Lowlands’ Lament. February 24, 2011Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death, Politics and Society.
Tags: asparagus, Connecticut River, corn, dams, floods, Holyoke Range, Lake Hitchcock, Milton power plant, Mt. Tom, the Law of Unintended Consequences, tobacco
Half an hour’s drive east of here, the Deerfield river flows into the Connecticut, New England’s longest and grandest waterway.
The lowlands of the Connecticut are legendary for their fertility. For the hundred centuries since the draining of ancient Lake Hitchcock, yearly floods have replenished the fertile flood plain with organically rich silts, turning the once-lake-bottom into some of the most productive farmland in North America. For generations, the Connecticut River Valley was an exporter of cash crops, most notably tobacco, and in the last century, the fabled Hadley asparagus. The latter has of late succumbed to a rust blight and is now in decline.
As population in the valley grew and the bottom lands were developed, however, the cost to individuals of the yearly Spring floods, some of which were really quite monstrous, prompted calls for control of this awesome force of nature. Dams were built, levees erected, and except for rare breaches, Civilization was saved.
But as with all such human interventions, there were unforseen consequences. The end of the yearly floods marked the beginning of the decline of the region’s reign as Bread Basket (or humidor, as the case might be) of The Northeast. Crop yields dropped even as the amount of fertilizer needed increased, raising the cost of doing business and driving much of the commercial farming elsewhere. While Summer still sees the valley bottom sown with corn, tobacco and assorted pumpkin patches, the area has lost its preeminence as a commercial farming hub.
Here’s a winter eve’s view of the Holyoke Range, with Mount Tom’s impressive basalt escarpment in relief on the right, as seen across a stubble of corn between Northampton and the Great River itself:
Stars are just beginning to twinkle at upper left in this thirty-second exposure, while the Milton coal-fired power plant’s stack glows malevolently red in the gap where the Connecticut transects the range.
This image reminds me of Western landscapes I’ve loved forever, and I intend to mine this spot through the seasons until you beg me to stop.