The Ripple: Westfield River, the Heart of the Hilltowns

Heart of the Biome: Rivers

The Westfield River is the most Hilltowny of flows, featuring a full range of terrains and moods. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

A few days ago I was walking along the Connecticut River, at the Bashan in Hatfield (the green space off “Bashin Rd.” on this map), and the mist from the low-belly clouds touched its soft, purling surface—connecting the earth and the heavens. I was alone; there were no motor boats (this river is often a highway) and—dripping like the leaves—I absorbed serene, wonderful moments of simple raccoon and heron prints in the sand, of patient muscular hurlings of water molecules from mountains to sea, and of the paradoxical, rousing smell of sweet ferns and mushrooms. The quiet strength of these things (and more), and the feeling of equanimity and ease returned with me to my home, pouring from my character for others to splash in ’til bedtime came and we all drifted away in our own birchbark canoes of sleep and dreams.

Being alone, without distractions, helps one to connect to a river; and always coming and going, shrinking and growing, the river connects us to the elements and creatures in a manner that lakes (too static) and the ocean (too big) can’t. Let us cherish our friend the river, who leads us out of the cares and the cages we live and work in, and helps us recall that the world is bigger and more beautiful than our conceptions of it.

And let us gather by it, with our friends and family, and strangers who we meet, who have been drawn by its ability to draw us in, and absorb us—whether through its calm or its cacophony, its embrace or its danger. Even in great cities, with scores of museums and millions of diversions, people gather by the river, to pause and reflect, and feel bigger and freer than anywhere else. Be it the Ganges, the Spree, the Tiber or the CT, rivers always take us when we give ourselves to them.

Hemingway wrote the “Big Two-Hearted River,” which expressed the way a river can heal the wounded amongst us, and while I love the tale and its message, I love its title the most. The river is the heart of any biome, any region, any political geography. A city built away from a river, is a city that cannot and will not last. Souls, it might be said, that are too long abstracted from the flush and fury of uninhibited rivers, wither. And rivers dammed, like our own lives, soon silt up, get diseased—and then, with that soft power that creates grand canyons, cracks and overwhelms the obstruction, restoring the flow. All rivers are hearts, beating vitality into stones, dusts and dirts: (re)charging the fields and forests, and even those glorified ashtrays we call cities, with bios, with life. And life must be, and always is, shared—just like our rivers.

You are invited to share the heart of the Hilltowns by Meredyth Babcock, Volunteer Coordinator of the Westfield River Wild and Scenic organization, to join up with others to learn about, and care for, the Westfield River. The Westfield River is the most Hilltowny of flows, featuring a full range of terrains and moods, and I urge you to take care of any riparian business you have, or would like to have, at any of its three conveniently located branches.

On June 3rd, 2012, Meredyth will be training volunteers to explore parts of the Westfield River, and collect data and document findings that will be used to understand, and then conserve and protect, its ecological processes and systems. In short, you’ll be invited to enter, and immerse yourself the vital rhythms of, the beating heart of the Hilltowns—seize this opportunity! Call Meredyth at 413-623-2070, or email her at for more information.

Go ahead—release yourself! The river is waiting for you—


Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family.  Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!

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