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Of the half dozen or so major cairn sites in Vermont, the one in Stockbridge, near the border with Barnard, is among the most intriguing, probably because it is one of the least known and explored, and seems to hold considerable potential.

 Located on the side of a mountain off Perkin’s Brook, about a mile hike in on a logging road, it was first explored by Ernie Clifford, a Vermont native, about ten years ago, who had heard about it from a hunter friend.  Ernie then showed it to me one beautiful April morning four years ago, at which time I took some photographs of two of the largest cairns but didn’t spend much time exploring the area.  2003 was the year when I was first introduced to the major cairn sites in Vermont by Ernie, and I was simply doing a lot of looking, and documenting as many sites photographically as I could.  But as I began to be more familiar with certain types of cairns and paid greater attention to how they were constructed and located in the landscape, I thought back on the Stockbridge site and how little I really knew about it.  Upon reflection, it seemed to be very important with respect to the other sites I had seen, particularly how certain cairns seemed morphologically similar to others I had seen elsewhere, and I was determined to have a much closer look at it and probe the woods around the site.

 On September 21, 2007, Ernie agreed to guide a small group of four to the site.  We met at a parking spot at the beginning of the logging road, and then walked up a steep slope by switchbacks to a nearly level area that had been recently logged.  Here the road split: the more recently used road veered to the right and eventually past a foundation and underground chamber of an old abandoned colonial farm.  Instead we went straight ahead on an abandoned spur that was slowly being swallowed up by trees and shrubs on either side.  After about ten or fifteen minutes of easy walking we were supposedly in the area of the cairns, at an elevation of 1600 feet.  Four years ago, one beautiful April day, I visited this site when the trees and bushes had not yet blossomed, and I could make out some of the stone cairns from the road.  But now, in late summer, the dense foliage obscured everything beyond a few feet.  Ernie, however, knew just where to enter the woods, and after some easy bushwhacking we were at the first large structure in a pine grove.  

 Approaching it from the south, the cairn  didn’t look like much.  Young saplings had fallen against the south end of it, which sloped gradually to the ground, and some stones had been knocked out of place by repeated tree falls.  As we walked counterclockwise to the north facing side, the construction was less disturbed and impressive looking (Fig. 1).  Here I was impressed by the intentional directionality of the well constructed face of the cairn as opposed to the other side.  I had seen this before at Parker Woodland in Coventry, Rhode Island, where five different cairns had their well constructed side facing east.  The Stockbridge example faced north, and I am at a loss to explain this, as I am the large cairn with the quartz cobble (see page 2, Fig. 11), which also is north facing.

 The cairn was roughly rectangular in shape with its axis oriented east-west.  It measured 10.7m long, 2.3m wide and 1.4m high (35’ x 7.5’ x 4.5’).  Some balsams and hemlocks perhaps thirty to forty years old had fallen against it, criss-cross fashion (Fig. 2).  This was not a benign looking environment.  The ground was uneven and characteristic of “pillow and cradle” topography that Wessels (1997) describes as being caused by periodic tree blow-downs over a long period of time; there was no evidence that this area had ever been cultivated, although by the size of the trees in the area, tree harvesting had definitely occurred only decades before.   
Fig 1
Fig, 1
Fig 2
Fig. 2

 The stones comprising the cairn appeared to be local schist that cleaved in broad horizontal planes that permitted easy stacking.   Considerable lichen and moss growth had formed on the surface of some exposed stones on top, which compared quite favorably with the thick mats of moss that a group of us had seen on five cairns near the summit of Glastenbury Mountain in southern Vermont (Fig. 3), which we concluded predated the construction of the fire tower and Long Trail to the summit between 1913 and 1930.  On the east side of the cairn was a short extension or ‘tail’ with a diagnostic cobble of quartzite on top (Fig. 4) that reminded me of similar stone extensions to some cairns at the Smith cairn site in Rochester, Vermont.  There, some of the extensions seemed to reach out to connect with springs that flowed in wet seasons (Fig. 5), but here there was no apparent water source.

Fig 3
Fig. 3
Fig 4
Fig. 4
fig 5
Fig. 5

 I have no idea why this large cairn and the others were built.  To me, they are monuments of some kind, although this is only a hunch and is not based on any factual evidence. It is obvious, though, that considerable effort went into gathering and then piling the stones, which may have required a team of workmen, especially to move especially large stones that must weigh hundreds of pounds, especially the one to the far left in Figure 1.  But where did the stones come from?  There are no concentrations of loose stone on the ground in the area, and the terrain in the vicinity of the cairns does not look as though it was ever tilled, which was the main means of forcing stones to the surface through frost action.  Without tilling, stones will stay put in the ground.  So the source of the stones remains a mystery.

 A bit further to the north, and in a depression near the cart path, nearly out of sight, was an impressive, slightly wedge-shaped cairn as seen from the side (Fig. 6), which as one went around to the right, presented a tightly constructed façade (Fig. 7).  I vaguely remembered this cairn from my first trip to the Stockbridge site, but now I was able to measure and record it photographically.  It was 2m wide by 1.5m high (6.5’ x 5’).
Fig. 6
Fig 7
Fig. 7

 From there we walked north along the cart path to the bottom of a pine knoll, at the base of which was a terrace-like construction of stones measuring 2.6m long by l.5m high by .8m high (8.5’ x 5’ x 2.6’) built against the slope (Fig. 8).  Above this construction, and on top of the knoll, was a large cairn (Fig. 9).  The combination of the small terrace construction and the large cairn reminded me of similar arrangements I had seen at the Smith site in Rochester, such as this small cairn at the base of a knoll, above which was a terrace wall surrounding a low stone mound (Fig. 10).  This arrangement and juxtaposition further emphasized the directional orientation of the features and how one should approach them: both examples were much more impressive if seen and approached from below.  

Fig 8
Fig. 8
Fig 9
Fig. 9
Fig 10
Fig. 10

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Copyright © 2007 by Norman E. Muller