Teeksa Photography

Photography of
Skip Schiel

An Online Photographic Exhibit

In central Massachusetts, often called the Accidental Wilderness, the primary water supply of the entire Boston region, now threatened by the prospect of attack. Closed recently, now partially open, but for how long?

  All images and text copyright Skip Schiel, 2002
except for the writing by Suzanne Belote Shanley, copyright Suzanne Belote Shanley, 2002)

A True Story of the Militarization of the Quabbin Reservoir
In Hardwick Massachusetts

By Suzanne Belote Shanley
(May 2002)

The Flight

Familiar as my husband's eyes, invigorating as the whirring of wind on a cool spring morning, mysterious and elusive as beavers splashing under water as I pass by their ever-impressive lodges—the Quabbin Reservoir, has been for me a place of deeply religious experiences. Times walked here after my mother died, meant being able to scream, shout, sob," Momma, oh Momma". Then, walk and walk, one foot after another, until their steady rhythm on asphalt calms my sorrowing soul.

When my sister-in-law died at age 47, I dragged my death-laden psyche to Gate 44 of the Quabbin. Desolate, a deer stood before me in the distance—elegant, alert, a reminder of spirit passing from human to animal. Lori, my companion of the years, came to me in the form of a frightened deer.

God has spoken to me in the Quabbin: "You see me in these rocks, this fallen tree, these silent, silent woods. Take note. I love you." I have walked to the end of Gate 44 and seen the light on the water, sat on the rocks and said to myself—"Yes, God, yes." I have lain in the sun on the stony ledge and rested my head in the lap of God Mother, God Sun, brother-sister, island-water-lapping, air as clean as water—transparent, blue, silver. Oh my beautiful Quabbin. How I have loved you. We have held, caressed, known the hour of our embrace as a pure, chaste and unfolding love.

Until the time of your trampling. The towers collapsed and your gates were guarded. Cement, rough, ugly, forbidding and gray, barriers erected in front of and behind the forbidding signs: NO TRESSPASSING. KEEP OUT. Your body was in chains. Men with guns attended your humiliation, as did military vehicles. Fear reigned. You were kept from me, locked away, in solitary confinement, a prisoner, both of us prisoners, you my Quabbin, and me.

So one day, desperate for your voice, to gaze once again on your face, to feel the touch of your waters, your wind, to hear my footsteps on your welcoming paths, I willed myself into defiance: " I will not be intimidated by war. I will not let the men of steel and hate, or retaliation and bombs destroy my sanctuary, keep it from me. I will take my little risk."

Stealthily, heart-beating loud in my ears, walking briskly, nervously I enter your gates. Gone the feeling of comfort, of holding the hand of a child, of my being a child, holding the hand of my mother. Fear reigns. Sounds of animals rustling in the forest make me tremble. I look feverishly for guards. Should I run? Should I stay? Dare I go further. Then, I hear the helicopter overhead, had seen it days before—a brown, ugly buzzard hovering with its chop, chop, chop assault. Fear—cold and irrational. I could be shot. Run. So I do. Down the unpaved road, the one I have sighed over in peaceful days, the one with a beaver dam clearing where I have stood in wonder and said over and over my Catholic girlhood chant: "My God and My All." I sensed, love, Presence.

The beavers—content, unthreatened, smooth their silken bodies through the cave of water. I am one with them. I fit into the landscape. So much to be part of—sounds and sights delighting. A heron makes its flight. I walk over fallen tree stumps, towards the water. Its lovely face smiles at me. I smile back. Further on, woods open to a vista of water leading to an island. The sandy beach with its driftwood eases my fear—familiar as breath.

Then the chopping sound of the helicopter crashes into my reverie. I hide behind a tree. Panic seizes me. I run, run, run not knowing if I am sighted by the menacing beast above. I am in flight, I think, as are the Afghan people. If I were they, I would be shot, bombs dropped on me, arms, legs, torso torn. I hear little whimpering sounds come from my throat. "Oh God, Oh God, what have you done to me, to us?" I race, out of breath, frantic—to the gates that, in the past, have been my solace. I continue running down Greenwich Rd. toward my home. I miss by a few moments, the army trucks, tracking me, violator, terrorist. Rage, hatred, defiance fill me.

The Return

When I re-enter My Quabbin eight months later, I say out loud to my Reservoir soul-mate: "I missed you. I have tried many times to return, believe me." The dialogue with my Quabbin goes on in my head, in my heart. She answers back. "We are together again. Let us enjoy the moment."

As I walk freely down the main road toward the stone house, my heart, my feet, I move with determination, a longing and hunger for a glimpse of water, for the sight of the beloved. No more soldiers with M 16's announcing: "Closed indefinitely." No more edicts to defy, concrete barriers to despise. I am home, for now. My home had not been bulldozed, hundred pound bombs had not desecrated it. It is still whole.

I sense that I, like others in my country, are being lulled back into our routines. We see new reasons to be "normal." We want our rivers, our reservoirs, our sanity—back at any price. Complacency returns. But is the relief is temporary? Will fear return with the next color-coded alert? Will the barriers go up again? I try to sort out the tangle of feelings and emotions. I know that the landscape of Afghanistan is blighted. I know that I still walk my Quabbin unencumbered. Beauty endures. But at what cost? I tremble with the implications of it. I am grateful for the return of my Quabbin, of my Gate 44, but I know what a price has been paid by the people of Afghanistan. My beloved Quabbin does not hold for me the same suspended feeling of untrammeled beauty.

A violation has occurred. Guns have thundered, bombs have been dropped. I have been stalked in my own land. The delight at return is muted with sadness. I will never again feel the unencumbered ecstasy I felt when I walked these roads with a singing soul, adoring heart— expectant, consoled.

To contact Suzanne Belote Shanley

2062 Greenwich Rd, Ware, MA, 01082, 413-967-9369, 413-967-4747 (fax)



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(added May 2002)

Teeksa Photography—Skip Schiel

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