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Posts tagged ‘Winsor Dam’

It’s Still Winter at the Quabbin Reservoir – And a new Gigapan

It probably should not come as a surprise to anyone in New England, but this winter is obviously not giving up without a fight.  It should be a nice spring morning and really it is.  It’s just that it is snowing.  Again….  Photography brings solace, so here are some more photo thoughts from the Quabbin Reservoir, the Winsor Dam area inside Quabbin Park.  You can  click on the images for a better view.

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Black and White somehow feels like a presentation more appropriate to the mood though.

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And for those interested in the details, here is a panorama taken from the Bridge of the ice and the budding reflections we can see in the puddles left by a recent rain.  If you want to see it really large, you can find it on Gigapan here.

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Is it spring yet?  No.

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.

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.)

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

Is it Spring Yet?

Well is it?  Goodness, what a winter.  That being said, it did offer me an opportunity to explore several areas of interest in a new, albeit colder, way.  (By the way, a cold winter does not equate with not having to worry about climate change, but I’m assuming you know that.  Weather is not equal to climate.  Climate is the average of weather over a long period of time and over a geography.  Cold winters will probably always be with us. It is the average temperature over time that matters.  Now back to the images at hand.)  I’ve continued to focus on the design of the two great structures, Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike, that hold back the water at the Quabbin Reservoir.  The Quabbin is the source of drinking water for several million inhabitants of eastern Massachusetts.  I’m more impressed with every visit regarding the degree to which these structures are not like what we have come to expect from a dam.

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As such, they provoke a very different response from the visitor.

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Something much more spiritual.  The snow provides another take on that design, one that clearly emphasizes the graphical elements of the structures.  This is all visible of course in the other seasons, but the presence of color obscures the power of the lines and other elements created by the designers.  I continue to wonder what they were trying to achieve, and why.

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Come on spring, you can do it.