True Story of the Militarization of the Quabbin Reservoir
In Hardwick Massachusetts
Suzanne Belote Shanley
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 lodgesthe 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 distanceelegant,
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 watertransparent,
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
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,
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 beforea brown, ugly buzzard
hovering with its chop, chop, chop assault. Fearcold 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 beaverscontent, 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 ofsounds 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 fearfamiliar
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,
franticto 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
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 sanityback 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,
contact Suzanne Belote Shanley
Greenwich Rd, Ware, MA, 01082, 413-967-9369, 413-967-4747 (fax)
to Quabbin online exhibit