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Thanksgiving at Dana Common

We’ve taken to heading out to more spiritual places on Thanksgiving.  There’s something about hanging around, cooking all day, only to eat the meal in 30 minutes and then fall asleep that is losing it’s appeal.  Sure, the football is good and the company is great, but it’s useful to stop and reflect from time to time.  The Quabbin Reservation is a good place for that because one is surrounded by what is, and what was.  (Quick history lesson for those new to the blog or unfamiliar with the Quabbin:  The Quabbin Reservoir is a large pure body of water in central Massachusetts that supplies Boston and surrounding towns with drinking water.  It was created by the taking of four towns in the 1930’s, Enfield, Greenwich, Prescott and Dana.  All of the dwellings were destroyed or moved.  There’s nothing under the water except some artifacts and streets, contrary to the belief of some.  However…read on.)

I’m still working hard on trying to explain, photographically,  the spirituality of the Quabbin, which isn’t particularly easy.  Yes, there are signs of the four towns everywhere, but they don’t always photograph well.  The most common sites are typically cellar holes, in the forest.  There are a few exceptions though and probably the most famous and compelling is Dana Common.  It is a classic New England town common judging by the streets.  The people, however, are gone.  You have the streets, the cellar holes and other artifacts, and the trees that surround the Common.  There is enough left to give one the feeling that this really is, still, a New England common.

During the spring, summer and most of the fall, the cellar holes and artifacts are covered by brush.  In the winter, of course, they are covered by snow.  If you want to get a good look, experience a “sense of place,” you have to go in late November or Early December.  With the warming of the climate, it appears that December is looking more promising.  Much of what we hoped to see was still crowded out by the remaining vegetation, though there were a few exceptions.  The center of the Common and the Monument, erected by those put off the land and their relatives, are there, looking quite pristine as one would expect a New England town common to appear.  These areas are maintained by the Division of Conservation and Recreation in Massachusetts who steward the land around the Reservoir.

Across the Common, one finds the entrance to what once was the Cemetery.  All of the those buried there have since been moved to the Quabbin Cemetery on Route 9, just south of the southern boundary to the Reservoir.  (What you see here are boundary fence posts, not tombstones.)

The site of the old Schoolhouse though, clearly shows the challenge presented by the vegetation.  The weeds are in school now.

 

 

 

One of the most interesting sights of all though is clearly visible.  The Vaughn homestead cellar hole and what I can only describe as the “Medusa” tree call out, year round.

The Vaughn home must have offered a compelling presence, right on the Common (the south side of the Common to be more specific).  Evidence of what was is graphic, and yet very subdued at this point.

We will return soon to the Common, perhaps in a few weeks, to see if the visibility is a bit better. Perhaps though the quest for a better image misses the point.  People walked along these sidewalks on their way to Thanksgiving Dinner, until the Reservoir was created.  It must have been a nice walk for most, on the way to see friends and family.  You can almost feel it.

The Rising Sea and the Jersey Shore

We are thankfully coming to the end of another abhorrent election cycle.  It’s rather easy to see just how dysfunctional our situation is by among other things what doesn’t get talked about. Readers of this blog know that in my view it is critically important to discuss, among other things, our changing environment.  We’re coming off the second biggest natural disaster in American history, and no body’s talking about what it means.  What can we learn from this?  What are the implications for us all?  Nope.  Can’t talk about it.

Now, if you’re expecting me to say that Sandy was caused by global warming, I won’t.  The reality is we can’t say that.  Yes, it is true that that freakin’ storm was breathtaking by every metric.  When it hit the Jersey shore it had a barometric pressure of around 950.  I’ll never forget the look on the face of one of the Weather Channel meteorologists when he described how the threat from the storm was worsening because of the intense low pressure at its core, a pressure reading that is extremely rare. His concluding comment was “this is bad, this is very bad.” Sandy strengthened as it approached the coast.  Evidently she was not aware that hurricanes in late October are supposed to weaken.  The water in the Atlantic though was just too warm for that. Global warming?  The best we say is “possibly, but possibly not.”  However, we can say something here that does relate to global warming.

The sea level is rising.  It’s up maybe a foot over the past century and the rise is escalating.  That means it didn’t take as much of a storm surge to do the deed as it would have a century ago.  When The Battery was first built, it was probably never anticipated that it would have to deal with storm surges like we saw last week. (When The Battery was first built I’m not even sure they knew what a storm surge was.  My guess is that in certain parts of the world, more subject to hurricanes, the locals did.  Up here in the northeast, I doubt it.)  Why is the water rising?  In their well researched book, The Rising Sea,  authors Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young describe the sea level rise in great detail, but here’s their bottom line; “The volume of water in the oceans can be increased in two ways:  by the addition of more water or by heating the water.”  (page 34)  Land based glacier’s are melting.  If you want to see it in action, go to The Extreme Ice Survey.  (Sea based glaciers are also melting but they are already in the ocean.)  More directly, global warming heats the ocean water and as everyone knows, when water is heated, it expands.  The seas rise, and when the sea gets angry, it has a shorter fuse. It’s getting warmer in large measure because of the way we live our lives.

But we must not talk of such matters.  It’s better to assume that “low taxes for everyone!” (the rallying cry of one of our local senate candidates) is just as sensible as a free lunch.  I hope that on election day those of you from the U.S. will remember the importance of addressing environmental issues as part of facing up to all our challenges.   Meanwhile, as a tribute to those struggling with the recovery on the Jersey Shore, I leave you with a few as yet unpublished images of that wonderful place and a far more peaceful Atlantic.

These were all taken at sunrise or sunset.  The last image is from, appropriately, Sunset Beach.