Curious Footprints

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(Host) Commentator Joe Citro says that if you want a really good legend, take a scenic spot in Vermont, throw in a mystery plus a love story for good measure and stir.

(Citro) There is a Vermont curiosity that has all but vanished from local guide books. In its day it was considered a remarkable puzzle, and people flocked to see it.

But in today’s faster, less contemplative search for entertainment, very few venture to South Woodbury. At least not to see the footprints.

Admittedly dinosaur tracks are plentiful in New England. But it is rare indeed – here or anywhere else – to see human prints. embedded in stone.

In South Woodbury — if you find the right spot on Cranberry Meadow Road — you’ll encounter two footprints embedded in the vertical face of a boulder. There is a handprint just above them.

How did they get there? What could have formed these impossible permanent impressions?

They have been there longer than anyone can remember and would be totally incomprehensible if the locals hadn’t concocted legends to explain them. One asserts they were made by angels. Some probably blame them on extraterrestrials. But most folks call them the “Indian Footprints.”

A local man, Bernie Badeau, pointed out that the footprints are surrounded by towering slate cliffs. Thousands of years ago, he says, that road was a riverbed and the cliffs acted like a gorge. When the water was low, you could walk on the bottom. When it was high, it rose to the top of the cliffs.

This river formed the boundary between two rival Indian tribes. In a pre-colonial Romeo and Juliet scenario, a young man fell in love with young woman from the opposing tribe.

One day, when the water was high, the girl decided to swim over to meet her lover. The rushing water swept her away. In his attempt to rescue her, the young man drowned.

The tribesmen were perplexed; he had been a strong swimmer. But when they examined his legs they understood: he had broken them both when he jumped.

After the river receded, they saw the rock ledge he had landed on. In mourning the loss of their children, the two chiefs came together in peace and carved the commemorative footprints in their children’s memory.

Over the centuries, rain and repeated Vermont winters have eroded the stone memorial.

In 1958 another local man was fearful the legend would die when the prints vanished. So, chisel in hand, he sharpened the existing footprints and the legend lives on.

Wherever truth lies, the location favors a love story. The trees and cliffs are beautiful, and every year the surrounding ponds bright with white water lilies.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.

2004 Copyright Joseph Citro

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