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Remembrance of Towns Past

Five minutes into our hike, we arrive at the point where the original Route 21, which once connected Athol to Springfield, runs into the water. Ahead of us, the resonant blue and green panorama that is the Quabbin Reservoir stretches south for eighteen miles to Belchertown, where today’s Route 21 begins its journey down the Valley. Somewhere across the water, the old state highway hiking trail resurfaces beside the bike path that runs along the east side of the man-made lake, tracing the long-gone tracks of the railway. The four drowned towns of Enfield, Dana, Prescott, and Greenwich, of course, remain submerged at the bottom of the reservoir, as they have for the past seventy-five years.

“There’s a very romantic notion about the Quabbin,” J.R. Greene tells me, stading at the water’s edge as the waves lap at his feet. “But there’s no Atlantis down there.”

Greene has a large beard and is wearing an old Red Sox cap. I too am outfitted with a Sox cap, though my beard isn’t nearly as full as his. Then again, this is my first trip to the reservoir, while Greene “has been writing about the Quabbin, and hiking its watershed since 1975,” reads the Preface to his 1994 offering, Historic Quabbin Hikes.

In addition to authoring several books on the Quabbin’s history and topography, Greene is also involved in many of the organizations that work to manage the Quabbin watershed today in order to realize a particular version of what it will look like tomorrow. These include an alphabet soup of government agencies and local community groups: the Swift River Historical Society (SRVHS), the Quabbin Watershed Advisory Council (QWAC), and the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA), a division of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

As we meander along the north shore of the reservoir, Greene stops from time to time, calling my attention to a patch of woods, or a former clearing now largely grown in, then producing an old black-and-white photograph from the time when the spot was flooded so clean drinking water could be pumped to people back east, in Boston. The four towns that made up the Swift River Valley may be long gone, but the Quabbin continues to exude a particular sense of place, with its unusual mix of historic nostalgia, resource land management issues, and wilderness recreation offerings. It involves many, often contradictory aspects that in turn are driven by many, often competing interests.

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Oliver Benjamin and Dwayne Eutsey

“It is imperative that we find time to fill with emptiness. It is at our own peril that we fail to recognize our need for nothing.”

— Oliver Benjamin and Dwayne Eutsey, The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Eduardo Galeano

“In earlier times, the nymph Echo knew how to speak. And she spoke with such grace that her words seemed always new, never before spoken by any mouth.

“But the goddess Hera, Zeus’s legal spouse, cursed her during one of her frequent fits of jealousy. And Echo suffered the worst of all punishments: she was deprived of her own voice.

“Ever since, unable to speak, she can only repeat.

“Nowadays, that curse is looked on as a virtue.”

— Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors

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Skiing With Dogs: An Introduction to Skijoring

Before I could say, “Yip yip,” Togo dashed down the trail, plunging through half a foot of fresh powder and pulling me along behind her. As we made our way into the woods, my grin increased in keeping with our pace.

The switchback mountain-bike trail outside Northampton, Mass., descended slightly but consistently, with gravity giving Togo a hand. At first, I tried to stride my skis in pace with her, as we do on flatter terrain. But as we whipped around one turn and darted down another in conditions far better than usual, I switched techniques. Widening my stance, I leaned back and enjoyed the ride. For several minutes, it felt like I was waterskiing through the snow—the best ski day of the season. What I sacrificed in cardio-vascular gain, I more than made up for in pure experiential thrill.

A lifelong downhill and cross-country skier, I thought skijoring seemed like a natural extension after adopting a Siberian husky, the breed most likely to take off on a multihour walkabout at any given moment. These days, I spend most of my ski time skijoring. For those not familiar with the activity, a long leash connects me via a waste belt to my dog, who is wearing a harness. What might sound like an added challenge is actually a great way to experience the winter months. If you can cross-country ski and you have a willing canine collaborator, you can skijor. But as with all outdoor pursuits, there’s varied gear, training strategies, and techniques to consider.

“It’s an easy sport to get into,” says Meg Mizzoni, the president of the New England Sled Dog Club (NESDC). Founded in 1924, the NESDC is the oldest club of its kind in North America and one of several organizations in the Northeast—including the Yankee Siberian Husky Club, the Down East Sled Dog Club, and the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club—that host races in the winter, weather permitting.

Although Mizzoni doesn’t compete in skijoring races, she does practice the sport regularly. “Not everyone can have twenty dogs,” she says, “but one or two is enough to skijor.”

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Greg Brown

“Half the people you see these days are talking on cell phones / Driving off the road and bumping into doors / People used to spend quite a bit of time alone / I guess nobody’s lonely anymore … It’s raining sheets of rain, everything is cold and wet / Nobody’s going out of doors / They’re all at home, living it up on the internet / I guess nobody’s lonely anymore …”

– Greg Brown, ‘Cept You And Me, Covenant

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Bill Littlefield

“Excellence in any field is admirable. A performance that approaches perfection, whether by a violinist, a poet, or a pitcher, reminds us of the stunning alternative to days that too often feel shapeless, cluttered, and unfinished.”

Bill Littlefield, Pitcher Perfect, Boston Magazine

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Head of the Pack: Tips on Leading a Youth Group Outdoors

When Rachel Freierman was 15 years old, she went on a 10-day backpacking trip with AMC’s Teen Wilderness Adventures (TWA) program. She already felt fairly comfortable in the outdoors. Her family went car camping. They backcountry skied. Still, Freierman had never backpacked before. “I was excited to push myself,” she recalls.

Every outdoor adventure has challenges, and every kid arrives at those challenges with different levels of experience. Mix in unpredictable group dynamics and fickle Northeastern weather, and leading a group of kids into the backcountry becomes pretty daunting. We asked some of AMC’s youth programs staff for advice.

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Relics From Another Time: The Hidden History of J.C. Leyendecker and the Arrow Collar Man

In section 18 of the White Oak Plot of the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery, there lies a grave site that was once unmarked.

Dug in 1951, the burial site was originally left anonymous despite the fact that its occupant achieved a tremendous amount of success during his lifetime. The interred inhabitant drew over 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, created one of the most notable advertising images of all time in the Arrow Collar Man, was inducted into the Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame, and was idolized by Norman Rockwell, who served as pallbearer at his funeral.

Even more astounding, however, is that the grave’s occupant achieved all of this success despite living under the societal taboo of being a gay man, who made a significant portion of his living from drawing portraits of his closeted lifelong lover, for all the world to see.

The grave has since been properly memorialized. Yet, perhaps it was more fitting when it was anonymous. Because today, sixty years and several cultural ages later, few recognize the name of the site’s formerly famed occupant: J.C. Leyendecker.

How is it that such a significant contributor to American culture could be so thoroughly forgotten? What might the Americana of yesteryear tell us about our culture today? And in our forgetting about this man, what have we forgotten about ourselves?

One day last summer, I journeyed to New Rochelle, just north of New York City, in Westchester County, hoping not only to find Leyendecker’s former home, but to better understand his legacy as well.

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More Intimidating Than A Plastic Sled

Togiak whined excitedly as we fishtailed into the parking lot. The snow was falling heavier than before. As she anxiously offered her best “malamute howl,” we trudged through the perfectly light Rocky Mountain powder, arriving at the snowmobile that would (we hoped) carry us the remainder of the journey home: two miles up a snowed-in road that wouldn’t be passable again until the mountain flowers were in bloom, sometime in July.

Fortunately, the snowmobile started right up. Unfortunately, the trail had become nearly impossible to see. Sighing with uncertainty, I was distracted by Togiak, who happily stuck her head in the snow, smelling for, looking at … who knows.

I called for her and gunned the heavy Polaris sled forward. She sprinted behind me as usual.

Fifty feet later I stopped, grabbed my goggles out of my backpack, placed them in the more useful location over my previously blinded eyes, and started the sled forward again.

Fifty feet later, I stopped again. The snowmobile, having no regular headlight setting, was always set on high beams. The combination of bright lights and the now-heavy snow made the trail virtually impossible to distinguish from the ravine that led so suddenly, and so definitively, down to the frozen stream below.

Still warm from the heat of the car, the pulls of the snowmobile cord, and the eagerness to get home, I wondered for a moment what to do. I tried to imagine the trail in my mind’s eye. How many turns were there? How many steep inclines up a hill? Togiak caught up to the stationary sled, leaning in to sniff my leg, making sure everything was all right. Was everything all right? A cold wind slapped at my face. Time to get going.

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: The Lemonheads

“I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend / What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?”

– The Lemonheads, Outdoor Type, Car Button Cloth

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