From the New York Times shortlist of President-elect Trump’s possibilities for Secretary of the Interior, who will oversee the BIA, National Parks and Forests, public lands and waters, cultural and historic sites, and rule-making affecting all of the above and more.
A vintage postcard, from sometime shortly after 1909.
The river central to the vista is the Wantastekw, now known as the West River, just west of its confluence with the Kwanitekw (today’s Anglicized Connecticut River), in the northeast corner of Brattleboro, Vermont. The postcard’s legend could more accurately be described as northwest from the northern end of Mount Wantastiquet’s ridgeline. As far as dating this scene, the wide expanse of blue in the foreground indicates that the river’s water level is higher as pictured than its natural state of repose, due to the impoundment of the Connecticut by the construction of the Vernon hydroelectric dam eight miles downriver in 1909, by a business consortium which became known as New England Power. But the area known as the Retreat Meadows – the medium brown swathe just left of the broad watery area – had not yet been subsumed by the impoundment, as it is has been today – flooded permanently. An effort to maintain the Meadows as agricultural land, using a dike and a pumping station paid for by the hydropower developer, was successful for a few years but subsequently abandoned. Also worth pointing out is the fact that color cues in a hand-colored photograph such as this are not always reliable: studio artists often worked from a photographer’s notes remote from the site, and mistakes of interpretation were made. In this case, the thin band of blue at the lower left is mistakenly tinted as water; it is actually open land, perhaps that of the Richards Bradley farm, west of Putney Road and just south of the West River bridges.
The same view today (Niben – Summer 2016).
Alton Natural Gas Storage Limited is developing a huge storage site for hydrocarbons (natural gas and others) in Brentwood, Colchester County, Nova Scotia. They will use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out underground salt deposits. “During construction of the caverns, brine will be released into a constructed channel connected to the Shubenacadie River where it will mix with the tidal (brackish) river water to maximize dilution.”¹ It will be directly discharged into the Shubenacadie River through the channel. The amount of salt from these caverns amounts to over 8 million cubic yards – 500,000 dump truck loads, depending upon how many caverns are created.
This is of great concern to Mi’kmaq citizens, fishers, local landowners, environmental organizations and allies since this unique river ecosystem is home to several endangered and at risk species. The discharge site is near the mouth of the Stewiacke River, one of the last breeding grounds for striped Bass and also habitat for endangered Atlantic Salmon. Despite continued outcry and court challenges from First Nations, local landowners and fishers regarding the lack of consultation and meaningful environmental assessments, the company has received all necessary approval. An overruling by the Minister of Environment, Premier or Federal Critical Habitat designation could still stop the project before the brine dumping takes place.
Learn more about this immediate significant threat to indigenous rights in Mi’kmaki, on the north central Acadian peninsula.
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.
Hidden behind a mountain high above Wantastegok, a small brook drains a forgotten swamp lush with high-bush cranberry, chickadees, and sphagnum moss. Secreted beyond the forested ridgeline, hemmed with mountain laurel and hemlocks, the clear amber water seeps through the roots and fallen leaves, and gathers into a narrow crease as it seeks a way to the Kwanitekw below. Dikes of schist ledge rise in its downward path, nudging it here and there, slow and now fast, as the pull of gravity leads it toward the great river in the valley. One such ledge offered an opportune notch toward the goal of confluence, but someone, long ago, saw a better moment nearby. Stones were laid into the gap, diverting the flow a few feet further south toward another opening, where a vein of pure white quartz crossed the bedrock.
The water coursed over the bright light of the stone, continuing on its journey, the same flow but now infused with caring and energy. Still it moves down the mountain, many hundreds of lives later, following its destiny and carrying the intentions of an ancient heart and sharing the gift with all of its relations.