The Ripple: Your Local River is Alive…and Waiting

Touch the River and It’ll Touch You

The Connecticut River is the lifeblood of the Pioneer Valley.

Thinking of how important it is for nature-lovers to spend time “being in” nature, the conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

Ethics involve what we judge to be right or wrong; and Leopold is correct: if we are to be ethical—if we are to wisely judge the rightness or wrongness of a thing—we need to have a direct experience of it. It’s easy to forget that a river is alive, and has a life that is valuable unless, from time to time, you touch it. Unless we touch the river, we can’t understand enough about it to be ethical towards it.

Rivers have always provided humans with perfect places to live, whether it be the nhà sông of Vietnam, the chickee hut of the Mississippi shrimp catcher, or the highrise of a hedgefund manager towering over the Hudson. We’ve always been attracted to rivers because they, of all landscape features, are the most alive: kinetic in movement and full of creatures. There is a big difference between viewing a river, though, and touching it. I want you to touch a river this month if you haven’t lately—and let that river be the Connecticut, which flows for over 400 miles from just over the Canadian border to Long Island Sound.

One way to touch the Connecticut River is to volunteer to assist the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Source to Sea Clean-up, scheduled for Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, 2014.

Another way is to kayak, canoe or scull the Connecticut (sorry but motors deafen-itely alienate us from the life that is the river). A great place to put in is at the Oxbow ramp in Easthampton. I prefer to head upriver abut a mile from the Oxbow, to enjoy the sandy banks of the island and the Northampton Meadows; it’s easy to see, and touch, and understand how sedimentary rock is made there, and how we fit into the geological time scheme. On an Indian Summer day, when the water’s low and leaves are turning, there are few more beautiful places on the entire planet.

You can spend almost a full day drifting downriver if you coordinate with friends; park a car down at the Oxbow and drive the other one up to Sunderland. Put in under the Rt. 116 bridge.

If you’d like to learn how to paddle on the Connecticut River, Holyoke Rows and the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club offer lessons.

For those of us who don’t want to paddle but would like to picnic and walk the shore, two spots I love are the Northampton Meadows and the Bashan. Google Map “Northampton MA Hockanum Road” to get directions to the Meadows; when you’re there, please respect the farmer’s crops, for they have problems with vandals. Feel free to get lost out there; it’s part of the fun. To find a nice spot near the river, just keep heading east, towards Mt. Holyoke.

The Bashan is in Hatfield; use this map and head for the green colored spot, which is a state-owned public park.

Spend time touching the soft clayey sands, see the footprints of raccoon, muskrat, heron & insects, notice the sedimentary layers deposited by floods, investigate the complicated roots, snags and flotsam piles along the edge. Smell the sweet rank odor of the big flowing life that is the Connecticut River. Watch the birds—seed eaters, minnow eaters, eater of eaters. Catch the minnow with your own heron’s eye. Dream of this earth without highways and planes and even bridges. Cut out the white noise of engines, and hear the tree breeze clatter of dry aspen bells and, floating down lower, the whispering murmur of what touches back.

[Photo credit: (cc) waywuwei]


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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