Friday, July 01, 2016

The Twin Brooks of Yesteryear

Two small streams traverse our condominium and they give it its name, Twin Brooks. They escape notice by most visitors because they are no more than tiny rivulets that a young person, not me, could cross in a single jump. Moreover, all the landscaping has done much to hide them out of sight. Probably a good part of the water runs through underground pipes. But Nature persists as best it can and a good observer perhaps could imagine what the land looked like before all the earth moving, paving and construction that could place in recent times.

Where the two brooks meet, a small pond is present. Ducks and geese raise their families there some years. An occasional blue heron visits the pond and manages to make a meal of some little fish. Also, a muskrat hangs around the edge of the water.

I wonder what the land was like a few thousand years ago before Europeans arrived and populations grew and grew to what they are nowadays. There were Native Americans then, tribes distributed across the land. The ones living here were the Lenape (or Lenni-Lenapi). Were some of them camped in the Twin Brooks site either temporarily or generation after generation? Do I walk on their steps sometimes?

I search for information on the original residents of this land and learn that the Lenape tribe covered part of Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey and a southeastern part of New York state. The region was known to them as “Lenapehoking,” which meant land of the Lenape. These Native Americans had a matrilineal system, that is children belonged to their mother's clan, from which they gained their social status and identity. Male leadership was passed through the maternal line and elder women could remove leaders they didn't approve of. Not exactly equal rights but far better than the condition of European women of those days.

So, I try to imagine the Twin Brooks family or families that occupied this area long before our condominium was built and long before I moved here. Perhaps they built their wigwam at the spot where the two streamlets met. Did they grow the Three Sisters –corn, beans and squash– where we have a parking lot? Are there some broken clay shards buried somewhere? Perhaps a little girl lost her doll exactly under my bedroom, the doll her grandmother lovingly made using corn husks and strings. I have no doubt they hunted deer and turkey nearby. Rarely a lost deer wanders into our property, desperately looking for better cover and finding only pavement, traffic and frightening noises.

They must have gathered berries. Still some berry shrubs grow here and there. Chestnuts must have been an important part of their winter food. It is sad to think that practically no chestnut trees are left because of a terrible blight accidentally introduced from overseas.

European colonists coveted the land when their population kept growing, so they relocated the Lenape Indians a couple of centuries ago. “Relocated” is just a wishy-washy way to say that the original residents of the land were robbed of their rights, uprooted and sent to an uncertain fate to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. There, they had to survive as best they could, making do with limited resources and competing with other tribes already present in the area.

I wonder what we mean when we sing: “This land is my land.”

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