And Then What Happened?: Ashfield grapples with cell tower proposal


For the Recorder
Published: 2/24/2021 4:58:44 PM

One of the most entertaining parts of my day at Elmer’s Store involved people approaching the counter with a look of bewilderment and a cellphone saying, “I don’t seem to be able to call out.”

I’d hand them the landline telephone handset and say, “I know. There’s no service in Ashfield.” (Even more entertaining was how so few of them knew how to use the handset, and I truly wished I had a dial-enhanced model attached to the wall.)

But had I owned an original Alexander Graham Bell sound telegraph to direct them to, they couldn’t have been more alarmed.

No cell service?

Nope! The internet had only recently wandered up from the valley in any sort of reliable form, and cell service was still something found no closer than Shelburne Falls. It was also one of the charms of Elmer’s — if you wanted to talk to someone, you had to sit across the table and look at them.

But listen children, this isn’t just a tale of yore; this is still right now and in the moment. And, to have or not to have a cell tower in our midst is still the question that rifles through our population to this very day.

Heretofore, the discussion has been more of an intellectual one, for, as resident Bill Perlman once said, “We don’t have a tower now because no service company has decided it’s worth the money. And when they decide it is worth the money, they’ll just put one in and we won’t have the choice.”

Well, AT&T has decided it might finally be worth the money to slip something in the 120-foot range down on Conway Road in South Ashfield. So far we still have talking rights in the decision-making process; three public hearings have been held, and the hearing will continue on March 3, at 7 p.m.

So what do we think?

So far the Oh Hell Nos! stomp out the welcome mat. And this isn’t just the old-time, fifth-generation originals saying no; this voice is held by many who just loped in from Away, as well. The view is what drew them here — the old-time ways, the respect for wildlife, the quiet dark, the very lack of modern technology and what about the health risks from those radio waves?

Yes indeed, say the police and fire chiefs, let’s talk about those health risks! What if you slide off the road into a snowy, unseen ditch at 11 p.m., are injured or trapped, and can’t call for help?

Oh, say the bona fide old-timers, we’ve been here all this time and we’ve always gotten through.

“Except for the ones who haven’t,” is a reasonable response. It could happen to you or your family any of these icy nights.

And over there, sitting with its chin in its hand and its eyebrow raised is the note that the land this new tower is to go on belongs to one of the very last dairy farms in Ashfield. The revenue from this tower could help keep that old-time operation from plundering into disappearance like the 148 other dairy farms did. What about that?

“Is that our responsibility?”


Others say no.

Some worry that our old-fashioned ways will hinder the town’s very existence. How are you going to sell a house that’s stuck in 1967 when it comes to folks needing to keep up with the ways of the world just to make a living?

That’s part of the town’s charm.

Tell that to the Millennials.

This is why I watch and have no vote to cast. Sixteen years in Ashfield have enriched me happily without cell service. I love my landline that works, doesn’t drop calls and maintains consistent quality throughout a conversation. When I drive to Shelburne Falls, my cellphone pings with the delight of 52 texts that I get to read all at once and find out how important my opinion would have been, had they reached me up in my beautiful, scenic, quiet world. Those who need me know how to reach me. I love walking through the world without the vigilance that comes with being on call at all times.

Then, I’m grown and lived all the way into the 1980s without even an answering machine to tie me up with the responsibility of response.

But what if it were my niece, driving up to visit who slid off the road with no means to call?

I walk out and look at the moon lighting up my neighborhood, with Norm’s barn and nothing that stood there before 1800, and then imagine a 120-foot lit-up tower out there among its quiet, ancient elders. Again, I have no voice.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at


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