by David St.-Lascaux
From History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River, by Edwin Manning Ruttenber, 1872.
April 26, 2014
BY FORTUITOUS COINCIDENCE, I learned that author T.C. Boyle was born in Peekskill, and that he had written a novel entitled World’s End (1987), which itself refers to the deepest section of the Hudson River – a trench of 216 feet – near West Point and Cold Spring. Well into this intricately crafted tale of economic and racial conflict, whose technique is to alternate chapters recounting the story of late Seventeenth Century Dutch patroons, peons and Native Americans with a parallel one of their Twentieth Century descendants, Boyle makes reference to E.M. Ruttenber’s History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River, which may be found in facsimile at Brewster Kahle’s archive.org. Its title page, recalling Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (Ramses II), bears the epigram:
“‘Tis good to muse on nations passed away
forever from the land we call our own;
Nations as proud and mighty in their day
Who deemed that everlasting was their throne.” Sands.
History is Ruttenber’s historical documentation of Native Americans and locales in the Hudson River Valley and its adjacencies, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Long Island. If you didn’t read it in school, perhaps that’s because History is the quintessential damnation of the Dutch, English and other invasive European subspecies, which were carried by seagoing vessels to the North American continent (they having missed out on the earlier Portuguese and Spanish metalfest, germo-genocide [an estimated 93 percent of the indigenous population wiped out by imported diseases] and landgrab in Central and South America). Here they have proven ineradicable (contrariwise, their considerable work ethic has long been devoted to the eradication of as many humans – including their own genetic stock – as possible), quickly crowding out native fauna and flora, befouling the local land, water and air.
A stamp on the title page of the online copy of History reveals it to be from the Lees-Museum ["Reading Museum"] Library in Amsterdam – poignantly ironic. How members of this Amsterdam-based gentlemen’s club (the Lees-Museum’s Dutch Wikipedia entry remarks that Dutch physician/suffragette/feminist Aletta Jacobs was denied entry) must’ve received this book may be speculated, given the group’s heyday at the time of History’s publication. The Lees-Museum’s closure in 1930 followed a mere 130 years of incorporation, a period somewhat briefer than the civilizational longevity of Ruttenber’s Native American subjects.
MEANWHILE, MEANDERING along the banks of the Hudson in Cold Spring, the Agrarian Librarian and I recently stumbled on a washed-up shoreful of dried European Water Chestnut (Water Caltrop, Trapa natans, no relation to Eleocharis dulcis, edible Chinese Water Chestnut) pods. These slightly scary-looking, matte-black multi-spiked tetrahedral seeds, also known as Devil Pods and Bat Nuts, are the fruit husks of an also hugely destructive invasive species also originating in Europe (actually Eurasia) that, like its human counterparts, crowds out native species and, ditto, ultimately chokes the lakes, ponds and streams it infests. Sic transit gloria mundi.
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Text and images copyright © 2014.