Off the Kancamangus Highway, we trod down a footpath to a stream where ancient glaciers had passed and left a strew of boulders in their path, around and over and under which slightly murky water flows, fresh off a rain. I posed my companion a riddle, to the effect that he should guess what else had been caught up in the underside of those glaciers and here deposited or whether the other had not long since disappeared. He met my riddle with silence, and the closest I came to a response proved a frown.
Disappointed, I left him to his investigations, muttering to himself about the notable lack of fish and, particularly, the brook trout in these streams. I drew closer to the water’s edge to watch the troughs forming over the unseen stones beneath the surface. The water bulged in the same place though the whitewater’s precise shape and spray varied. With the flux, shadows of surface disturbances speckled the brook bottom. I considered for a moment attempting another sally with my companion, to the effect that I had found more life in the shadows than the waters when I was greeted by calls which could only portend the discovery of his missing trout.
As I worked to dislodge a stone from the roots of a birch washed ashore with the snowmelt, I attempted to make some sense of the plight of the first peoples on these shores. Their place names survive, even thrive in the Northeastern United States. Still, I might ask what became of them and their languages, for a name seems little without the language which birthed it. It came back to a problem at which I could only gesture in the broadest outlines, the ethical faultline betrayed by American place names in general. For it cannot be said that they were ill suited to the environment or that, as with peoples still older, they merely gave way to newcomers, more numerous, more advanced. But I doubted that their case could be wholly assimilated to earlier instances of migration if only because it seemed unlikely that the building pressures within of prehistory issued in anything on the modern scale of systematic elimination without.
Stone at last dislodged, the tree, after its own fashion, drew my attention to a number of birch bark scraps lying about the shores. Much as with the emblemata of seaborne pottery, I made a brief go of piecing them together, without much success. Letting scraps fall, I circled back to prod further at this vaguely felt ethical faultline. I again held in my mind’s eye the faux rustic charm of a ski-town restaurant. Within its cabinlike rooms, my eyes fell upon a wash of cut timber, polished and varnished to a shine, and in all forms imaginable: tables, frames, stools, bartops, shelves, coasters. The walls brimmed with seemingly cast-off bits of backwoods tools, be they traps or skis, axes or muskets, about which my companion and I debated at some length as to whether they had seen any actual use or found in a dust-coated attic or, still better, manufactured for decorative purposes alone. To crown the room, the proprietors had gone to considerable lengths to procure trophy animals and collected what must come to a considerable mound of deer antlers, which they had then laid in concentric circles to house at the center a cluster of incandescent bulbs. We finished our meal in silence beneath their meager yellow light.