Uploaded 25-Feb-10
Taken 11-Oct-09
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The Spring at Hunter’s Home

There is a hole in the side of the hill. Water comes out of the hole. Someone stuck a pipe in the hole to make the water easier to collect. People have been collecting it here since at least 1853[1]. Many pipes.

This is the spring at Hunter’s Home, where the Thatcherville Road crosses the North Branch of the Saranac River. Hunter’s Home, Paul Smith’s first hotel[2], is gone. Thatcherville is gone. The spring and the river keep flowing.

Far away west in dry country, the Mescalero Apache believe that power is “carried into the physical world through the agency of water.” In their cosmology, springs are sources of power. They call this power “diya.” It is “supernatural potency,”[3] like the “qi” or “chi” of the Chinese. So the spring is a place to be honored.

The water at Hunter’s Home pours down to the North Branch at about seventy gallons a minute[4]: over 100,000 gallons per day; 37 million gallons per year. In Minnesota, in the midst of the sprawl between central Minneapolis and The Mall of America (just to write those words makes me shudder), on land that used to belong to the Mendota Dakota people, is a spring that releases the very same amount of water – water that a half mile later joins the Mississippi River.[5] Seventy gallons a minute is really quite small on the global scale of springs. I’ve been to a spring in Florida that gushes 26,000 gallons a minute[6] – an entire river emerging from a wound in a limestone ledge. But size is not a prerequisite for holiness.

The little spring in Minnesota is the dwelling place of Unktehi, the god of the waters; it is his passageway into the human world. And this is where Mother Earth, Ina Maha, gave birth to the first ancestors. It is where human life began. It is the Mendota’s Eden, regardless of what the white man has wrought around it.[7]

An antique word for spring is “fountain.” In Brittany, the most Celtic region of France, where there are many fountains, the Fae (Faeries) of long ago guarded these haloed places where the waters rise from the earth.[8] As the Christianization of Europe proceeded, the Church gave the springs over to the protection of the saints. So we have the Fountain of St. Anne d’Auray, the Fountain of St. Cornely, the Fountain of St. Columba, and so forth.[9] Still, the people continue to offer sacrifices at the holy fountains[10] for reasons unchanged since pagan times. A changing of the guard has made no difference to the nature of the guarded.

It would appear – as the Church would wish it – that the faithful are making offerings to the saints whose statues and shrines have been installed at the sacred spots. But though they may have forgotten the primary meaning of their actions – may have lost the personally chthonic connection of and to their ancestors – though they may be unaware that ritual rises from its source, the reservoir of the unconscious, like a spring from an inexhaustible pool in the bosom of the earth, the fundamentals are the same. When we go to the source, we must give thanks, recognizing that our tenuous little lives are wholly dependent upon the gifts of the earth.

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[1]Based on earliest recorded habitation in immediate area. See note 2.

[2] Helen Escha Tyler, Born Smart: the Story of Paul Smith (Utica, NY: North Country Books, 1988) p. 17.

[3] Paul Devereux, The Sacred Place: the Ancient Origins of Holy and Mystical Sites (London, England: Cassell, 2000) p. 108.

[4] My own measurement using a five gallon pail and a stop-watch.

[5] Charles E. Little, et al., Sacred Lands of Indian America (New York: Liveoak Editions, 2001) p. 111.

[6] Posted on a sign at Rock Springs, Kelly Park, Apopka, Fl, 4 March 2006.

[7] Little p. 111.

[8] W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (unknown: University Books, 1966) p. 433.

[9] Evans-Wentz p. 428.

[10] Evans-Wentz p. 429-431.
V-LUX 1, f/3.2 @ 15.2 mm, ISO 200

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The Spring at Hunter’s Home