Carved into the side of Egg Rock in Concord, where the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers meet to form the Concord River, is this inscription:
On the hill Nashawtuck
At the meeting of the waters
And along the banks
Lived the Indian owners of
Before the white men came.
Saturated with associations, the place-name Musketaquid calls to mind huge lakes left now to imagination, lakes that were a temporary result of the glacial era. Because our region drains to the north, meltwater puddled behind the retreating ice. Silt and sand settled slowly to the bottom of that still water, forming the flat-bottomed marshes found at the Concord River in Bedford, and along the Sudbury River in Wayland and Sudbury.
Musketaquid was the Algonquin name for the whole area and the rivers that flow through its wide-spreading meadows; “muskeht” means grass. Musketaquid lured English immigrants because their cattle needed hay, and the best bayside salt marshes were colonized before the Great Migration of Puritans ended about 1643.
Some of the remnant population of the Massachusetts tribe, drastically reduced by European diseases and threatened by indigenous enemies, allied themselves with the newcomers and adjusted gamely to their strange manners.
An original drama presented the past few weeks at Littleton High School by the New Life Fine Arts Musical Theater told “the story of the native people of Musketequid and their relationships with the early English settlers.” The opening scene enacts the arrest and humiliation of peaceable Indians during King Phillip’s War, when a fearful populace allowed innocents to suffer for the sake of their security. Ouch! Lemuel Shattuck’s “History of Concord” tells us that in 1646 the leading citizens of Concord persuaded the “principal men among the Indians” to agree to prohibit misbehaviors such as loud wailing, louse picking, and greasing their bodies.
The guidelines encouraged the natives to “weare their haire comely as the English do” and begged the Indians “that they may fall upon some better course to improve their time than formerly.” This last point is familiar to me, being my mother’s perpetual injunction.
The Emerson Umbrella has an arts-and-the-environment program called Musketaquid; last fall their artists gathered on an island in the Sudbury River, in Fairhaven Bay, where they created works for the appreciation of a group of canoeists on a Sudbury Valley Trustees outing. Among other expressions of connection with this resonant place we found in the center of the campsite a mandala—concentric wheels of autumn leaves, pine cones, and bottle shards, over which poet Sophie Wadsworth had posted these lines:
When we arrive we circle the fire ring charcoal glass of old conflagration. We circle the human. Musketaquid welcomes participation.
Their current theme offers people ways to “discover how stories about a place enhance awareness and appreciation for the web of life in which we reside.” If you’d like to join in, call them at (978) 371-0820.