This Thing Called Courage

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Provincetown, Royalston, and Quabbin

NO, IT'S NOT A LAW FIRM, but my excuse as to where I've been and why I haven't posted lately. My dear friend Dermot was kind enough to invite me and Fionn down to the 'Dermotage,' his lovely place in Provincetown, Massachusetts, for nine days, so of course I accepted. Vonn and Barry and their friends John and Andrea were down there for a part of the time, as was my friend Tom Lee, and some of Dermot's other friends, so there were lots of friendly faces around. It was also during Carnival Week, a rather wild and crowded time down in that free-living, artsy fishing village gone gay (as the Amish say). Now, Carnival doesn't happen right before Lent, but the second or third week of August, so I'm not sure what it has to do with Carnival. I believe it is a marketing ploy thought up by the Chamber of Commerce. At any rate it seems to have worked, as the town was thronged, (or thonged, as the case may have been) especially on Thursday when the big Carnival Parade is held-- but after a while (two cars maybe) a convertable full of drag queens tends to look like the next convertable full of drag queens, so I went to the beach instead. I did get some writing done, as I couldn't let myself get out of training, went swimming every day at Herring Cove Beach, took the occasional seven mile walk to the end of the beach and then across the Causeway to home (a good stretch of the leg, as my Grandmother would say, and once I had to hot-foot it as the tide was coming in and the marsh I was walking across was rapidly filling up with water and cutting off my escape to the rock causeway-- see pic above.)

Each day I had a little routine: tea and toast served up by Dermot every morning, then a walk with Fionn down to Spiritus Pizza, where I ensconced myself on the shady bench and wrote for an hour or two in the notebook. Fionn would eventually fall asleep squished up next to me, his head on my knee, and apparently this was a sight too good to resist for many, as we met tons of wonderful folks there, and had many interesting talks. Then we would go back to Dermot's, write on the laptop for a few hours, then decamp to the beach about 4:30. Throw in the occasional dinner party, a night or two shaking my groove thang, some tennis with Tom Lee, a midnight at Herring Cove watching the Perseid Meteor Showers and making appropriate wishes, and that was trip in a nutshell. The day I left we also met another Papillon who looked VERY much like Fionn, just a smaller and (it hardly needs to be said) less cute version. His name was Napolean (see second pic above).

Very nice to get away-- but I missed my novel and could hear it siren-singing back to me, calling me home-- as were my plants, which were some wilted when I got back-- we got no rain while I was gone.

But I had to come home anyway, novel and plants or not, as I had been invited to the annual 'Swimfest Cookout' at Butterworth Farm, the gay commune in Royalston, Masschusetts, some of the members of which were kind enough to sponsor me for a reading in Athol this past spring. The affair was held at Celt's beautiful hill-top home, surounded by breathtaking flower and vegetable gardens. The moment you get out of the car you notice the sweet purity of the air, the utter silence (punctuated only by cricket-chant and the occasional bird call) and the freshness and exquisiteness of the mountain light. There was swimming, croquet, badmitton, volleyball, old friends Glenn, and Allen, and Tom, and Celt, and many new friends as well. The weather was a veritable benediction, and a foreshadow of autumn, about 70 degrees, bright and sunny, nice and warm in the sun but quickly getting chillier when the shadows crept over the hills and mountains. And good food as well. My friend Robbie came with me, and afterwards, as neither one of us had seen the Quabbin Reservoir before, ('The Big Lady,' as it is called by locals) we stopped at 'The Lookout,' which is a kind of lovers' leap of a place in the town of New Salem, Massachusetts. Allen Young (who has written lovingly and wonderfully of the North of Quabbin region (see his book of the same name and the updated version, North of Quabbin Revisited)gave us unerring directions, which nonetheless sounded like a routine straight out of Bert and I: "Then you come up to the firestation. Go beyond there and you'll see a dirt road...")

New Salem is a beautiful, really unspoiled town. Like the other eight towns that make up the North of Quabbin area, the curse of over-development and suburban sprawl has been more or less kept in check, as, with Quabbin to the south and the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont to the north, there's really no easy way to get there for commuters from Boston and Worcester-- though, conversely, it is fairly easy to get to for a day trip, and the ride out is quite delightful. New Salem really epitomizes this. Much of the town was taken when Quabbin was created (and the towns of Greenwich, Enfield, Dana, and Prescott were wiped off the map ENTIRELY).

For those unfamiliar with this area, the Quabbin Reservoir (named after an Indian chief named 'Nani-Quabbin,' which reportedly means "Well-Watered Place.' Indeed.)is an impoundment reservoir (one of the largest in the world) created back in the 1930's, 90 miles west of Boston, but coveted long before that by thirsty Bostonians--rumors had been circulating about the creation of the huge project as far back as, at least, the 1890's. It was created largely by the Swift River, which flowed through a beautiful series of small towns nestled in its valley. Through a series of "buyouts" the inhabitants of these towns were tossed out of their homes in preparation for construction of a reservoir. Houses were bulldozed, bodies dug up (except for the Native Americans), factories demolished and millions of trees were cut down. Four towns (again, Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott) were wiped off the face of the Earth and seven other towns were affected. A half-mile long dam was built on the Swift River in Belchertown, MA, and one of the longest tunnels in the world was constructed to carry the water a hundred miles to the east. Flooding of the valley started in mid August 1939. The valley slowly filled with water and in 1946 the reservior was filled to capacity-- 412 billion gallons-- and nearly 40 square miles were covered with water.

What's really wonderful about New Salem is that it's beautiful town common is really as it has been for hundreds of years-- two typical New England spired-meetinghouses, white clapboard houses, a lovely oval common-- really, you couldn't ask for a more beautiful, typical New England village setting if you called Central Casting. What's bizarre is that if you take South Main Street out from the common, you go along for a mile or so on what was once a main thoroughfare-- and then it just dead ends when you hit a wall of forest, and one of the Quabbin's many gates. It's like something out of a Twilight Zone episode.

Since the entire watershed area had to be protected, there are thousands and thousands of acres of pristine wilderness surrounding the Quabbin, much of it totally off-limits. As a result, wildlife flourishes here, including moose, bear, fox, coyote, and nesting bald eagles.

Anyway we reached the Lookout and it truly was breathtaking-- the sun just setting over the mountains, and fold after fold of forested hills rising into the distance, surrounding a kind of inland sea of deep blue. This is where my own water comes from, and I don't think I will ever turn on my tap for a drink, or a shower, or to water my plants, without being conscious of this, less wasteful, and calling to mind the old lives and memories which lie silent now under the blue water.

So, that's where I've been. Oh, and my publishing company got sold-- though not the fiction imprint, which is where I'm published from, although the form letter I received said this would be 'divested' to another publishing company. What that means for the two books I have with them 'in the pipe' I have no idea. But I was planning on looking for another publishing company anyway, as they seem clueless when it comes to marketing. This will just hasten the process.


Blogger Glenn Johnson said...

Hi Joe! I'm famous! I was mentioned as an old friend in your blog. Yay.

And you have seen more of the Quabbin than I have and I live 30 minutes away. You inspire me to check out more of the local sites in my backyard.

Have a good day.

8:02 AM  
Blogger BiscuitsBoy said...

Hi Glenn, I think in the future you will be famous for more important reasons than this! You should definitely check out Quabbin, it's amazing. I live ten minutes from Old Ironsides, yet have never visited, while poeple come to see it from the world over. Go figger.

9:13 AM  

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