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Lowlands’ Lament. February 24, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death, Politics and Society.
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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.


Nutty Land. November 2, 2008

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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When I was just out of high school, a friend of mine invited our tight group of outcasts to a party in “Nutty Land,” which we would find to be a cornfield along the Connecticut River in Northampton.  It was far from any houses, a mile from the nearest pavement, and apparently the local police preferred to know where the Party Crowd was on any given Saturday night.

So we went.  There was a big bonfire, with drunken boys leaping over it after making furious approaches.  There were vans a-rockin’, and sweet hippy chicks staggering around in a mixture of alcohol-induced haze and pleasant afterglow, while their triumphant conquerors drank and thumped their chests and drove their sooped-up cars blindly through the cornfields, with an occasional idiot blasting through the green wall to find himself soaring down the embankment and into the deep, cold waters of the Connecticut.

Nearly forty years later, I’m back in those cornfields

And I’m not holding a Miller beer, but a camera.

I’m looking for a Summer scene I’ve seen, but I’m way too late.  So I’d settle for an Autumn scene, but I should have been earlier for that as well.

It’s past prime here in the valley, but so far behind my hill-country home that it looks alive, vibrant in the late afternoon light.

This is what I came here for:

The view across the river to the hills known as The Seven Sisters.  They’re part of the Holyoke Range, a ridge of hills dividing Hadley from South Hadley.

Skinner Park occupies the western high point of this range, with an old hotel perched atop Mount Holyoke, the mountain, not the college:

The hotel serves as an Historic Site these days, with visitors wandering through the sparsely furnished rooms and digging the rather incredible  views.

This shot of the Summit House reminds me of colorized postcards of a bygone era:

While the adjacent hills glow in the long rays of the setting sun:

That’s all I got.