Regions, River Valleys, and Rocks: A Guide to Two Homes of Mine

Everyone has some idea about where they live. They know the place as their hometown or if they live in a city, what neighborhood they reside in. They know multiple ways to get home if the streets are blocked by traffic, roadworks, or fallen trees after a storm. They may be familiar with local landmarks, both artificial and natural. Personally, whereever I have lived, I make a mental note of where all the Dunkin Donuts are since there is at least one in every town in New England and everyone knows what to look for.

For those of you who live in a state or country without one (although it’s only a matter of time until they get there), Dunkin Donuts (which is now rebranding to just Dunkin’, although some people call it that already) is a chain of donut and coffee shops that caters to people who are looking for a quick bite to eat on their way to work and seems to be a favorite among people who work early in the morning or have to travel a lot. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend you get one of their hot coffees (avoid the lattes and cappuccino, it’s not the same as Starbucks) and if you have a sweet tooth, go for either a bear claw or a jelly donut. For the rest of you who are now nervously glancing at the title and back to the opening paragraphs, you might be wondering what regions, river valleys, and rocks have to do with donut and coffee shops. In short, nothing. I just need a hook about landmarks.

Throughout my life, I’ve always had an intense fascination with where I live, primarily because I am a naturalised citizen, but also because I enjoy learning about the natural elements of the landscape and surrounding regions. Today, I would like to compare my old stomping grounds to the new ones that will be my home, quite possibly, for the rest of my life. This will be achieved by looking at the bones of the earth, the blood vessels that enrich the soils and feed the plants, and the geographic points that people have placed on the landscape to map where on Earth they are today.

Lotus pads near the Concord River.

We’ll begin in MetroWest; the name of the economic region west of Boston, the capital of Massachusetts and the region where I have spent most of my life. While it is a recognized economic region, distinct definitions of the boundaries have been up for debate for years. , The MetroWest Economic Research Center asserts that it includes nine towns:

  • Ashland: Home of the Ashland Superfund site whose contaminated effluence has poisoned the Concord, Sudbury, and Assabet Rivers with mercury, PCBs, and other chemicals. As a result, the fish that reside in that river are contaminated and local authorities have recommended against consuming them for decades.
  • Holliston: Home to the “Balancing Rock”, a granite boulder that is balanced on one side of a ledge poking out of a small rise. It is currently located within the grounds of a 55+ community, aptly named “Balancing Rock Development”.
  • Natick: The town gets its name from the indigenous Massachusett tribe which translates to either “place of hills” or “place of our searching”, the latter referring to Puritan missionary, John Eliot using the native language of the Massachusett to convert them to Christianity.
  • Southborough: Though often shortened to “Southboro”, the town’s official sign ordinance rejects labeling it so on road signs within the town limits. However, this ordinance doesn’t apply to local souveners that you can purchase from the Wayside General Store in Marlborough.
  • Sudbury: In several locations around town, there are antique stone markers that point the way to nearby towns and cities. When I lived in there, the marker closest to my parent’s house, marked the boundary between Sudbury and Wayland, while others are positioned prominently along Route 20/Boston Post Road.
  • Wayland: Originally part of the Sudbury plantation in the 1630s, it broke away to become the town of East Sudbury in 1780, before being reincorporated into the town of Wayland in 1835. The town is home to the first free library in Massachusetts.

Other organizations include towns along Route 495 and 93, but the one I am most familiar with is the definition used by the Yellow Pages. I’m old enough to remember that before you could Google things, you had to consult a yellow-hued tome filled with phone numbers, addresses, and advertisements for local businesses and you had to know exactly how it was spelled and what you were looking for. After all, residents from North Carolina know all too well that there is a difference between Lowe’s and Lowe’s. The Yellow Pages suggests that the MetroWest area contains the towns and cities “…completely or partially enclosed by Interstate 93 on the northeast, Interstate 495 on the north and west, and Interstate 95 on the east and south…”

Contrast this with the region I have decided to settle in; the Merrimack River Valley. According to Visit NH, there are seven economic regions in the state. They consist of the following:

  • Lakes Region: Lake Winnipesaukee is one of 250 water bodies found in this popular vacation destination. Every June, Laconia celebrates Motorcycle Week with bikers from across the state and country traveling to enjoy the sights and attractions of this quaint New England town. What you won’t find is the town of “Lake Winnipesaukee” that was featured in the 90’s comedy, What About Bob?
  • Merrimack Valley Region: Home to the state capital of Concord, as well as other cities like Manchester and Nashua, the region gets its name from the Merrimack River that flows through the capital. One of the coolest places to visit is Viking House, a gift shop entirely dedicated to European goods right on main street America. When I visited, I was able to get Jaffa Cakes (a chocolate covered cake with orange filling that pretends to be a biscuit) which instantly made it one of my favorite stores to visit.
  • Monadnock Region: Easily one of the most recognized mountain chains in New England, with Mount Monadnock being a favorite hike for both beginner and expert alike. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a monadnock is “an isolated hill of bedrock standing conspicuously…” above the landscape it sits upon. It’s continued presence indicates that the surrounding rock and earth was worn away over time leaving the rock mountain exposed where it is today.
  • Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee Region: Former residence of Bill Bryson, a travel writer with a dry wit and the ability to feel out of depth where ever he goes. In Notes from a Big Country, he records the particulars of small town America and how he and his family adjusted to American life after living abroad in the U.K. Close by are the natural wonders of Lake Sunapee, Mount Sunapee, and Mount Kearsarge.
  • Great North Woods: Up by the Canadian border, charismatic mammals like black bears (Ursus americanus), moose (Alces alces), and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) patrol the boreal forests. Folks who visit might find opportunities to go fishing and camping at Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge or head to the backcountry for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, or hiking.

Now as I start living in a new, yet prominent river valley, I’m filled with excitement about what I’ll see in our local forests and fields, who’ll visit the house in the months to come, or what our fall colors will look like. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore our local watershed.

The towns of Sudbury and Concord are within the SuAsCo Watershed and consist of the Sudbury, Concord, and Assabet Rivers. The local conservation organization Sudbury Valley Trustees promotes a book by Ron McAdow titled The Concord, Sudbury, and Assabet Rivers: A Guide to Canoeing, Wildlife, and History which provide the reader with information on boat launches and portages, native wildlife, and historical figures and features alike. It described in great detail the history of the American revolutionary war’s beginnings in Concord, the effects of pollution on the watershed, what lures to use to catch popular gamefish like pickerel and bass, and reveled in how fortunate the residents of the MetroWest area were to have such a natural resource.

It was here that I spent most of my childhood, going on hikes and canoe trips with my family and getting acquainted with nature. While I lived there, I learned about local species of animals, practiced tracking and calling for wildlife, and felt pretty good about living in a wooded rural town despite ever expanding suburbia.

The Sudbury River as seen from Heard Conservation Land in Wayland, MA.

There really is something special about watching a river change through the seasons. As the tendrils of winter pulled back, ducks and herons would gather along the wooded edges of the river. On warm spring days. the smell of decaying vegetation and wet mud filled my nostrils and I would eagerly await the chance to go fishing along a weedy stretch for sunfish and perch. Fall leaves would drift lazily along in the meandering current and the cold snow would reveal tracks of mink, muskrat, and fox.

Perhaps the only similarity that I can find between the two places is that I’m unfamiliar with the geology of either place. Now you might question how someone who now lives in “the Granite state” might not be certain of what kind of rocks are found there. At least that gives us more of a clue than, let’s say, Indiana which touts itself as”the Hoosier state”. Whatever that means.

While it can be noted that the substrate of New England is mostly made up of granite rock with intermittent amounts of soil and worms, the recognition of certain rocks as being more important than others is a curious wrinkle in the culture of each state. For example, Massachusetts has seven rocks or geologic features it considers important enough to be state symbols. There is Plymouth Rock where, according to well concocted folklore, the first colonists to Massachusetts landed to begin life anew. This is incorrect as the Pilgrims first landed along Cape Cod, before eventually scouting out what would later become Plymouth Harbor. Another rock of historical interest is the Roxbury puddingstone which is used to make up Old South Church in Boston.

In New Hampshire, the state rocks are not only different in composition, but are also fewer in number. According to State Symbols USA, the granite state is well named with large deposits of granite found throughout. The only other geologic features that are mentioned are the state gem (smoky quartz) and state mineral (beryl). Personally, I think I prefer only having to remember one rock versus seven, so New Hampshire wins this one.

Before I go off to explore other parts of the state, I wanted to mention a change that will be happening to this blog. The past couple weeks have resulted in massive upheaval with getting the house together, fixing and replacing what doesn’t work, learning what does and how to improve it, and getting used to the idea that my family and I are now responsible for a home.

We’ve also been planning for the future and because it takes a decent amount of time to write for this website, I’ll be posting once a week on Wednesdays. This way, I can still have an outlet for my explorations of my new home state while also keeping a regular schedule of posts.

Thank you for understanding and I hope I’ve provided some useful information about both states that you’ll cherish forever. Maybe you’ll bring it up at your next social gathering. Or maybe like me, you’ll just spend a lot of time thinking about Emily the Cow.

Have a lovely day.

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