Monday, March 26, 2007

Wilderness past and present

Here's a newsy entry. I've been a bit behind but hope to get back on schedule now. My goal is to write at least something most days. Who knows if I can keep to that, though. I have a lot to do before I start my first full-time job in eight years next Monday.

First of all, our trip to Brooklyn two weekends ago was fabulous and fun. I got to see several close friends I'd missed on my previous trips, as did both Lily and Dave, too. We went to PS 261 for a parent-teacher basketball game on Friday night and I caught up with several friends. Sure is a different school from the one Lily's at now, and it's more than just the colorful diversity. There is always a chaotic, slightly out of control sense about the place that can either drive you crazy or thoroughly inspire you. In my case, surprisingly, it always energizes me.

In particular Lily saw her third grade teacher, the fabulous Melissa, whom we all adore. She also told Zip, the principal, all about her new school and about how she has the best teacher in school. A big shout-out to Rachel Davis at Fort River! Ya!

The reason we went -- too soon! we've been there every month for the past three months! -- was to see Emerald and her family, our former neighbors. DeeAnn and I are like sisters and I realized talking to her and Steve how much I missed them, and how a large part of my motivation to leave was their leaving, first. Our family lost something when they left. It was fantastic to see them again, though, and we laughed pretty much constantly from Saturday night through Monday afternoon. It was a bit much to eat out every single meal, but one meal in particular stood out, the Chiles & Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen, which has a sign in its window that says, this is not Mexican food, it's Oaxacan. They serve a wide variety of moles, and grasshoppers are optional. Yum.

Thursday, we took advantage of the time change and the goreous weather and dragged Lily to the Quabbin Reservoir's southern entrance after school, called the Enfield Lookout. (Man, it's like pulling teeth to get her outside, some times! She's worse than I am.) I've wanted to get over there for some time, now.

Finished in 1939 and completely filled in by 1946, this manmade lake displaced four towns and a half dozen villages when they created it in between the hills of the Swift River Valley. It's about 10 miles east of Amherst and 65 miles west of Boston, which is the primary user of its water. It's one of the three largest bodies of water in New England, is 18 miles long, 39 square miles, 181 miles of shoreline and holds 412 billion gallons of water when full. The entire watershed is 186 square miles and it cost $53 million to build.

Apparently because the sportsmen industry is well-financed, Quabbin is open to motorboats and fishing and limited hunting. No canoes or sailboats. And lots and lots of trails, which I can't wait to hike.

All that is from a cool little book I found in the Pioneer Valley section of the Jones Library called Quabbin: The Accidental Wilderness by Thomas Conuel, a journalist. I read it in about an hour after we finally made our visit. The Jones Library is our favorite place in Amherst, by the way, probably the best thing we've found here, and we will miss it and the librarians a lot when we move.

Quabbin is desolate and massive, an extraordinary wilderness in the middle of the state. There's loads of wildlife, birds, animals, fish -- it's even become a hotspot for eagles. Hundreds of families, 6,000 graves, and many houses were relocated in order to create this. And you can't help but look at this endless body of water and wonder what life was like before it flooded in, who lived in the houses whose foundations lie 90 feet below the surface, and what the remaining survivors and their descendents think when they see this view and think about this reservoir.

It's the exact opposite of the feeling I get when I think about New York City and read my latest book, The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto (this next shout-out goes to my friend Anne Hollister, who helped with the fact-checking). Partly because of his lovely prologue I keep imagining Manhattan as wilderness, with streams and forests. It's hard to picture Manhattan as wilderness, just as it's hard to picture four villages under this expanse of water.

What's interesting too about this book is the description of the drive for beaver pelts by the Dutch in early 17th century Manhattan. We dragged Lily out again yesterday after all our guests had gone. We parked at Station Road and walked on the rails to trails path, which is paved so not muddy, about a mile and a half to the Fort River and then back. Most of this section runs alongside beaver ponds, with lots of dams and dens. Again it was hard to get her outside, but it paid off when we saw a beaver in the water, just resting her nose on a piece of ice for a few minutes. Lots of trees were half-eaten through. Awesome animals, beavers.

My last news is that we hosted our first more-than-one-couple social event yesterday, a brunch for about 15 of my new friends. I made my so-called Greek baked omelet, which has leeks, zuccini, mint, dill, feta, and white rice (go figure). Delicious. I also made a Rosie's Bakery coffee cake that I thought was a bit heavy but everyone else seemed to like. Some folks made a fruit salad, we had fabulous Vermont Country Store cheddar cheese, and my favorite, homemade lemon-ginger scones with clotted cream. I loved how everyone showed up and pitched in -- at one point I came into the kitchen to see all the dishes had been washed -- and it feels like this little house is much more of a home, now.

Temporarily, of course. Now that I know I will be working in Northampton at Wondertime and Lily will be going to school in Deerfield, we are picking up the house-hunt and looking forward to finding a house we love somewhere over in or in between those two towns. I'll keep you posted.


  1. Still experiencing visceral gratitude for that amazing Greek omelet, Sasha.

    Holy yum.

  2. want the recipe? and did you notice the red dish the sausages were served in? That's how my friend in Athens gets her yogurt delivered every week, in that bowl.


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