These photographs were made on the Winter Solstice at Fresh Pond, an oasis in metropolitan Boston and the last remnant of what was formerly the largest wetland in coastal New England. Here is a snippet about the Fresh Pond terrain, from "Watershed," an essay on the thrilling geological history of the Fresh Pond area. "Watershed" was first published in The Georgia Review, and appears in my second collection of essays, Angela the Upside Down Girl and Other Domestic Travels (Beacon Press).
Most of our neighborhood exists on land that was once a vast and ancient swamp. One of the few patches of the great wetland that remains today is the acreage around a place called Fresh Pond. For more than thirty years, I have visited Fresh pond, walking and running with human and canine pals. Most often though my companion has been the land itself, the acres that encircle the pond on which ice sheets rumble against the shore in winter and canvasbacks bob for their favorite food, wild celery, in fall. Circling Fresh Pond in all seasons has taught me to expect change within continuity, to count on surprise, to rely on minute things—a dark red leaf encased in ice—to unlock meaning for the metaphor-loving mind. The continuous beauty of the place has given me the sense that merely to breathe where the air is so alive is the true con-spiracy, the breathing together of our life on Earth.
Technically however, Fresh Pond is a terminal reservoir and purification plant for the city water supply, and that is why it survives when the rest of the swampland has vanished over the past century, in a series of well-intentioned, if short-sighted municipal projects. One day recently, I visited the Water Department's offices on the east side of the pond to look at the surficial geological maps and reports for this part of our watershed. Studying the maps, I slowly grasped that Fresh Pond exists, and that my neighbors and I make our homes, on what was once the eastern slope of a river valley. That is: where now exists the ground on which has variously stood a gerat swamp, apple orchards, dray horses harvesting ice, and drugstores with soda fountains (all now vanished), was once merely an immense volume of air above an enormous river valley that ran southward from present-day Wilmington to the Charles River (which river had also not yet come into being).
Absorbing this reality, I sat back in the chair in the Water Department, nearly faint from the morning's events, as my idea of home rearranged itself once more, assimilating the knowledge that we live not only atop a lost swamp but over a buried river valley and on an alluvial fan. It changes things, everything, to know that during all the years I have yearned for life in a bucolic valley my wish has, if prehistorically, been true.
©1998 Emily Hiestand