Friday, May 25, 2007

Towels, Jedis, quartz and something intriguing

Greetings to all for Towel Day and the Universal Day of the Jedi. I know they seem unrelated to the topic at hand, but nothing really is. It's my son Jonas's 20th birthday as well. Great time of year!
In the wood near where I live, there's lots of quartz and jasper. The above is an example of the kind of thing that's strewn all around there.

I brought home some white stones after a long walk picking them up in several areas. Next day when I washed them, I noticed this one. The pictures above and below are the back and front. It's unlikely, I know, but I keep thinking it could be a tool, a kind of scraper. It has a nice edge, and it fits perfectly in my hand.

If it is a tool, it could be ceremonial. I had to photograph the whiter side in the shade because it is very shiny. The bluer-looking parts are clear quartz. And a point toward the bottom in the picture is actually a clear crystal, although it doesn't show in this light. Whether or not it's a tool, it's a pretty and unusual thing. Needless to say, it didn't go out in the garden like the rest of the stones. I just wish I knew which area I picked it up in. I wasn't expecting tools or anything, so I wasn't keeping track.

Any input is welcome.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ringing Rocks, Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania

This post is made up of photos of just one formation, a roughly sphere-shaped stone that we couldn't help but notice from the trail. I make no claims about it being man made or placed. I just took the pictures because after years of noticing rocks I would have to say this was one of the most extraordinary rocks I've ever seen.
In the above picture, you can see a flat stone lodged in the ground, edge-up. It was one of two.

These pictures are from all sides of this boulder and you can see it is round from every angle.

There were places where it almost looked as if chips had been knocked off it in order to shape it, as in the above if you click on and enlarge it. But that could be natural action happening. The type of rock at Ringing Rocks is completely different from any I've run across at stone sites in eastern PA and New Jersey. Completely different consistency from sandstone, quartz, shale, limestone, even the gneiss at the Oley Hills site. Funny stuff, really, and it seemed lighter than most per volume.

How large was this boulder? I probably came up to the flake or close to it, on its lowest side, and I'm 5' 3".

I mention this formation because I don't think anyone could come here, regarding this as a special or sacred place, and not notice this boulder. Even if it was in no way formed artificially, which is likely, I am certain that it was noticed. There are a number of extraordinary-looking boulders at Ringing Rocks, but this stood out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bucks County, PA

There were several perched boulders here. This one has small stones arranged behind it on the boulder it was perched on.

This boulder sat on another, which was hidden by leaves and debris. What looks like a hole here is really a hollow.

A flat rock leaned on a sort of moon-shaped boulder, with two flat ones buried edge up beside it. What is this?

The same flat rock from the front.

One of many rock piles.

Lining of a stream bed. I've seen this before, more than once.

Well, a person wiser than myself had been telling me for some time that I should go there. But meaning to do something and doing it are two different things, and many months had passed without my making my way to the Bucks County woods. Finally my long-suffering spouse agreed to try it and off we went.

Using Google maps, we had gotten directions, but unfinished road repairs required an unmarked detour and we didn't know our way around. A man and a young girl were doing some kind of cleanup or work at the side of the road, so we stopped and I walked back to ask the way. I mentioned I'd read the place was good for wildflowers. The fellow smiled and said, "It's good for hiking and wildflowers and . . . other things."

There was something in his tone of voice that I didn't ponder at the time. We followed his directions and were soon at our destination.

There were big patches of wildflowers before we even started on the trail. And we weren't far along the main trail before we turned off, first to stand on top of a huge flat boulder, then to investigate other stones and boulder, walls and perched boulders, not to mention the wildflowers: blooodroot, hepatica, both white and piercing blue, wood anemone, rue anemone, spring beauties, sprouts of bellworts and bugbane. One interesting thing led to another delight. I soon slowed up on taking pictures, for fear of running out of room on the picture card. Why hadn't I brought more?

The place abounded with springs and little rills. A ruby-crowned kinglet kept us rapt for five minutes--is it a warbler?

The springs, swamp, and small streams were probably the key to the place as a stone site. The huge boulders of unusual shapes and textures add to the mystique of the site on the landscape. Many of the boulders had flat or concave tops, some of which supported perched rocks or groupings of small rocks, and some of which had accumulated enough soil to host small gardens of wildflowers and ferns.

Further along the path were cairn fields, first on the right as we went in and then another on the left. Off to one side I spotted a low wall, and upon investigation discovered it to be a wiggling serpentine wall. I couldn't determine which end was the head, though, without disturbing a lot of the winter leaf litter, which I did not want to do.

Somewhere along the line as we went from one kind of stone feature to another, Eric said, I guess this is what he meant by hiking and wildflowers and "other things." It hadn't occurred to me that the fellow along the road might know about the stonework, but maybe he did. You don't have to look hard to find it.

We didn't stay long enough to really explore: the Phillies were on at 1:00, and one of us was uninterested in giving that up for a better look at the site. Still, by the time we left, I had a lot of pictures and a good chance of returning late in May, this time with more than one photo card and with a young person just home from college to help me scout around. I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Vacation Stones, Part 4: Modern Rocks and Rockpiles

On the same mountain, not far away, but in a very different-looking section, we found some modern stone construction. This was some way off the trail, where I was lured (as the builders probably were) by the odd trees and interestingly-shaped boulders. I know nothing about who did these things. There was a circle of small stones set into the ground, and some rocks not far away placed for a campfire. The nicest thing was this obviously recent pile on a boulder:

These stones were part of the same complex. Someone was having a good time. But what leads people to build with stones in these places? I wonder sometimes whether the impulse arises in ways not yet fully understood, a subconscious impulse, you might say, triggered by something we're barely aware of.

Elsewhere in Ulster County is a different scale of drystone construction. The builder in this case is known--artist and professor Harvey Fite. He worked alone for 37 years, using only his hands and traditional quarrymen's tools to create this extraordinary work of art and landscape called Opus 40.

Rising out of the bedrock, it covers more than six acres. He created statuary for it, too, and topped it off with a standing megalith such as you might see in Europe. At the site, they explain how he stood the thing up and set it in there.
The only unfortunate aspect is the great numbers of mosquitoes that breed in the ponds created by the sculpture, but the place is beautiful, the product of one of those eccentric and driven artists who add so much interest to the world.
It's all set, as is just about everything in Ulster County, against the backdrop of the Catskill Mountains. [The white spot in the picture, by the way, is not a 'plasma ball' or mystic entity, but a mosquito caught in the flash--I saw it through the lens when I took it.]
The place is worth a visit. There's a Quarrymen's Museum containing many quarrymen's tools such as Flite used. It's another facet of mankind's impulse to build in stone.

What's that about?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Vacation Stones, Part 3: More Piles, Same Hike

Here I include the rest of the rockpile pictures I took on the hike, excepting the modern one. I post them all because I know that some practiced eyes may see more in them than I do.

The one below was espcially nice in some hard-to-define way.
There was a chipmunk chipping at me from this one.
Note the structure of this whole formation:
What is a site like this? It ended at a stream just before the trail started uphill again. Would each pile have been built by someone during or at the end of a vision quest? Are effigies attempts at portraying some aspect of the experience?
As you approach the stonepile field, you pass this:
And as you go up a hill from the stream that marks the boundary of the stone pile area, you pass this:

Both may be pure chance. I don't like to be guilty of that schizophrenic hallmark, "inappropriate salience attribution," but I also don't like to overlook possible place marks. So I just put them here without further comment. But comments on any of this are welcome.

I'll post the modern stuff tomorrow, Sunday, or Monday. Uploading is horribly slow when you have dial-up. By Thanksgiving we will have moved on to DSL, but for now it's all I've got.

Vacation Stones, Part 2: The Hike

We went for a hike, one of those where you get to drive part way up the mountain before starting so it won't take all day to get to the lookout. Age has taken its toll on my vigor.
We were on the second part of the hike, from the main trail toward Huckleberry Point, when I noticed a gathering of stones set into the trail. They were flattened, but it still didn't look like a natural formation and I thought of pictures I'd seen on Peter Waksman's site. This could be a rock pile. It was a less distinct pile than the one in the picture above, but it got me looking around.
I found many piles all around us. A wall or two, too, but mostly piles, in varying states, some knocked over and some laid out to suggest effigies. The picture above doesn't do the pile justice, but if you click on it and enlarge it, you'll see a crecent-shaped rock on the ground on the right, near the crotch of that branch. The pile has several intriguing features. Note the two rocks at the top, set on a third that may have been chosen for its shape. But who knows--it could have looked different before the branch fell on it--or was it lain there?

It was one of those sites where some piles were close to one another and some were more spread out. I would have liked to spend more time looking around, as I didn't see them all, but one of us was only there for the hike. I didn't want things to get unpleasant that early in our long-awaited vacation.
Note the mix of flat and round stones here.

The above photograph was taken further on, away from the rockpile site but before the lookout. The rock on top looked unmistakeably snakelike to me. Even the big one up behind it had a reptilian air.

At the lookout, I noticed this rock, first from the underside which you can't see here. It is propped under that side, too, and the cavity formed is blackened, seemingly from human action, since I saw no other rock blackened in that way there.
The lookout--From the biggest flat rock, where my husband is seated in this picture, you face the high points seen here, from which the altitude falls to the Hudson Valley. You are looking at the point where the Catskills rise from the valley. They then go off to your right, hump after hump.
And to your left, you can see for many miles. That ribbon of lighter color in the distance is the Hudson River. We were so high up that we could see redtail hawks and turkey vultures soaring far below us. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the place made my heart tremble. It's not surprising that such a place would have a ritual site connected with it. More in the next post.

Vacation Stones, Part 1: The Rental Property

The view a short walk away:

The mountains are the Catskills.

We stayed, as I said, in Ulster County, New York, part of the territory of the Munsee or Minsi Lenape, whose name famously means 'the place where the stones are gathered together.' We lived in this area for a few years about 15 years ago, and I know that stone walls abound there. The property around the place we rented was no exception. However, the story of the landscape around this particular property is unusual for the area because we were just by the Ashokan Reservoir which was built in the early 1900's, a tremendous engineering feat at the time, inundating as many as seven villages. The creation of the Ashokan Reservoir radically altered the landscape, making it difficult to relate any stonework to what the hills, streams and sites might once have been like. Whole temporary towns were built to house the workers, and those sites, too, altered things. It's hard to say whether any stonework near there is the kind of thing of interest to readers of rockpile blogs. With that said, I will present some photos. In Part 2 I'll show some rockpiles more likely to be native.

This wall ran downhill, interrupted by the house we stayed in.
I took this picture of it standing with my back against the house, looking uphill.
That wall is the one entering from the right in this picture. Walls went in several directions from this pile. Possibly these were accumulated during construction of the buildings on the property.
However, across the driveway from there, in the woods, was this large split rock. When I took this photo, I thought I was getting a great picture of the split rock and the low short walls that trailed from it on either end. But this is what I got, so it's all I can show you. None of the walls from the other side seemed to have connected to this. This is the most likely example of ritual stonework on this section of the property.

Further down the hill, on what is really protected land belonging to New York City, the wall that was interrupted by the house continued to a place where the land fell off abruptly, but not very deeply, a bank marked by large exposed stones, several yards from a small stream. It was getting dark (and do you know what mosquito populations can be like in a place where all pesticides are completely and permanently banned?!) so I couldn't get many more pictures of the walls and rock-on-rocks there. Maybe you can see the small group of stones on this boulder.

The proliferation of biting insects was equalled by a proliferation of frogs. The small creek, you might almost say rill, was full of frogs in a way creeks never are in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania anymore. I couldn't take a step along it without hearing the plunk! of frog bellies hitting water. I looked up to see a meadow of tall grasses some distance away and for a moment I thought I saw white egrets jumping--then I realized it was a herd of deer, only their tails visible in the grasses.

There's something to be said for leaving things in a natural state.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Vacation in 'the place where the stones are gathered together'

We were on vacation this past week in Ulster County, New York, with a hike into Greene County. Lots of stones, especially walls, in the Ulster woods I was able to visit, but there is no way for me to know if they were ritual sites. On the hike to Huckleberry Point, however, I came across a large cairn or rockpile field, full of nice piles, some very nice. Further up the mountain, I also found a modern ritual site, with little 'new age' rock piles on top of rocks and a small stone circle.

Interesting how the impulse to build in stone arises in people when they're in certain places, without their even knowing why. A great example of this was a spectacular modern site built in a drystone method by one man in the Twentieth Century. The site, also in Ulster County, is called Opus 40. I've seen other examples where people seemed to have been moved by some spirit of stone building, putting up small modern circles of standing stones near a rock ledge in an obscure place I'd hiked to, or similar things. Curious.

At any rate, the photos will go to the developer tomorrow, and I should have some to post by next week. Ulster County, by the way, is incredibly beautiful. It feels as if the earth is alive there instead of dormant the way it feels in so many places. My son would say that feeling and the stonework are connected. He claims to be able to feel when he's near native stonework. His Spidey sense would have been tingling up there!

More soon.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sacred Landscape on the Web

Here's a website for anyone interested in native stonework and related subjects--the website of the Hanwakan Center , full name: the Hanwakan Center for Prehistoric Astronomy, Cosmology, and Cultural Landscape Studies. Herman Bender, the president of the center, has also been elected to the advisory board of Time & Mind, The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture.

The summary for Time & Mind reads as follows:

Time & Mind will provide an international and interdisciplinary forum for new perspectives on landscape, monuments, people and culture. A lively peer-reviewed journal, it will encourage “frontier thinking” that addresses the formative role of “cognition” (to use a portmanteau term) in shaping our understanding of archaeological sites, landscapes and pre-modern worldviews.

Topics will include (among many others):

  • the phenomenology of landscape and skyscape plus the effect on monument building and placement;
  • transpersonal anthropology;
  • the prehistory of mind;
  • the effect of ritual trance consciousness on monumental engineering, rock art, and social structuring;
  • ancient and pre-industrial symbolic landscapes deriving from religious and mythological beliefs;
  • the involvement of light and sound in monumental structures;
  • the multi-sensory properties of natural places venerated in antiquity;
  • archaeoastronomy
  • religious and social symbolism in tribal art;
  • the cognition and memory of place and landscapes;
  • the neurophysiology of ritual.

As readers may know, I think that Western society is headed in the direction of incorporating traditions of sacred landscape and traditions about 'spirits' just as we have incorporated aspects of indigenous use of herbs into medicine and shamanic healing into psychology. New sources of information like the Hanwakan Center and Time & Mind can help bring about the change in our world view that will happen over time.

I won't editorialize at length now. I'll just suggest that we don't require the lead of our forebearers in order to establish a relationship with the landscape on which we live. Even where any and all ancient structures have been destroyed, we can still notice the hills, the rocks, the springs, the streams, and their interaction with movements of objects in the skies. We can find places that look or feel different, notice stones and plants and animals. If you pursue a relationship with the landscape around you, there comes a point where you become possessed of a growing conviction that something is responding, sometimes in ways that seem obvious if hard to believe, or in ways that seem real but hard to put a mental finger on.

It is always worth remembering that every inch of the earth is as ancient as the land at Giza, at Stonehenge, at Newgrange. We're still these small, ephemeral beings passing over the surface of this huge and ancient planet. There are secrets hidden in plain sight.