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Along The Connecticut. June 21, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I had occasion to head toward Amherst today, with the intention of showing some of my photos to a restauranteur who expressed an interest in having them on his walls.

Well, that didn’t work out – something about a “family emergency.”  That could, of course, be the case, but it’s so cliched I can’t help feeling slighted.

Anyway, having carted my wares all the way down river, I spent the late afternoon scouring the lowlands for more raw materials, knowing that the transition to Summer would produce some sort of blossoms and at least a little bit of atmospherics.

What I found was tall grass:

…laced around the edges with roadside randomness, including a LOT of Cow vetch:

This hot, dry week we’re experiencing is ideal for harvesting hay, and the grass is beautifully high, so farmers down in the valley are making hay:

Much of Hadley isn’t exactly flood plains of the Connecticut river, but more accurately viewed as the bottom of Lake Hitchcock, gone for ten millennia  but still evident by its sediments.  The land is rich despite having provided several hundred years of legendary productivity.

Haying happens several times per growing season, depending on growing and harvesting conditions.  Rain makes it grow, but dry conditions are necessary for cutting and baling, and the two don’t always coincide.

This, though, looked like a really productive mowing:

This farmer was good enough to welcome me into his field to take these photographs.    He was working for his living, and stopping for a stranger was an added task on this very hot and humid day.  I greatly appreciated his permission to shoot.

Here’s The Man round-bailing the cut, dried grass:

These round bales are tied up and dropped out of the back of this baler, whereas traditional rectangular bales are packed, wrapped and pitched into hay wagons being dragged behind the operation:

But this is Hadley, rolling lowlands which don’t flood seasonally.

Across the river to the west is Northampton, where Spring flooding is common.  The flatlands have been harrowed and planted and harvested and flooded in a cycle extending for centuries.

These days they grow corn and potatoes there, with a bio-diverse fringe of invaders separating the field roads from the crops:

That looks like wild mustard and lettuce, with mullein piercing the skyline.  I love mullein – it looks like the pacifist’s version of yucca or agave, all cuddly and hippy-friendly (they smoke it, you know!)

One of a zillion types of daisies found locally piles up between the tires and the ‘taters:

Again with Mount Holyoke’s crowning Skinner House in the distance.

Another of the volunteers which dot these dusty fields is the ubiquitous cow vetch, here seen with Mt. Tom shaping the skyline:

I think what keeps drawing me back to this decidedly lowland place (a strong hour from my hill town home) is it’s suggestion of something farther west, perhaps a view of the Heartland, maybe even something higher and drier, the alti-plano of Wyoming or Montana.

I know that if you’re from there you’re pointing and laughing, but still, it’s a feeling I get, and I’m playing with it.

All of these shots are from Elliot, my Canon TS-EII tilt-shift lens, and most benefit from the use of hand-held graduated filters to bring the brooding skies further into compliance with a photo’s useful dynamic range.  This combination is really my Standard Operating Procedure for landscape photography, though my 24-105mm zoom Allie lives on the box in my daily travels.

Thanks for hanging in there for this longish post on a place I’ve photographed numerous times before.  I keep hoping for exceptional light or some remarkable bloom, but I’m meanwhile thankful for whatever the place gives up.

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The Hitchcocks. March 27, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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That would be Mount Hitchcock, straddling the border between Hadley and South Hadley, Massachusetts, and here seen presiding over the flood plains along the Connecticut River:

The foreground puddle is a remnant of melting snow; these fields will be plowed for corn when they’re dry enough.

…and Lake Hitchcock:  The plains of Northampton and Hadley are vestiges of the lake-bottom varves, or seasonally deposited sediments, laid down by the Pleistocene-era Lake Hitchcock, which stretched about two hundred miles from northern Vermont to southern Connecticut between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago.  The lake eventually found a path around its terminal moraine dam down by present-day Rocky Hill, CT and the lake drained, leaving only the current Connecticut River in its place, here seen passing beneath the Cooley-Dickenson Bridge between Northampton and Hadley:

This is another example of a failed sunset foray producing something else worth looking at, at least for me!

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.

😉