The place I call home 

  • Cars travel on Frizzell Hill Road surrounded by newly blossoming trees, as seen from Greenfield Road beside the Robertson Memorial Library in Leyden, 2017. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

Published: 8/13/2019 9:31:31 AM

A few weeks ago, I turned 65, became eligible for Medicare, and reached the culmination of my career: retirement. This collection of milestones has led to a pause in my journey, a time to reflect about adventures past, and acknowledge the sound of “time’s winged chariot drawing near.”

As I sift through what’s important, I find, near the top of the list, location, location, location. Some of my deepest feelings are tied to geography. I grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, along Boston’s South Shore, where I learned to love the sound of a halyard slapping a mast, and birdwatching in the cranberry bogs, and the briny smell of low tide. It’s where I learned to love.

And yet, as soon as I was old enough to drive, I dropped out of high school, packed up my $75 Volkswagen Bug, rolled a couple of joints, and made for the Pioneer Valley. First stop was Amherst and a four year-long home-grown group trip at a hippie house owned by a dropped-out UMass neurophysiologist. Out behind the barn was the knoll, which claimed a famous view of the Holyoke Range and hosted first kisses, studies in expanding consciousness, and much appropriate confusion.

A group of friends splintered off from there and settled in Montague Center where the graceful pillars, sagging roof lines, and stream-skirted hay fields of Bartlett Farm provided sanctuary for our gang of thirteen. We threw historic parties, formed affinity groups, and communed with nature.

One day I decided life would be better with a college degree, so I got my GED and enrolled at UMass. This was back when tuition at a state university was easily managed with a couple of grants, a work-study program, and group living at a gracious but slightly run-down farmhouse on top of Conway’s Cricket Hill. There my student roomies and I could climb an adjacent tree and hop onto the roof. To the east were rolling hills leading to the surprise of Mr. Monadnock. Here I first experienced the temperature inversion which created a river of vapor just above the Connecticut River, a foggy echo that snaked through the hills and burned off before noon.

I moved from my Conway hilltop to a Conway valley, and lived with a smaller group in a red cape on yet another hayfield. The mighty South River flowed by, with a home-made sauna next to an idyllic sandy beach. My friends built a sugarhouse. (I made lunch, runs to the hardware store, and occasionally hammered a nail or two.) For a couple of years, while I finished up my studies, I fell into the rhythmic world of gathering, boiling, and filtering sap, with its sweet maple reward of nectar.

In Conway, I was part of a group of friends for whom gardening was a friendly competition. We plowed, sowed, cultivated and reaped; we dried, froze and canned. I learned how to speak the language of agriculture. To this day I can read the fields as I drive through our prolific valley.

In the late 70s, I worked at the Franklin County Energy Project, which landed me and a wind measuring anemometer atop the fire tower on Massamett Mountain. I had a key to the crow’s nest and hiked up regularly to check recorded wind speeds, take in the lofty vista, and zero in on my hoped-for boyfriend’s house on Patten Hill.

In time I moved to Colrain and for 10 years lived on the edge of Catamount State Forest. I explored the wild woods, the cave, the pond and the stone arch bridge over the stream. I married, divorced, moved, and found love again. I continued to feel ever more a part of this place that has held me in place through so many changes.

Now I am retired and live on a Leyden hilltop with a view of Massamett. I still hike, paddle, birdwatch, swim and ski in my familiar world. The landscapes I encounter are filled with all the people I was in days past. I know there is body memory; perhaps there is also topographic memory, a type of knowledge deeper than the surface senses.

In any case, I am thankful for all that surrounds me. I have love, community, the beauty of nature, and now that I am retired, I have time. I happily believe the message etched on the sundial in my garden: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”

Lisa Limont is a resident of Leyden.

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