Sunday, November 17, 2013

Petroglyphs to Putney Landing

I was beginning to think paddling another section of the Connecticut River might have to wait until next spring.  However, that all changed yesterday when Captain Dangerous and I rendezvoused in Bellows Falls, VT/North Walpole, NH to take advantage of some unusually kind weather conditions for this time of year.
After we'd paddled the section of river above the falls back in October 2012, I'd heard of the existence of petroglyphs in Bellows Falls attributed to Native Americans, and had wanted to see them ever since.  So before launching near the foot of the Great Falls, we walked across the Vilas Bridge (opening photo) to the Bellows Falls side and finally got a look at the ancient etchings...
Even though the Great Falls lost most of its greatness when the river was diverted to a canal in 1802, it is easy to imagine just how powerful a spot this was when the river ran through it wild and free.  Of the many explanations I've come across as to the meaning of the etchings, I like this one by Edward J. Lenik in his 2002 published Picture Rocks: American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodland the best:
"Abenaki-Algonkian spiritual beliefs included the power of a life-giving force referred to as manitou, the Great Spirit or creator.  Manitou is present in natural phenomena such as certain rocks, rivers, and waterfalls and also in anthropomorphic beings.  The basic cosmology of the Algonkians consisted of levels above the earth and below the earth.  These levels were connected by holes through which the souls of the dead and the spirits of the shaman passed from one world to another.
The awe and majesty of the Great Falls, with its tumbling, roaring water and deep potholes, would have had a significant impact upon the spiritual beliefs of the Indians who visited the site.  The gorge, constantly changing but eternal, would have been viewed as a sacred place and connection point between the center of the earth and the sky.  The unchanging features of the Great Falls, with its recurring annual cycles of fish runs, embodied divine spirits.  I postulate that the heads carved into the ledges at the Great Falls represent an attempt by the Indians to make contact with and gain access to the spiritual power and energy at the site, perhaps with the manitou or the Great Spirit..."

Once on the river we paddled to the foot of the falls and looked up through the gorge (opening photo).  Great numbers of anadromous fish once gathered here before making their attempt at swimming against the flow.  Fortunately for us, we'd turnaround and head downriver past the shallow confluences of the Saxton and Cold Rivers.  This photo looking up the Cold River shows how shallow and rocky this area is...

An immature eagle was busy preening its feathers in a tree on the Vermont side of the river...


We passed under the only bridge (Rt. 123) and at about the 5 mile point came upon Dunshee Island...

Electing to push on we paddled down to a rocky spit at Fullam Brook where a lunch break was taken...

Once back on the water we were treated to an encounter with a seaplane first taking flight then landing (if that can be done in a river), then taking flight again and rising above our heads.

Of the many tributaries we saw entering the river from both sides, only Sacketts Brook possessed water deep enough to paddle into...
After exploring it just past Rt. 91 we journeyed the short distance to our takeout at Putney Landing where a modest trash haul posed briefly...
Most of the trash was found at the locations where we launched or stopped for lunch.  On the river itself, little trash was seen.

Once shuttled back to North Walpole and as daylight faded we saw the amber lights flashing and heard the verbal warnings for a dam release at Bellows Falls.

For the second month in a row, my drive home was towards a rising full moon in the eastern sky.  Along the Mohawk Trail the Millers River was seen glistening in the moonlight.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looked like a great day. Do you know a rough date of when those rock carvings were created?

Suasco Al said...

Anonymous, It seems no one really knows when the rock carvings were created. They were first mentioned in recorded history in 1789 by Reverend David McClure.
More information on them can be found at the Connecticut River Joint Commission website:
www.crjc.org/heritage/V06-62.htm