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Posts tagged ‘Quabbin Reservoir’

What the Landscape Tells Us

I’ve been working my way through a most interesting book, The Language of Landscape, by design professor and photographer Anne Whiston Spirn.  She is on the faculty at MIT and her work is very scholarly (I like that, but it might serve as a warning to those who don’t).  I will try to capture her point succinctly, though I’m sure I’m damaging it in the process.  The landscape we see is talking with us if we know how to listen.  In fact, the landscape is telling us about itself, its history and the forces that shape the landscape, be they geological, meteorological or human.  Some such stories are authored almost totally by nature, think of the Grand Canyon telling us about the power of the flow of a river.  However, such solely authored works are harder to come by then one might image.

Humanity is often on the cover jacket as well, working with, around, through or co-opting nature as a co-author.  The hand of humanity is obvious in some cases.  The suburban office building and parking lot tell us a story about the economic intent and values of the designers and perhaps the surrounding community, albeit one we might find boring.   Such is not always the case of course.  Sometimes the story is more complex and perhaps more interesting. Sometimes design, even design by humans, can result in something quite unusual.

Thinking like this has helped me take a different approach to some of my photography over the past several years.  In particular, I’ve been hanging around the Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike, the structures that are largely responsible for holding back the waters of the Swift River and creating the massive Quabbin Reservoir.  The Reservoir, for the new visitor, is the source of drinking water for much of eastern Massachusetts.  It is a marvelous resource that is also surrounded by an accidental wilderness, with wonderful forests and wildlife.  It was created at great sacrifice, particularly for the several thousand people put off the four towns take to create the Reservoir.  As I have said many times here, we should all be thankful for the sacrifice of others.  (If you don’t see the importance of a resource like the Reservoir, Google “Sao Paolo Drought.”  You will see a horrific story of the very rapidly dwindling supply of water in the reservoirs surrounding Brazil’s largest city.  The supply in the main ones is down to around 5 – 10%.  They may run out of water in just a few months.  Twenty million people.  There for but the grace of God and the sacrifice of others…..  But back to my story.)

So the creation of the Reservoir is a complex, sad and wondrous story.   These images were taken on or below the largest of the structures, Winsor Dam, located in Quabbin Park, Belchertown and Ware, Massachusetts.  What is the landscape saying?

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There are I’m sure many answers to the question.  I was talking with a friend the other day, a colleague at Babson who loves to fish in the catch and release area just below the Dam.  I asked him what the Dam looked like to him.  He agreed, it’s not your typical dam.  I’ve been trying to find out the motive behind such an unusual design.  There are many engineering related answers.  An earthen dam makes sense given the location.  There was appropriate soil nearby for the construction of such a dam.  You have to plant grass on the side of an earthen dam and keep trees off of the dam itself.  That part of the story seems very relevant.  But does it explain the way it looks?  In his book, From Valley to Quabbin, author J.R. Greene quotes an article from the Amherst Record, dated October 11, 1946; “This is the Quabbin Reservoir created by  man for utilitarian purposes yet so panned that a great engineering feat has been skillfully blended with nature,” (Greene, 2010, pg. 126, Athol Press).    I suspect the story the landscape here is trying to tell us has more to offer.

Let’s Do It Again

Happy New Year.  I hope you had a nice Holiday.  We did.  Lots of family gatherings which was great, but we did make some time to get out and do some work in the field.  The weather was nice for the most part and not terribly cold, till the last few days.  That was very useful because of an ongoing project that has my attention, on the spiritual nature of the Quabbin Reservoir, or perhaps I should say, its spiritual impact.  (If you’re new to the blog, click on the key words below and you’ll be guided to a few posts that will give you some background, or of course, just “google” Quabbin Reservoir.)  As an accidental wilderness with historical as well as environmental importance, it has a way of bringing people into the fold.  I happened to bump into another photographer at Gate 30 last week, a terrific wildlife shooter, who had gotten the bug a year or so back and now went out there whenever possible.  I’m not just referring to photographers, though.  Far from it.  We’ve run into people from all walks of life who have been captivated by the experience of being there.  They often have trouble putting that feeling into words it seems.  But as a photographer, I approach the question visually of course.

While the ice can be a terrific subject, I’ve  been focused more on the relationship between the water and the forest.  Gate 37 in Petersham presents some wonderful opportunities to explore this relationship.  Here Fever Brook, which runs through the Federated Women’s Club State Forest on its way to the Reservoir actually meets the Reservoir.  The local engineering firm, Beaver and Beaver, has taken it upon themselves to create a rather large pond here.

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The reflections are stunning and give one the sense that the water and the forest are conversing.

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As I’ve mentioned a few times, I was unfortunately ill during part of 2014 and was far less active in the field than I had hoped.  Things are better now and I hope to be a bit more productive.  We have much to be grateful for.  One of the spiritual tugs I feel when I visit the Quabbin is that of gratitude.  I’m terribly appreciative of the fact that I get to go to such  wonderful location, that the Reservoir not only provides us with both water and air, as if that wasn’t enough.  It gives us an opportunity to be grateful for the sacrifices that others make on our behalf.  We’re looking forward to 2015.

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Reflections on the Past in Relation to the Present – Thoughts on the Quabbin Reservoir.

I’ll soon be taking down my exhibition, “Constructing Quabbin” which the good folks at the Westborough Massachusetts Public Library were good enough to host for the last three weeks.  The exhibition was sponsored by the Art and Frame Emporium in Westborough, an art and framing store I highly recommend.  In the exhibition are 10 monochrome images of the structures of the Quabbin Reservoir of the present, the Winsor Dam, Goodnough Dike and in juxtaposition, a series of color images of the artifacts of the towns lost to the creation of the Reservoir.    For those new to this blog and not familiar with New England History, the Quabbin Reservoir is a large open reservoir supplying drinking water to approximately two million residents of eastern Massachusetts.  The creation of the Reservoir involved the taking of four towns and the relocation of several thousands residents in the late 1930’s.

It has been a powerful experience for me as an artist.  My artist talk on the evening of August 28 was well attended and received.  Strangely, the setup at the Library provided perhaps the most powerful experience of the evening for me.  The talk took place in the gallery space, so I was busily getting ready when an older gentleman walked in to look around.  I don’t have permission to use his name, but if he should read this, I hope he recognizes himself.  I’m grateful for our short conversation.  It turns out that he lived in one of the four towns that was lost in the creation of the Reservoir, as a child.  I’ve posted an image here of the Dana Common School House cellar hole and that image hangs in the exhibition.  He went to that School.  We wandered around the images together.  He shared some of his memories of the construction of the Dam and the Dike and what it was like to be on the land as it depopulated.  He seemed to think that it was important that the story of the Quabbin be remembered.  There are of course many other artists and historians working at just that, so I’m hardly unique.  I’ll just speak here as an artist, but to me it is clear that each photograph or image created represents something about the way the artist experiences the Reservoir, and its history.  It is a complex set of feelings.  I don’t think that the matter is every settled, at least it isn’t for me.

I remain impressed by the engineering that created the Reservoir and its apparent effort to somehow come to grips with the wonderful hills and water that provide the context for that engineering.  It is not your average Dam and Dike.

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This is from the west end of the Winsor Dam.  I often wonder about the mind-set of those who designed these structures.  What kind of signal were they trying to send about themselves and their understanding of what was happening.  It is probably worthy of note that Frank Winsor, namesake of the Dam and the Dam’s Chief Engineer, died on the witness stand during one of the many law suits that were provoked by the Dam’s construction.

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He created a beautiful park.  Was that his intention?  We will never know for sure of course.  It is almost as though there are hints if you look hard enough.  My wife and I were hiking at the base of the Dam a few weeks ago, and noticed something in a large clump of trees just to the right of the lone tree you see above.

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A stone marker.  Of course stone markers are hardly surprising in New England, they are everywhere.  Obviously, we took a closer look.  I had to use some flash to bring out a bit of contrast in the carving on the stone.

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That’s a W.  It stands for west perhaps?  On the other side, with the help of more flash and extreme cropping:

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That is an E.  East and west?  My compass app settled the matter.  It was not east and west.  It quickly struck us that this may have been a boundary marker between the towns of Enfield and Ware. (Enfield was one of the four towns that was taken and was unincorporated in 1938.  The town of Ware still exists.)  We checked at the Administration Building and sure enough, that was the case.  Why was it left there?  They didn’t know.  They speculated that perhaps it was just too much trouble to remove.  Perhaps.  This was at the base of what was at the time one of the largest engineering projects the world had ever seen.  I would guess they had the ability to take it away if they choose to do so.

It will soon be time for me to move onto other projects I think.  I wonder if I’ll ever find a project quite so compelling.  We’ll see.  I am not sure I accomplished what I had hoped, so perhaps I’ll keep trying.  The reconciliation of past and present is always a challenge.  Several years back I stumbled upon what to me is the best effort I have seen to date and it was in the form of a prayer.  The Reverend John S. Curtis offered this prayer at the Congregational Parish in Enfield as the parishioners met for the final time on June 26, 1938.

“We thank thee O Lord for these hills, from whence our strength has come.  We thank thee for the valleys that lie between the hills; and the streams and lakes that have brought life and beauty, recreation and industry to those who have dwelt here, and visitors from near and far.  We thank thee for the countryside with its farms and fruit and fertility.  We thank thee for the pleasant villages and hamlets scattered through this area.  We thank thee for the homes that have meant so much to the people who have dwelt here; and, from which have gone many to gladness, bless and enable the world far and near.  We are grateful for those who elected to stay in this valley and make its history.  We are proud of their achievements and the things that they have inspired others to perform.  We thank thee for those who have endured to the end, have not allowed religious services to cease nor faith to falter.  And now, as we look into the future, may we not allow distrust to blind us or disappointment to embitter us, but may we, with the sublime faith of the Psalmist say; ‘I will fear no evil for thou art with me.’  Amen.”

(Courtesy Ware River News, June 29, 1938 located with the assistance of author J.R. Greene.  You will find Mr. Greene’s documentation of the prayer in his book, From Valley to Quabbin, p. 45, Athol Press, Athol, MA.)

Opening of New Exhibition

I’m happy to announce the start of an exhibition of my work at the Westborough (Massachusetts) Public Library, “Constructing Quabbin.”

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Tbe exhibition reflects my latest thinking about the experience of working at the Quabbin and the difficulty of reconciling all of the feelings that one experiences there.  The Quabbin is not just a beautiful location.  It raises quite issues that are relevant to all of us.  I’ve been thinking more about what it takes to make a society work, and in particular the sacrifices that you find whenever you scratch the surface.  The Quabbin area we know now represents a marvel of engineering and design, an incredible natural comeback going far beyond what anyone human could accomplish, a wonderful and amazingly cheap source of water, a carbon sink sucking up CO2 and spewing forth oxygen, a home for wildlife, a place for spiritual contemplation and even healing and at the same time a symbol of enormous imposed loss and sacrifice.   The individual and collective collided. Some good came of it, and some bad.  Too much to deal with it seems but I feel drawn to try. Simply put, the exhibition is about now and then with a focus on observable artifacts and experiences.  The observer will have to draw their own conclusions.

Westborough Public Library is located on Route 30, just south of the Westborough rotary. Unfortunately during much of the day the exhibition space is not supervised and as such the librarians may lock the door.  If you visit, just go to the main library desk.  The folks who work there are extremely nice and they’ll let you in. The Library is closed on Sundays.

On August 28, beginning at 6:30, I’ll be giving a slide show and talk about the images, their history and my experience of photographing at the Quabbin.  Refreshments of the non-alcoholic kind will be available, so if you’re interested and in the area, please stop by.

I want to thank the Westborough Public LIbrary and the Art and Frame Emporium, located in Westborough, for their support.

 

Late Spring – Summer is Coming

It’s looking like a peaceful summer.  Hopefully lots of time for creativity.  Now when am I ever going to learn not to jinx things.  Oh well, that’s how it is looking, but we’ll see.  From the top of Windor Dam at the Quabbin Reservoir, Belchertown, Massachusetts, on a day that shouldn’t have yielded such a peaceful image.

View from Winsor Dam in Spring