering Kchi Mskodak, the Great Meadows of Putney, Vermont. George Sheldon’s History of Northfield (MA) recounts “The Indians had not burnt over the country above West River; and the meadows in Putney and vicinity were covered with a magnificent growth of yellow pines.”  This fertile floodplain, encompassing 500 acres of well-drained sandy loam, projects eastward toward New Hampshire nearly a mile, with the Connecticut River sweeping in a broad arc around its fertile expanse. Today, we think of yellow pine as a group of North American species found from the mid-Atlantic states southward. Consequently, this description seems completely incongruous – until we recognize the intricate and evolving bond between a language and a people.

red pine bark pinus resinosa pasaakw

Red pine derives its common name from the more or less reddish cast to its loose, flaky bark, often with more color toward the top or crown.

It turns out that “yellow pine” was the eighteenth-century British settler’s vernacular for the red pine, Pinus resinosa; a web search turns up the fact that Northern Yellow Pine is, in fact, a term still used for salvaged, antique red pine which had been harvested back in those days. Red pine is notably denser and thus harder than its more common cousin white pine, and was used for flooring and shipbuilding extensively; early on, it was eagerly sought out by the European settlers and then, in keeping with colonial attitudes, clearcut. The stand at Kchi Mskodak certainly caught the attention of the merchants in New London, Connecticut, already a well-established center for shipbuilding. In 1732, a party of seventy men was sent upriver to cut the tall, arrow-straight pines for the use of the King’s Navy – it was British law that all such trees were Royal property. Accounts indicate that the trees were cut and floated down the river continuing into the following year. Save for Massachusetts’ frontier outpost 16 miles downriver at Fort Dummer (at the south edge of what is now Brattleboro, Vermont), this was an exceedingly rare venture into the northern unknown by the English interlopers.

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

Alexis de Tocqueville 1831

On the other hand, the native people, the Abenakiak,  knew this place and its grove of trees well. In the Western Abenaki language, this stalwart of the forest was called “pasaakw” – PAH-sah-ahk-wah – with two morphemes, pasa + akw combining in prototypical Algonquian polysynthetic style. The suffix -akw is seen often in the naming of trees, meaning a rigid object, or perhaps more specifically in this instance, a “woody stem.” The prefix pasa- is a bit trickier: it seems to translate loosely as “swollen.” To bolster that approximation, the more common descriptive prefix psa- means “to be full of.” This generates a compounded word that means “swollen tree” or “tree full of” and conjures the meaning behind the naming. My thanks – wliwni! – to Jesse Bruchac for his help in extracting the origins of this word; I will be citing his insight often.

In Red Pine II, we will look at the relationship between these two original inhabitants of N’dakinna, the land of the Sokoki, the southernmost band of Abenakiak. Whence the name pasaakw? How did these two relate to one another? How did the coming of the new people impact this affinity? What was the nature of this divide?