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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Summer 1962

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Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Summer, 1962

Alf Evers

WHAT in the world can a town’s bedrock and its folklore have to do with each other? The answer to this riddle is that they may have a great deal. For long years of give and take between a town’s people and its bedrock sometimes result in the birth of a rich and colorful family of folk beliefs, tales, and ways of doing things. Of course, this does not happen in every town. Take, for example, a town whose bedrock acts as little more than a hidden platter on which are heaped up glacial debris or riverborne sands and gravels from which the town’s living things draw nourishment. In a place like this a man may lead a long and useful life without ever catching a glimpse of the bedrock which supports him and his neighbors. This man’s personal stock of folklore will ignore his bedrock, for it seems never to touch his emotions or shape his desires.

In another town, the discovery that the bedrock of the place has a cash value may quickly bring into being a large body of folklore. This is the folklore of a mining town. It is made up of tales of sudden wealth and equally sudden poverty, of gambling and violent death, of living it up and doing without. It is an anxious folklore which reflects a sense of insecurity.

There is still another kind of town—one which strikes a balance between these two extremes. This is the kind of place whose people know their bedrock and get along well with it. They neither ignore nor exploit it but use it with moderation and a wholesome pride. In such a town a body of folklore grows up that links together town and bedrock in a way that gives the place an unmistakable air of being at home in its landscape. Its people acquire a comfortable sense of permanency, of having roots that go deep into the enduring rocks beneath their feet. The town in which I live—Woodstock, New York—has much of this quality. True enough, there was one period when the town and the rock on which it stands lapsed into bad relations. That was the day of intensive quarrying. But through the rest of its recorded history, Woodstock and its bedrock have been on good terms. A small part of the town’s bedrock is formed of red shale, a useful material for surfacing roads. But most of it is made up of layer upon layer of the hard, fine-grained sandstone known as bluestone. Through many years of living in intimate and daily contact with its bluestone, the town’s people have accumulated a great wealth of bluestone lore....

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