When I look at the Connecticut River north of Hartford, I have to sometimes remind myself this is the same river where Carina spends her winter months. While I am well acquainted with the river's path from the Quebec border to Saybrook Point, I don't instinctively connect-the-dots for these agricultural and mill towns scattered along its bank in western Massachusetts.
Northampton is approximately 75 miles north of the Sound, as the crow flies. The river however, follows a more twisted and indirect path, adding perhaps 40 miles to its flow towards Long Island Sound. If one were to paddle this portion of the river, you would spend a significant amount of time heading east and west, in order to travel south.
Thankfully, I hadn't arrived here by river-raft or canoe; I was staying at my sister's house just a few minutes away. One day last month, while she was still asleep, I took an early morning walk along the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which includes this 1879 bridge. The ten mile, former railroad line connects the city of Northampton with Amherst, MA. According to the website, it is one of the "most popular facilities in the Pioneer Valley".
Old bridges make old noises! The frozen wood planks atop the cold steel made a sort of cracking bang with each step that echoed off the ice flow. Several times I had stopped for a moment to take in the silence, before quickly moving on. Silence may be golden, but it was cold out, and I don't like standing still.
When I reached the east side of the bridge, I could see farm fields and the encroaching sprawl on the whitewashed horizon. It was then that I realized I had passed through here before.
Returning from Vermont last summer, I had taken a slower, more indirect route through this obscure stretch of river valley. Steering clear of the interstate, I meandered southward on county roads through tobacco farms and vegetable fields. With the windows wide open and my bare foot on the dash, I had stopped at a small store for a seltzer and a phone call.
It was now clear to me that the same store was directly in front of me.
It's strange how people and places of little significance can reappear later in life, under completely different circumstances. A negative streak intersects with a previous, unrelated positive path. The good times and the bad get all tangled together - interwoven is too orderly a word.
This trip to Northampton didn't have the carefree feel of that late summer drive. I was passing through town on a much more serious matter. This time, the glass was half-empty and there was no way to make it half-full. The farmhouses and colonials no longer boasted an aura of riverside, orderly bliss. Instead, I looked out at the clapboard, and wondered about the modern day turmoils taking place inside the facade.
Norwottuck Rail Trail: website
Northampton MA: Map
Bruce Springsteen: The River
Johnny Cash: Turn Your Back On Your Family, You Aint No Good