Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What I am reading this week: "Changes in the Land" by William Cronon

This blog is about ancestors and history of French Canadians so you can rightly ask "Why are you interested in reading about New England's Pilgrims and Puritans and the changes they brought upon the New England ecology?"  I suppose it is because all the colonial immigrants to the western hemisphere made drastic changes upon the lands forever altering the balance. From the very beginning of the Pilgrim's venture they made plans to support and pay for their efforts by shipping timber and beaver skins back to England. The landscape and whatever animals lived and plants grew on it were commodities that could be traded.  Historians sometimes write the French colonists were more tolerant of the the native peoples and  less destructive of the environment.  Probably that is because the number of French who established farms in the St. Lawrence Valley was so small compared to the number of English colonists establishing farms in New England. The French farmers cleared rectangular plots along the shores of the St Lawrence River and      seldom moved into the deep interior in the 17th century.  The English colonists arrived in droves between 1620 and 1630, rapidly moving up the Connecticut River, the Essex River, north of Boston, and established towns inland.

However, it is hard to imagine the French control of the northern beaver fur trade as more benign than the English and Dutch trade in New England colonies and the Hudson Valley of New York.  It did not take long for the beaver, and many other native birds and animals to be wiped out.  The beaver traders had to travel farther and farther into the hinterland to obtain the furs they needed.  The passenger pigeon  once so abundant in the St Lawrence River Valley were killed by the French Canadians to stuff in their tourtiere pies and became extinct by the 1890's!  My point?  Well, there is enough blame to go round the ancestor's tree but let's open our eyes to what is happening in the present.  We must stop thinking of resources (think oil and petro fuel) as commodities to be used up now.   I cannot understand why we even think and speak  of oil reserves as "lasting 50 years" or "supplying our nation's needs for X period of time".  The pursuit of genealogy has made me realize we are here for a blink of time and 12 generations is really not very long.  What will I leave for my children??  So Changes in the Land is a great book that has starting me thinking  about that past, my present and their future....  here's a review of the book on someone's blog Review of Changes In the Land.   


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