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Ceremonial Time

Fifteen Thousand Years on One Square Mile

John Hanson Mitchell

Publication Year: 2013

"Ceremonial time" occurs when past, present, and future can be perceived simultaneously. Experienced only rarely, usually during ritual dance, this escape from linear time is the vehicle for John Mitchell's extraordinary writing. In this, his most magical book, he traces the life of a single square mile in New England, from the last ice age through years of human history, including bear shamans, colonists, witches, local farmers, and encroaching industrial "parks."

Published by: University Press of New England


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-10

Scratch Flat

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pp. ix-xi

Cast of Characters

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pp. xiii-xv

Map of Scratch Flat

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pp. xvi-xvii

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Preface to the 2013 Edition

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pp. xix-xxx

The square mile described in this book has recently experienced what may be its most dramatic change since the European colonists cleared the area of its primeval forest cover in 1654. This particular tract of land, which by the early nineteenth century was known locally as Scratch Flat, is part of a fertile stretch of the Nashoba Valley in east-...

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1. Ceremonial Time

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pp. 1-13

There is a plum grove just above the house in which I live, a tangled,unproductive group of some twelve trees that were planted sometimein the late 1920s by an old curmudgeon who lived in the house in thedecades following the turn of the century. Every morning betweenApril and November, weather permitting, I take a pot of coffee up to...

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2. The Kingdom of Ice

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pp. 14-25

For fifty thousand years, give or take an interglacial period or two,the area known as Scratch Flat was buried under a mantle of ice onemile deep. There was a world before the onset of the glaciers; that isto say, there was dry land in the area, and there were plants andanimals, life and death, trees and rocks and all the other things that...

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3. After the Deluge

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pp. 26-37

There is a small rise of high ground just to the northeast of BeaverBrook, and just beyond that ridge, like a natural extension of thestreamside marshes, there is a section of half-submerged land knowntechnically as a bog. Dotting the landscape of this one-acre plot ofland you can see small black spruce trees. These are not the massive...

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4. Night on Forge Pond

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pp. 38-50

Nompenekit and Tonupasqua do not accept any one of the chronolo-gies that I have just set down; they would tell me that their peoplehad been here always or forever. Tonupasqua in particular had a wayof stating this that I used to find far more meaningful than her verbalcircular pattern, extending her arm outward as she did so. The ges-...

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5. Archaic Interlude

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pp. 51-69

In the mid-nineteenth century the people living in the towns in theScratch Flat area began to become aware of the fact that economicchanges were taking place in the region and the old ways, the ways oftheir farming grandfathers, were passing. In order to counteract this,partly out of nostalgia and partly out of a genuine concern for the...

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6. Eating Scratch Flat

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pp. 70-85

It would be very easy, hearing all these stories of bear spirits from adistance of who knows how much time and space, to think that allthese events are exotic accounts from a distant country and have norelation to our time or to the place where you happen to live. But thefact is, the place I am describing is no more than thirty-five miles...

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7. A Woodland Nation

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pp. 86-108

American friends get in White Bird's van and drive down Route 3 tomind, they gather at the monument at Plymouth Rock and spend theday, not celebrating, but mourning that fateful point back in 1620when, according to tradition, Bradford and company stepped ashoreand established the first permanent European settlement in the New...

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8. The White Witch

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pp. 109-127

The earliest extant house in Scratch Flat was constructed in 1658records there were several others in the area by that date, none ofwhich are now standing. After the breakup of Nashoba Plantation,the house of Peleg Lawrence was built on the west end of the GreatRoad, and new structures appeared one after another from that be-...

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9. Time Travelers

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pp. 128-144

During the nineteenth century Scratch Flat was dominated by fouralong the Great Road, and the family of Barnabas Barnes on ForgeVillage Road. Barnabas Barnes in particular seems to have enjoyedflush times during his long life on Scratch Flat. He appears again andagain in the town records, first as overseer to the poor, then as select-...

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10. The People’s Place

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pp. 145-160

Around the turn of the century many of the farm families of ScratchFlat began to break up. The Lawrences disappear from the historybooks; a new house, built by a Proctor family, was constructed nearthe early Lawrence homestead in the late 1800s; and then about 1889the old saltbox, probably the first English house in the area, was torn...

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11. Tearing Down Time

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pp. 161-177

...the meadow and began to pick his way through the blackberry bram-bles. He came forward slowly, almost apologetically, looking downto pick his route, and then looking up with a broad smile to tell methat he was coming, and that he was a friend, and that because of thethorns it would take him a while to get within speaking distance....

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12. Fire and Ice

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pp. 178-195

One year during the month of May when the apple trees in Charlie'sold orchards were in bloom, when the shoots of grass were shin highin the hayfields and the indigo buntings were chattering at the edgesof the woods, and time seemed to stop dead, I got up at dawn andwent off into the world to walk. I began with coffee and reflection in...

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13. The Autumn of Time

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pp. 196-206

One day early in the autumn several years ago, I telephoned Tonu-pasqua, ostensibly to catch up on a few folktales, and was informedpeople. Me and my brother. We're going to get some land back in theforest. I got some money saved up, and there's no future for the"I mean it's the same thing for the Indian as it is for the white...

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14. Nompenekit’s New World

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pp. 207-222

I had some difficulties when I first began to think about a future forScratch Flat. It was easy for me, given the abundant evidence of pastcultures, to summon up visions of historical or even prehistoricalevents. And on some levels at least, the present was, and is, easytime. But the future has no footprints, and perhaps partly because of...

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About the Author

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pp. 224-258

...with the natural and human history of a single square mile of landYard. In 1987 he constructed a small cabin on the ridge above thetract and spent a year living without running water or electricityin order to understand more deeply the meaning of this particularMadrid. Although long interested in natural history, he originally...

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684933
E-ISBN-10: 1611684935
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611684889

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Littleton Region (Mass. : Town) -- History.
  • Natural history -- Massachusetts -- Littleton Region (Town).
  • Indians of North America -- Massachusetts -- Littleton Region (Town) -- History.
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