Willimantic, Now & Then
Before that the land was “owned” by humans under a different system of law. Joshua had a claim to it by virtue of his father’s struggles with his neighboring humans.
And of course, through it all, there were others who had claims to the land according to their own laws: wolves once did, as did elk, moose and mountain lions; squirrels still do, along with crows, white-tailed deer, chickadees and countless other beings, each with its own set of laws about claims to the land.
I first read about this idea of layered concepts of ownership in a book called The Hidden Life of Deer, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (published by Harper Collins in 2009). It is a great book about the author’s yearlong observation of white tailed deer in New Hampshire.
By Mark Svetz
WILLIMANTIC –February 2010
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Joshua’s Tract:
Land Heritage and Legacy
        This year, I think I am going to get to know a man – long dead – called Attawanhood, whose Christian name was Joshua, Son of Uncas.
I spend quite a lot of time on his lands around these parts. We all do. His hunting grounds are the setting for our lives here in Eastern Connecticut.  Much of his land is available to us, more or less, in its natural state.
returned after nearly 10 years in Manhattan, it was after we had made some effort to “choose” a place to live outside the city. We looked at newspapers in up-state New York, western Massachusetts, northwestern Connecticut, as well as Willimantic. We were looking at jobs, housing, food co-ops,
Sometimes I reflect that we can’t really get much closer to nature than to be clambering over the same rocks and stream beds, hills and valleys that served as hunting grounds for Attawanhood, or Joshua, some 400 years ago.
Joshua was one son of Uncas, the Mohegan Sachem who chose an alliance with English in his wars with the neighboring Narragansett people. Uncas at one time claimed most of the land in Eastern Connecticut, with the Nipmuck to the north, the Niantic and the Narragansett to the east.
As Ms. Thomas points out, we humans get a piece of paper filed in the town hall that tells all other humans that we “own” one piece of land or another. A fox, on the other hand deposits scat strategically throughout its territory to let other fox know of its claim. A bird sings a song. A deer might rub a tree with its antlers, leaving a trace of its scent.  Each sign, like a cash register receipt or a deed, is recognized as proof of ownership.
Through the protection of habitat, these large tracts – Joshua’s Trust protects over 4,000 acres in the Windham region – enable a huge array of flora and fauna to enjoy their quiet “ownership” of the land. This is also true of the state forests and other publicly held tracts here in eastern Connecticut. The Natchaug forest, Mashamoquet Brook State park, Pachaug State Forest, Yale Forest, Mansfield Hollow Dam and the town-owned recreational lands in many towns combine to protect thousands of acres of forests, fields, marshes and streams. Countless beings enjoy that “protection.”
For me, that “ownership” entails a lifelong quest to “know” my neighbors, human, animal, plant and mineral. The spirituality of my life on this planet can be understood best on a stroll through the forest, observing the uses my neighbors have put the land to over the years. Stone walls, dammed streams, borrows dug into a hillside, half-gnawed hickory nuts, scat filled with tiny bones and fur, buds chewed off low brush in the middle of winter. All these are the sacred texts of my religion, showing the ways in which my neighbors “use” their land.
The trick for us humans is to figure how to use the planet without using it up. In that, my hat is off to the folks at Joshua’s Trust. Their efforts seem destined to keep this beautiful land free for all of us to “own” it, each in our own way. To use it without using it up.
In the meantime, I believe I will go out and walk through Joshua’s hunting grounds. As I do I will thank this old friend for his inspiration, if nothing else. The drawing by which Joshua made his mark, that little creature has come to symbolize the love of the land and its preservation.
One of the things I love about Joshua’s Trust – together with various local, state and federal preservation plans – is how it seems to accommodate all the various claims of ownership on the land it protects. The European need to document ownership according to English Common Law, US statutes as well as state and local rules is satisfied. More important for me, is the way other claims of ownership are recognized and respected.
Joshua’s Tract Conservation and Historic Trust, Inc., is a land trust based in Mansfield, Connecticut which has been quietly acquiring land in the Windham Region for more than 40 years.
I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are in this area to have Joshua’s Trust. When Sarah and I
        One of the reasons I want to get to know Joshua, Son of Uncas, this year is because I am interested in this concept of ownership of the land. It is a way of looking at the world in which each of us (human, squirrel, bird) gets to hold some claim on the land recognizable by others of our kind.
sarah winter: photo
The name, Joshua’s Trust, is a reference to the will of Joshua, son of Uncas, in which he conveyed his hunting grounds in what is now eastern Connecticut to 16 Norwich men. This was the beginning of the period during which this part of the planet was “owned” by humans under the English laws of the day.
Universities, and opportunities to hike, paddle and cycle in the country. This last is where Joshua’s Trust came into the equation. Not to mention the Yale Forest, Natchaug State Forest, Goodwin State Forest and the not-too-far-away Pachaug State Forest.
In getting out of the city, we were looking to get closer to nature. During the decade we lived in NYC, Eastern Connecticut became inevitably more developed and the foresight and hard work of the folks at Joshua’s Trust has become a crucial element making Willimantic a great place to live. It was one of the reasons we came back to this area.
after the walk by Sarah Winter