Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bent Tree

     Stone structures in Rhode Island often are marked with bent trees.  Most of these bent trees  are large and over 100 years old, but  many are much younger. This continuing custom of tree-bending  was mentioned by Mavor & Dix.    I always note and photograph bent trees, and  have found that they fall into two general categories.
     1.  Bent trees formed with rocks.
The rocks are placed on a sapling, and it grows to form an L-shape.  Here is a young tree on an outcrop with a propped boulder. The stones are still in place.
Here is an adult bent tree, pointing towards  a stream.
 Granted, some of these trees may have been formed naturally when another tree fell on them.  However, the presence of these trees at structures or along trails suggests they  were formed deliberately.
2. Bent trees formed with thongs.
This type is common  in former Cherokee lands, where they are called "trail trees" or "thong trees".  The sapling is bent over and tethered to the ground with a thong or wire.  Here are a couple of examples.
Some of these trees may be bent with a cross bar as well as a thong.
 One important point in this photo is that the bent tree is near a road.  Generally, I find that the smaller, younger bent trees are near well-worn trails and prominent structures such as large propped boulders.  Structures in remote areas often  have only large, older trees.  This suggests that the people who are bending the trees have some understanding of the significance of the structures, but do not remember the locations of all of them.
     One of my favorite bent trees is this one, at the edge of a cliff overlooking a swamp.
It appears to point to this magnificent stone stack at the base of the cliff.
About 1000 feet west of this cliff is a small hill surmounted by a large boulder.
This boulder also has a bent tree.  Glimpses of this boulder may be seen from the cliff in the winter.  This area used to be a farm, and the swamp was once a marshy meadow.  It may have looked like this on a September afternoon.

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