We’re into the midst of foliage season here in southern New England. Although the day was overcast yesterday, it wasn’t raining, and I decided to follow the advice I’ve been giving folks who are interested in finding fantastic foliage near where we live: seek out your local rivers, streams and ponds first. These are often the first places to change, and swamp maples will drop their leaves sooner than other plants.
I have a presentation next week that promised foliage photos of the Blackstone Valley, and while I have many photos of this area, my foliage photo pickings were pretty slim. And thus I followed the river, starting in Woonsocket RI,
heading north up to Uxbridge, pulling over whenever I spotted the river crossing under a road, and grabbed pictures all along the way.
It was when I got to Blackstone, MA that I found the mother lode of stunning foliage. The Blackstone Gorge is such a special place, I’ve visited it in every weather, every season, but up till yesterday I’d never caught the gorge in its foliage-filled splendor. My oversight has now been corrected.
The experience was made more magical because of the recent rain we’ve had. From sitting dormant, almost completely dry, the rivers around here have quickly filled with rushing water, and since the gorge is a natural bottleneck, the effect was quite dramatic.
Another side benefit of this little “quest” I undertook was that I made the time to stop in Uxbridge center, a spot I’ve driven through many times, but never visited. The Mumford River, a tributary of the Blackstone River, flows right through the center of town, and once out of my car, I discovered a lovely park right along the banks of the river.
There wasn’t much color yet, but stopping and visited this well-kept local park was consistent with another piece of advice I provide for finding fantastic foliage: familiarize yourself with your local trails, and spots along rivers, lakes, ponds and streams.
Here was a spot I’d “seen” sort of over the years, and yet, before yesterday I had no idea what a great place it is for enjoying the river.
Hopedale Parklands’ Mill River is a tributary of the Blackstone and another spot I return to again and again. I have yet to get a “great” foliage picture there, but foliage season is still young. Yesterday was still early for foliage at the Parklands, but now I have a baseline, and a better idea of when I should return.
All this hopping out of my car and scrambling over to bridges by the side of the road made me hungry, so I stopped at a local food truck, Larry Joe’s New England Fire Pit, to get the works put on a huge 1/2 pound all-beef hot dog. The best part of the experience (besides how delicious the hotdog and toppings are) of stopping at the Fire pit (Rt. 140 in Mendon, MA near Hartford Avenue) is the running patter Larry Joe offers as he grills your hot dog. Yesterday’s topic was the life of a submariner, and Larry Joe chatted with another customer about both of them having served in the Navy on submarines. The discussion continued the entire time my lunch was grilling, and it was clear that folks stop in as much for Larry Joe’s friendly greetings and conversation as for the tasty food.
And thus I wrapped up yet another “river tour,” but I have my eye on the Neponset, which in many ways is even more hidden than the Charles River, and with less support for its story than the Blackstone. I understand some of the reasons why these rivers have been so tucked away from view, the first being that they were used as sewers and dumping grounds for many local industries and the general population. But in watching the work of the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, I’ve seen the changes that can take place in a river as it is loved, celebrated, and cared for. Rather than turning our backs on these resources, I’m hopeful we might begin to see these rivers as the rich, magical places they perhaps were many years ago, before we put them to work and nearly beat them to death. Knowing where our rivers are, how they flow, and enjoying spending time with them can make a difference. My guess is that many magical places are still waiting to be discovered, if we only knew where they were.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.