Peregrination: (v) to travel or
traverse. The “American Heritage Dictionary” defines it as “to journey or travel from place to place.”
Profile Rock is a projection of rock in Freetown that, when viewed from the proper angle, is said to show the profile of the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. The rock is located inside the Freetown-Fall River State Forest.
Several years back, on the cold and rainy autumn morning, I drove through the park’s entrance. My phone’s GPS displayed a pulsing dot—me—and off to one side, another dot labelled “Profile Rock.” I parked and followed a path into the woods. On my phone’s display, my dot closed in on the rock’s dot. I guess you could call this “hiking on instruments” because in the dense surrounding woods and mist, there were no visual elements to reference. Shortly, my map showed I was there.
Ahead of me, a mound of bare rock rose from a forest floor carpeted by broken liquor bottles, empty nips, twisted beer cans, torn snack wrappers, and cigarette butts. The sight made me think of a 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad that, at the time, was known as the “Crying Indian” commercial. The ad opened with Indian, portrayed by Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian American actor who claimed Cherokee descent, paddling his canoe down a pristine river surrounded by forest. Soon, Cody emerged into a modern, polluted harbor. He landed on a litter strewn shore, got out, and walked to a rise from which he viewed traffic clogged highways. A passing driver threw a bag of trash out his car window. The bag burst and sprayed trash at the Indian’s feet. The camera zoomed in on the Cody’s face. A tear ran down his cheek. “People start pollution,” a voice over intoned, “People can stop it.” Fifty years ago, I used to think people could stop it, and would stop it. Apparently not here.
The rock was too rain-slicked and slippery for me to consider climbing, though in younger years I’d have tried. From what I could see, the top, maybe some thirty feet above, was weather smoothed and rounded; no profile from this vantage. It had to be on the other side. I took my sweet time getting there, keeping a focus on not twisting my ankle and not stepping on any broken glass. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, I couldn’t stop obsessing that the woods were haunted. I’d read a junky blog posting about Profile Rock being the home of Chief Massasoit’s lingering spirit. If Massasoit did indeed haunt the rock, he certainly hadn’t haunted it sufficiently to spook away the partiers.
At the back side of the rock, the trees retreated. Here, the mound presented a fifty-foot-high jumble of fractured and fallen pieces. Up high, freshly cracked rocks presented sharp edges; the pieces lower down had rounded, worn edges. Drizzle eddied in the breezes. Where was the profile? I shifted from side to side and stepped forwards and back, but try as I might, I could not find a line that suggested a forehead, brow, nose, and jutting jaw. Maybe the old Chief had fallen and lay strewn about in a dozen graffitied pieces.
What might it have been like some 400 years ago for a Wampanoag to have emerged from the woods, dense and dark, to this place, to this rock? On a day like today? Grey sky, raw wind, rain slicked rock rising up from the ground, trees and leaves dripping, redwing blackbirds rasping in the woods. He and I would have seen the same objects and felt the same air, yet imagine the gulf. I listened to a redwing and likened the sound of its call to a rusty door spring; what comparison would he have made? I felt a raindrop fall down the back of my cotton shirt. What manner of tunic might he have worn? He would have looked at sky, trees, and rock, and felt the spirit of the world. I look at rock and trees and thought geology and biology. He would have heard the wind whispering. I thought I could hear the sound of semis from the highway.
The drizzle turned to rain, serious rain, cold rain with bits of snow mixed in. Hatless, getting seriously soaked, I gave the rock one last look, but no luck. The profile, if it was still there, eluded me.
Half a year later, on an early spring afternoon, pewter grey and dreary, I returned determined to find the profile. Over the winter, I had compared the online photos of the profile to the photos I had taken. I could now see where I should have been looking. I’d been assuming the profile would be cut high up on the rock, but the online photos showed the profile was much lower down and that it peered out from below a tall boulder. So I returned. I was back where I’d stood last fall. Now, I needed to step more to the side. As I did, something of a brow took form. I stepped back a little, not too much, just a couple of steps. That did the trick. Brow, nose, mouth, and chin. The face peered out from around a corner.
I felt a tingle, like old Chief Massasoit was lurking in the wet woods behind me.
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Editor’s note: This 50-foot tall granite formation was destroyed in June 2019 when the main portion of the profile—Like The Old Man of the Mountain 16 years before—came tumbling down the mountainside.