Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Return of the Beaver

Last weekend I went to a state park  in the northwest corner of Rhode Island.  As I walked around the pond, I saw many  recently gnawed trees surrounded by large wood chips.

And here is the beaver lodge.
This is the first time  I have ever seen a lodge and freshly gnawed trees.  Once practically every pond and lake in New England had beaver, and they changed the landscape by creating ponds with their dam building. Nearby are subtle reminders of the natives who once co-existed with the beaver.
Here on the east shore of the pond is either an eight-foot stone row or an elongated cairn. A few other cairns are barely visible through the heavy brush.
 A stone peeps out of a split boulder a few feet from picnic tables. I have seen slabs propped this way near old quarries. The stone made it easier to lift the top slab.
 Deep in the woods stands a strangely grooved boulder. The groove does not extend to the other side of the boulder.
 Close examination of the edges shows what looks like chipping. Perhaps this boulder was being  split like the one shown above. Or maybe this is a natural process involving water freezing and thawing repeatedly in a crack in the rock.
Nearby is this massive boulder which is completely surrounded by  a deep groove.
 The groove between the top and bottom halves is smooth and straight, without tool marks.  The groove extends at least a foot inward, as shown by the faintly visible daylight in the middle photo. There are no smaller stones between the two parts. Maybe this boulder was also being quarried, which must have been an arduous job with hand tools.
 Here is a reminder from nature that it is still winter: a surprise snow storm!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Follow the Pointer

In a wildlife refuge in northern Rhode Island is this  large outcrop with a projecting  slab.  It is hard to tell if  it was meant to point at anything, since the view is now blocked by trees.
I took a compass bearing,  137 degrees, and  then drew a line with this bearing on my topo map.  The next time I visited the refuge, I took the coordinates of prominent structures and plotted them on the map.  This one was right on the  line, about 1300 feet away.
It consists of an oblong  boulder about 8 feet long, propped at both ends,  and a large split boulder. This structure stands on a hill overlooking a brook and swampy area. The bearing of the boulder's  long axis is163 degrees. If it was meant to align to another structure, it is probably lost to development.
Underneath  the oblong boulder are some stones that might be donations.

  The pointer and this structure may be related to each other as fertility symbols, the pointer being male and the split boulder female.   Here is my imagining of the boulders on a late spring evening.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Large Cairn Field

Somewhere in northern Rhode Island, on a gentle south slope, is this large cairn field enclosed by low stone rows (blue lines).  The area inside the walls is about 835 feet long.
Inside are many low cairns.
 Rocks are also piled up around a large boulder.
The ground between the cairns is level and free of rocks.   As I suggested in the last post,  cairns may have been constructed during field clearing, since it would be far less work to move rocks into small piles than to carry them out of the field.  None of the cairns in this field have quartz, and there aren't any manitous or propped boulders nearby.  Perhaps this was a native farm field.  Much of the landscape of southern New England may have been farm fields with cairns, which were then cleared and plowed by settlers.
     About 500 feet north of this field is a small hill with a commanding view of the area. At the west face is an outcrop surmounted by two rocks and a bent tree. The two rocks look neatly placed on the hill, like two seats.
This level  hill would have been a good camping site. There is a small pond at the downhill  end of the field, and a lake beyond it. Here is the top of the hill, facing east.
Here is how the site may have looked in the spring, with corn planted in small hills among the cairns. The view is uphill, through the growing corn, to the camp on the small hill. Of course, this is all from my imagination.
I liked this site so much,  I did the view downhill from the camp site. It is late afternoon in summer and a rain storm has just passed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Mystery of Cairns

Recently I visited a wildlife refuge in Rhode Island.  This refuge is a well-known site with many cairns, especially a large group of tall, beehive-shaped structures.  Many of them are topped with chunks of quartz.
 These cairns seem placed on lines radiating downhill from a large opening in an outcrop.  The smooth sides suggest this was once a quarry, but there are no obvious tool marks.
 The nonprofit conservation group that owns the refuge recently placed an interpretive sign in the middle of the cairn field.

If you can't read this, the gist is that the cairns were probably built by farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries for field clearing and storage of rocks for later use in construction or for sale. It does raise the point that there is no written record of cairn building by farmers.  One would think that such a laborious chore would have been mentioned in diaries or  farm ledgers, and that cairns would have been depicted in American Primitive paintings of farm landscapes.  This cairn field also has a large platform cairn.  
Why would a farmer go to the trouble of lifting the rocks onto a boulder instead of piling them on the ground? I  am skeptical for the following reasons.   If this site was a farm quarry, it would have been a great deal of labor to carry the rocks downhill to build cairns.  Every other quarry I've seen had large piles of rock close by.   The interpretive sign suggests that the cairns were built as part of field-clearing.  If the farmer was going to plow the field, he would not have left cairns in the way, and since he owned horses, he could have removed the rocks in a stone boat.  Finally,  cairns are often found  in swamps and on hill tops, odd locations for field clearing.
      I might suggest two origins for cairns.  Since they are often near propped boulders or openings in the earth, they may have had some Native American ceremonial function.  Addition of quartz to cairns also suggests  spiritual significance.
Cairn building  may  also have been a Native American field clearing practice. For workers using only hand tools, the easiest way to get the rocks out of the way would be to put them in small, regular piles.  This also may be why platform cairns are so common, as an effort to get the rocks off the soil.  Then the native  women could have planted their crops between the cairns.  Use of cairns as native field clearing may also explain why cairns are often found at  abandoned farms.  The farmers obtained cleared fields from the Native Americans, and left the cairns in place if they did not interfere with farming. At small farms such as the "Hidden Walls" farm (10/20/11), the native farmer may have built cairns to clear his rocky fields. That would explain why this small farm is surrounded by cairn fields (red dots)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tahquitz Canyon.

This canyon is on the Cahuilla reservation in Palm Springs, CA.  It was home to an ancient Cahuilla village, and is now open to the public.   There is more historical information at  Some of these photos were shown on Larry Harrop's blog two years ago. Here is the entrance to the canyon.
The Cahuilla claim to be descendents of Fox Indians who migrated to the area over a thousand years ago.  This is a sacred rock where the village was sited.
The area in front of this boulder is paved with rocks.  Donations?
The boulder to the right  in the  photo below is called the Fox Dress boulder, after a legend about a maiden who turned herself into a boulder. It looks like an erratic on bedrock.
 This does resemble the boulder in Manitou (p. 218), but I think the location is a different canyon on the reservation.  Maybe next time...
Further along the trail, some striking boulders.
A small shelter, with a flat rock inside.  Was this some sort of work surface?
Maybe it was a metate, a grinding stone.  The oval stone to the right may have been  the mano (hand-held grinder). I've seen other metates in rock shelters.  Maybe the Indian women preferred to grind the corn out of the  sun and wind.
Looking back towards Palm Springs.
Finally, the waterfall at the top of the canyon.
And just below the waterfall on the other side of the canyon, a bird head effigy with donations underneath.
Further down the trail is some sort of platform or niche.
At the site of the Cahuilla village, some  propped rocks cross a large boulder.  They remind me of ants.
The photo didn't come out because of glare, but high in the cliffs were some crevices sealed with carefully stacked rocks.  These might have been granaries, or food caches in case of raids.
This local resident also thinks the noonday sun is too strong!