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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Connecticut River Summertime

Here is the Connecticut River along a stretch in western Massachusetts, on the South Hadley side looking toward Holyoke, with Mt. Tom in the background. Summer in the river towns is a thing apart from what we experience along the coast. It is green and lush, dark under a jungle canopy of maples yet to turn, and at times, more humid than along the coast. Terrific thunderstorms occur, fast and furious, causing Mark Twain, who once lived a bit farther down river in Hartford, Connecticut, to note in a speech on New England Weather in 1876:

“When the thunder begins to merely tune up and scrape and saw, and key up the instruments for the performance, strangers say, "Why, what awful thunder you have here!" But when the baton is raised and the real concert begins, you'll find that stranger down in the cellar with his head in the ash-barrel.”

The recent increase in the price of gasoline makes pleasure boating, even in a small craft like this photo, a dwindling activity, but the competitive rowing regattas that have been taking place up and down the river since the 1870s don’t have that problem. Who needs gas when you’ve got eight oarsmen?

The river swells in the spring and rushes with the ice melt, but in summer it becomes a slower, lazier creature, and in winter freezes over, suspending motion, seemingly suspending time. Walkers on the ice dragging sledges was the best mode of travel once. Most of our history, our culture, and certainly our commerce in western New England was brought to us through the past centuries by the river as a conduit. Travel from the older, more established eastern communities on the coast was too difficult, with too much snow in the winter, too much mud in the spring, a dense forest in between with few roads. The growth of western New England ran north and south, which explains the difference in accent from the east. Colonial Dutch traders made their influence felt from Long Island Sound up to the future state of Vermont.

When the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided there was more out there than Massachusetts Bay and began to make their own mark on western New England, the Dutch found greater success along the Hudson River. Where the Hudson has its towns of Peekskill and Staatsburg, the Connecticut River has towns with English names. Two exceptions are Agawam and Chicopee, two of only a few communities in Massachusetts, a state with an Indian name and not an English one, to bear Indian names.

Summer is quieter here on the coast without the weekend traffic of tourists, and though there are picnics on the bank under the trees, you will likely hear cicadas and blue jays above the sound of humans.

For more on Mt. Tom State Reservation, have a look at this website. Enjoy a cruise on the river out of Brunelle’s Marina here.

Been there? Done that? Let us know.

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