From Frederick's Hill

Published by GrahamLewis in the blog Reflections on My Golden River. Views: 127

Not far from the metropolis in which I live sits a large tract of land, thankfully preserved from development. At its center is a marsh and associated wetlands, with a wooded area at one end, and an oak savannah at the other end. The oak savannah rises up in a rather steep hill, which is known as "Frederick's Hill," apparently after an early white settler in the region. The wife and I climbed up the hill early the other morning and watched a beautiful sunrise; the sky was clear, the air cool and filled with faint sounds of birds stirring and calling in the marsh below. Morning breezes rustled the oak leaves around us, and gently pushed the waves of grasses and wildflowers. In the distance sunlight flickered on a large lake. I found it easy to picture the site, and the whole region, as it must have looked a couple hundred years ago, before the landscape was transformed by industrious settlers following in the footsteps of fur traders and other travelers.

At the base of Frederick's Hill is a shallow indentation, out of which water bubbles at the rate of something like a million gallons a day. The place is known, not surprising, as "Frederick Springs." It's fascinating to watch the water bubble up and push the sand around, ripples dancing on the surface, weaving shadows across the sandy bottom. Apparently the site was well-known to the indigenous people of the region, the Ho-Chunks, who used to water their animals there. They also considered it a sacred site. No doubt they looked out on verdant hills and woodlands, and presumed it would always be as it was.

Because it was a sacred site, they also buried their dead nearby, specifically in mounds atop and on the slopes of Frederick's Hill. The mounds on the slopes long ago disappeared under prairie plows, but the ones on top remain, several of them, apparently holding maybe 100 or so people in total. In that early morning sun I think I felt a bit of what those ancient Ho-Chunk felt, magic in the moving air, a gentle and pervading calm.

I'm glad that it remains.

I'm also sad for those Ho-Chunk, so ruthlessly pushed aside by "civilization," as the European settlers moved in. It also makes me feel a bit guilty, as a descendant of those later intruders. One line of my family were Quakers, who left England and New England to avoid persecution, and who advocated, and largely lived, in peace. The Quakers are known for their "fair dealing" with the indigenous peoples, making relatively honest treaties and treating the indigenous ones with respect.

And I think my Quaker predecessors meant it. But still . . . . Their journals and histories all speak of the beautiful land they moved into and settled, and developed into rustic communities. All good. But that migration/immigration was all premised on the idea that this land was out there for the taking, God's bounty as it were, opportunities to be seized by the willing and the industrious.

All premised on the largely unspoken presumption that the land was empty and unowned, unused. All premised on pushing those annoying "Indians" out of the way. Which was accomplished largely without conflict or major bloodshed, save for the brief Black Hawk War, a one-sided conflict that settled things forever in favor of the Europeans.

And for all that time, and all these years, Frederick's Spring bubbled and burbled, and the spirits of the Ho-Chunk dead looked down on the springs, while traces of what had been still stood, through hundreds of seasons, reminders that nothing is certain, nothing is given without cost, and nothing lasts forever, regardless of momentary appearances.

That's what I saw from Frederick's Hill at sunrise.
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