Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Swift River’

Engineering and Wilderness

Happy New Year!  I was finally able to return to the Quabbin Reservoir today, after quite an absence due to other obligations.  I’m focusing at the moment on the structures that cut through the Swift River Valley to create the Reservoir and all of the additional work that went along with that massive undertaking.  On the south end of the Reservoir is Quabbin Park, where the most obvious artifacts of the imprint of the Commonwealth can be seen.  The dams, the buildings, parking lots, etc.  The Quabbin is not the largest watershed in New England..  That distinction belongs to the Connecticut River watershed.  Nevertheless, it may be the most important.  But it is hard to get one’s arms around the all that was done to create this large body of naturally filtered drinking water, and of course, all that as changed and destroyed in the process.  The work began in earnest just over 75 years ago.


The Winsor Dam is one of two primary structures holding back the water.  What is the difference between a dam and a dike?  A dam has a spillway to let water flow through.  This particular spillway, when the water is high enough, lets what remains of the Swift River continue it’s journey.  However, the water is not high at this point and as such, there is no spill.  I find that gives one the opportunity to focus on the structure itself.


These intrusions into the landscape over time create an new kind of beauty, a new kind of landscape after a time.


Let’s hope 2014 is a good year for everyone.

Thanks for the Water

Happy Thanksgiving to those in the U.S.  It has been a tumultuous and difficult year in some ways, but we seem to be making it through.  It has been dry here, in response, in part, to our changing climate.  However, we had a beneficial day long recently which suggested that the water would be flowing, and indeed, it was.  We made our way to the Swift River Reservation, a wonderful and important property owned by the Trustees of Reservations, in Petersham, Massachusetts.   How important?  A good deal of the water that flows into the Quabbin Reservoir runs by this point.  The Quabbin Reservoir supplies the drinking water for about two million citizens of eastern Massachusetts.  It is essential to their, our, well being. The Eastern Branch of the Swift River dumps into Connors Pond, and then moves south into the Reservoir.  It is just off Route 122.  When we got there, we found an amazing cornucopia of running water, reflections, forests and ice cycle structures.  Like so many great but intimate locations, it was too much of a good thing.  It is eye candy if you’re just looking. Not so much if you’re trying to make a good photograph.


You can see the water flowing over a “dam” of sorts, as it is leaving the Pond.  The reflections were wonderful, but difficult to position.  You might try standing on your head to view this one.  The basic problem is that the forest surrounding the flowing water creates a massive set of distractions.  The only approach that, sometimes, thankfully works, is to isolate interesting components of the scene with a longer lens.  That was more satisfying.


I am always amazed at how little chunks of ice debris can withstand the onslaught of a river.  These two are gallantly fighting on.  I am using a longer exposure here to capture the movement of the water.


The longer exposures reveal patterns of water flow as the water moves through the rocks and mud. These are patterns that like so much of nature are often invisible to us, unless we care to look a little harder.  You may learn something if you do, however.  For starters, it’s a lot of little things that matter.  This place, though and our water, add up to something big, for which we should be quite thankful.  In many parts of the world people would die for this stuff.  We are exceedingly lucky.

Quite the Mess

I have written before about the work of Robert Glenn Ketchum.  He is without a doubt one of America’s great landscape and nature photographers.  Some of his best work, in my opinion, was on the Hudson River Valley.  An environmentalist to the core, he does not shy away from troubling vistas.  His work is not anything like “eco porn” as it is sometimes described, beautiful but essentially meaningless pictures. He tells a story with his work.  I cite him in the rather unusual context of a blog with a title “Quite the Mess” because of his ability to deal with just how messy nature can be.  We are implored as photographers to simplify, get just a few elements in your photos, and above all, get an image that doesn’t include a lot of distractions. I actually agree with that advice.  On occasion, such opportunities fall right into your lap.  More often when you’re trying to capture what is really happening in the wild, it ain’t going to happen.  Or, if it does, you will have lost your story line.  Case in point, the Swift River (Middle Branch) running under the old stone bridge at Gate 30 of the Quabbin Reservoir (located in New Salem, Massachusetts) a few weeks ago.

Could some one get that tree out of there!  No, I guess.  I actually debated the wisdom of putting these messy vistas on view.  I can hear some of my old teachers now.  “Some things are beautiful, but don’t photograph well, that’s the way it is…..cope!”  But it occurs to me that we run risks when the work is always pristinely simple.  Have we at least paid attention to the way nature works, the way things look when they are in fact left “wild?”  So, ladies and gentlemen, from my “messy” portfolio..

I have to comment on these bells.  I tried every way I could think of or was physically capable of to create a compelling composition.  The problem here is that the tree branch from which the ice bells grew cuts across the frame in a rather mundane fashion.  Such is life.  This fallen tree created a platform for all sorts of wonderful ice forms.

A work of classical fine art?  Perhaps not. But the story here is, in part, the weather. Much of the “mess” resulted from the Halloween 2011 snow storm.  Such storms reshape the forest.  Nature obeys the laws of, nature, of course, the rules of photography not withstanding.

On closer inspection, things start to make a bit of sense.

With apologies to Robert Glenn Ketchum!

The Other Swift River (New Hampshire)

I spend a lot of time on location at the Swift River, which is actually three rivers, in central Massachusetts.  There is another, equally interesting but more mountainous Swift River in New England.  This Swift River runs along the Kancamagus Highway outside of Conway in the White Mountains.  It’s a powerful body of water that cuts a valley through mountains ranging from 2000 to 4000 feet on each side.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

If this image makes the River look powerful, that’s appropriate.  However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the River completely overwhelmed the area, and most of what you see here would have been under water.  The Forest Service is now repairing the damage, and the river seems more like its old self.

Powerful, and beautiful with reflections from the fall foliage and tannin from the decaying leaves.

A New E-Book: Boston’s Water Now Available

I’m proud to make available a new collection of imagery from the Quabbin in PDF format.  This is available for download at no charge.  If you are interested in prints, please contact me.  Thanks.  Update: Iphone and ipad users, I’m sorry what you’re seeing doesn’t look right!  please go to this link, where things should look a bit better.  

View this document on Scribd