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Posts tagged ‘Bear’s Den’

The Middle Branch of the Swift River and the Hazards of Nature Photography

As readers of this blog know by now, one of my main concerns about how we think about our environment is, actually, how little we think about it.  We take for granted so much without questioning what supports our lives.  The food shows up at the grocery story, the water in the faucet and the oxygen that sustains us in the atmosphere.  I live in central Massachusetts and work in eastern Massachusetts.  Most people in eastern Massachusetts don’t know where their water comes from, the Quabbin Reservoir.  So my mission is in part educational.  As such, I’ve been working more with video as a media for engaging with people about the source of their water.  This has involved creating short videos that hopefully take the viewer to the source of their water and at least help them connect a few dots.

With that as background, here is a short two minute trip along two sections of the Middle Branch of the Swift River, one of the most important sources of water that goes into the Quabbin Reservoir. I’m shooting from two locations, one the Bear’s Den and the second, where the Middle Branch cuts through the Quabbin Reservation, closer to the Reservoir itself.  You can reach both in New Salem.  Both are rather tame walks (but see my warning below).  I find both of these locations compelling and have posted still imagery from there many times.  I hadn’t been back in a year or two, much had changed, though much remained the same.

A word of warning and a request.  Posting video online is not as satisfying as you might think given that every one seems to be doing it these days.  Most services compress the video severely and if you’re used to good photography, you notice this immediately.  Second and more seriously for me, most of you read my blog as subscribers.  You have it e-mailed to you and WordPress does not always embed the video properly, meaning you may not see it.  This happened a few months ago, to my chagrin.

Trying something different this time, I’ve actually uploaded this version to WordPress itself rather than embed it from Vimeo. However, If you can’t see it, click here and you’ll go right to the video as posted on Vimeo. Regardless, make sure you’re watching the HD version by clicking on HD in the lower right hand corner of your video screen.  You’ll know to do that if the quality of the video is particularly annoying.  If the preview version I can see is any indication, you will need to click HD to get the higher quality view.

On the hazards of nature photography.  When we go out into the field, we are actually quite careful.  Tics are everywhere and they are particularly dangerous in New England.  So we are fully covered regardless of the temperature.  No sandals, short sleeves, etc.  Never, even when it’s really hot.  But that isn’t always enough to protect you it seems.  I’d been to this location many times but evidently this is where I contracted poison ivy, or something like that.  Even though I didn’t think I was excessively allergic to poison ivy, I have never been cavalier about it.  Your reaction can change over time with aging.  This time something went wrong and the poison ivy mixed with something else and left me severely ill.  The treatment, prednisone was just as bad as the disease as some of you know.  It finally seems to be working now thankfully.  I got some good medical care along the way, including from an excellent Dermatologist.  Just as I was leaving his office, he shared a rather bone chilling observation that he said all his dermatology friends had been pondering over the past few years.  Poison ivy is getting much more virulent. They don’t know why.  I have no expertise in this area other than what I’ve learned over the past month so I can’t verify his statement, but he’s a good doc and very well trained.  So why am I saying all this?  If you’re old enough you may remember a pretty good police show, Hill Street Blues.  The desk sergeant at the precinct had a way of closing his start of shift meetings that came to mind recently:  And hey… careful out there.

Hidden Gems – The Bear’s Den

Spring is finally delivering on the goods.  Thank you.  Embarking on a video project (which still isn’t ready for prime time) has given us a chance to revisit some of our favorites, including The Bear’s Den, in New Salem, Massachusetts. Just another one of those places that almost no one knows about, and yet offers the stunning opportunity to get “up close and personal” with a waterfall.  You literally climb down into the base of the falls and commune with the Middle Branch of the Swift River as it moves toward the Quabbin Reservoir.  Thanks to the Trustees of Reservations who own the property, and leave it very wild.  Click on the images for a better view.

Those falls are maybe 30 feet tall.  Not gigantic by waterfall standards, but just as compelling as the big ones.  And of course this is important water. Boston drinks from this river.

Here’s to hidden gems.  Happy Holidays!

The Bear’s Den

The Bear’s Den is just north of the Quabbin Reservoir, in the town of New Salem.  It’s not technically part of the watershed, but in fact, the Swift River, the middle branch of which flows through the glacial rock formation there, is on it’s way to the Quabbin.  Here’s a panoramic overview.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

If you’d like to see the detailed panorama, it’s posted on Gigapan.

It’s a wonderful place, luckily preserved by the Trustee’s of the Reservations in Massachusetts, a not for profit land conservation organization.  Those of you who have been to the Bear’s Den previously will note that on the left is a big tree truck.  If you look carefully you can see that the tree was growing on the side of the hill.  That tree, or what’s left of it, took out one of the great spots for planting a tripod.  As the Trustees of the Reservations typically leave these kinds of properties wild, that tree is going to be with us for some time I fear.  But it adds to the sense of intimacy of the place.  You’re standing right at the level of the falls.

The River then flows on south, through a beautiful set of small rapids.

The flow of the waters meant that this was a working river.  Just a few feet from the the flow are the remains of an old mill from quite some time in the past.

It’s difficult not to try and reflect on what it must have been like, to work so close to such a beautiful yet small, intimate river.


The only sounds would have been the sound of the mill and the sound of nature I suppose, for the most part, the sound of the flowing water.

But of course, the winters would have been, and still are brutal. Everything looks better, to paraphrase Paul Simon, in photography season.