Signs ❥ Finding Your Way in Western MA

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 14, There Aren’t Many Signs

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The other night at a potluck for the preschool class, a few people discussed the overwhelming number of billboards in Houston, Texas. One said, “There were so many signs there, I just felt bombarded.” She added, “Here, no billboards.” Another person added, “In fact, here, there aren’t even any signs. People say things like you’ll find that street because it’s one after where the old Texaco station used to be. Old Texaco station, I ask? Because I never saw a Texaco station here; the Texaco station predated me.”

This may be a progressive, hip, famously artsy and famously lesbian town. There may be loads of colleges and that many more carpenters with masters’ degrees. But for all the hipness or quirkiness or whatever, let’s remember this is New England, a land of reserve and understatement, a not-frilly place that seems to believe signs are not exactly necessary.

Ever gotten lost on a country road around here?

❥ I forget these things, sometimes, how this stoic, old-time, live-and-let-live vein runs through the Pioneer Valley. All the way back to my early days in the Valley, as a student at Hampshire College, I would run on West Street early in the morning and then loop around toward the South Amherst Common and there were a couple of places I passed on cold, even frosty autumn mornings where the scent of wild grapes wafted across me, diaphanous, sharp, and juicy. I was always surprised by the grapes, and always grateful that I had landed in a place where farming mingled with new construction (not that I loved all the new construction) and that the college itself was situated on a former orchard.

The beauty of this place and the way there aren’t signs wafts across our lives almost daily, like the grapes often a complete surprise we enjoy along with all the amenities in our hip little outpost city.


Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

3 Comments on “Signs ❥ Finding Your Way in Western MA

  1. I think that you really called it right, they seem to view it as a MA tradition, however it really does lead to difficulties for tourists, waste gas and time, and just seems so insular for a place with otherwise such a broad-world view. However, the truth is that rural MA, when it boils down to it has the same rural mentality as any other rural place, and it is has not been a place of large scale domestic or international immigration as the Sunbelt in the past 50 yrs.

  2. OMG, compared to FL is awful in MA, even rural CT is a bit better! Rural MA is has the worst street signage in the country. Like there is just no way you can see those little signs if you are going 40 mph, that is if there is even a street sign. Oh and a sign for the cross street, well forget that…

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