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.