I returned to the couch, sat down, and, in the yellow glow of the lamp, began reading. On page 12, I found this interesting passage (...at least I found it interesting), "In 1938 Dr. John H. Bailey, reporting for the Champlain Archaeological Society, described a site at Chipman's point below an overhanging cliff where from time immemorial a shelter had existed for at least two types of Indians. In the ashes of their campfires on a floor made from chips of limestone that had fallen from the cliff were found a polished stone dagger made from a large animal and the graves of a young child surrounded by large clam shells and of a pet dog under limestone slabs. Long after these people had departed, perhaps several hundred years, another group with arrow-tips of triangular points, and pottery jars moved in, spreading fallen rock over the old habitation to make a new floor. Along with stone arrowpoints they used awls and fishhooks of bone. They, too, lost a child whose remains were unearthed near the wall. And they were cannibals, for the bones of a woman, perhaps a captive, were buried in a pile with her skull placed on top."
Moved by curiosity, I consulted a map of the lake and was surprised to find that Chipman's Point was located just 4-5 miles (by water) north of the house on the Vermont side of the lake. (Years later I would find reference to the same site in a book owned by some family friends, which described the bones of the captive woman as having been boiled, cut, and gnawed upon.)
I don't know why, but from that moment on I possessed a single-minded desire to find that overhang and stand where cannibals had stood. I can't explain it any better than that. I just really wanted to go find that overhang, and I decided to do it.
I told my brothers about it and together a few of us drove up there to see if we could find it, but the helpful proprietor of the Chipman's Point marina, a foreigner of unknown European origin, told us that the site was only accessible by boat. He was familiar with the location and gave me directions on how to find it from the water.
It took some time before nature cooperated with my days off to provide me with an opportunity to seek the place out, but one Saturday morning, I woke up to find the lake as flat as a sheet of ice. For several days prior to that a strong wind had blown out of the north whipping the lake into an angry expanse of white-caps. That wouldn't have posed a significant impediment to a motor boat, but venturing out against such a wind for 4-5 miles in my humble rowboat was a more ambitious workout than I was looking for, but on that morning a soft southerly wind was prevailing and there was not so much as a ripple to mar the surface of the tranquil lake.
So, after packing a lunch, and saying goodbye to my folks, I shoved off from the shore and began rowing north. The rowing was easy and the oars rose and fell in a steady rhythm as my boat cut through the placid water like a knife- its wake trailing out behind like a long widening scar.
Like a stranger intruding on a private moment, the rude, unnatural creaking and splashing of my oars shattered the stillness and propelled me forward into the dawning day. I can't recall what I thought about during those empty miles of rowing. I have made many such trips in my row boat over the years. After a while, the mechanics of rowing requires no conscious thought, and the muscle memory in your bunched thighs, back and arms allow your mind to wander wherever whimsy will lead it.
After a long time, spent mindlessly rowing over the broad lake, I drew within sight of Chipman's point. Following the directions that the foreigner from the marina had given me, I soon found myself with oars raised making for the shore beneath a large limestone cliff. Reeds whispered against the underside of the boat as I entered shallow water. Dragon flies skimmed the surface, mosquitoes whined in my ears, and a Great Blue Heron lazily lifted from the water and landed again further down the shore. There was no beach to speak of. All manner of shrubs and downed trees crowded and overhung the water. The mossy trunk of a downed birch tree, which ran horizontal to the lake, looked to be the best place to pull the boat out. Within a yard of the tree I kicked off my shoes and stepped out of the boat into the water. Then hoisting the bow of the boat up onto the trunk I was able to get the rest of it out of the water by walking around to the back and giving a push. The keel slid easily over the slick and slimy back of the tree trunk.
After retrieving my shoes and lunch from the boat I battled through the dense underbrush towards the base of the cliff. The spot itself was not as impressive as I had imagined. It was a rocky ledge, possibly ten feet across at its widest, overgrown with weeds, at the base of a 40-50 foot cliff, maybe ten feet above the level of the lake. I imagined trying to make a home out of the place. The cliff face rose up and over the spot, which left it exposed to the elements towards the south and west. The original inhabitants must have leaned posts up against the cliff and closed it off using hides or something else I concluded. The spot afforded you uninterrupted views of the lake in every direction, but the marina proprietor had been true to his word. It was difficult to imagine reaching the spot without descending the cliff face. The indians who used the spot must have been dependent on their boats whenever they came or went, except in the winter when the lake froze. That made me think of the captive woman. These people may have lived in constant fear of attack. They certainly would have felt safe there where they could only be approached by lake, and where they could see you coming from miles away.
I lowered myself onto the limestone chip floor of the overhang and swatted mosquitoes as I ate my lunch- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a diet pepsi and some raisins. "Far cry from captive woman," I muttered to myself, "...but it'll have to do."
As I sat there, the wind changed and came roaring out of the north again, but I wasn't worried. The wind would be in my favor rowing home. Part of me wished the skies would open and I would be forced to spend the night under the cannibals' overhang. That would have made a great story. I looked around for building materials. There was no shortage of downed trees and driftwood. I felt excited, like a little boy, as I contemplated constructing a crude shelter beneath the overhang, but a storm never materialized so I returned to my boat and shoved off again- this time for home.
Home- to think people called that place home. From my vantage place in the boat, I tried to squint my eyes and picture the spot as it would have looked in antiquity. A collection of crude shelters, little better than tents, crowded along the base of the cliff with campfires reflecting orange against the sooty cliff face and out over the lake. The place must have smelled awful. Unwashed bodies, rotting animal carcasses, and human waste.
It made my scalp tingle to think that other boats and other men had idled in the same spot and looked on a very different scene. Part of me wished I could peak through the veil of time and share in their story, or at a minimum witness it, but the very thought made me feel soft and unprepared- too spoiled by the age in which I live to think of going toe to toe with such people. Like a lap dog running with wolves. My bones would doubtlessly have ended up boiled, gnawed upon, and piled in a heap with my skull on top.