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If you’ve been following the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge, you know that I’ve been going around to many towns and cities in the state. In fact, I’ve visited many more than I’ve blogged about already (I’m behind, but catching up). I just thought you’d like to see where I’ve made it to so far. As you can see, there’s a lot of white still there, and many more towns to see. I’ve made it to 65 out of 351, so this is going to be a long journey! I’ll be periodically updating the map for you to see.
For the second year in a row, I used the day after Thanksgiving not to go out and buy things (although I actually did a little of that) but to use it as a time of contemplation. Last year, the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge started after I went to the Peace Abbey in Sherborn to meditate, read, walk, journal and get grounded. I knew I wanted to do that again, and I was searching around for a retreat center that I could go to, but since the Peace Abbey is now closed, I was having a hard time finding a place. I then thought about how I could go to one of the many beautiful libraries in Massachusetts and do my retreat at a small town library. I wanted one that I didn’t have to drive too far to, but that I hadn’t been at yet. I chose the Dover Town Library, which is the town next to Sherborn.
It’s a beautiful, newly constructed library in a historic, old building. They have a nice reading section with many comfortable chairs. They even had coffee and desserts available (not that I could eat any of them, as they were all gluten-filled). I spent about four hours there, and I just alternated back between journaling, drawing, meditating, reading, and looking at my plans for the future, and seeing what I really wanted to do with my life in the coming few months. It was very grounding to get away from the busy-ness of my current life, and to start listening to that little voice in my head that had great dreams and wants. I think that we don’t listen to that voice in ourselves nearly enough. Usually, we can’t even hear it over the cacophony of the roar of our lives.
So, when was the last time you heard your inner voice?
Upon leaving the Rowe Labor Day Weekend, I figured I should take advantage of my location and find another town to travel to fit the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge. I also wanted it to be one that I wouldn’t get to easily on another trip. After checking out the map, I decided to visit Colrain.
I’d heard of the town before, and knew that it had a lot of apple orchards and other farms. After a side trip into Vermont, we drove through beautiful green country roads along a Green River towards Colrain Center. Now, I knew the name Coleraine as its a popular contra dance tune and it I’d one if the first ones I learned on the hammered dulcimer. When I got to the center, I was really surprised at what I found.
While the rest if the town was bucolic beauty, the town center looked like 1600 square feet of urban blight. There were two abandoned churches, a condemned building, and an apartment block with four apartments and what looked like trash and junk spewed about. There was also this mental object that looked like a small pyramid. The whole situation was sort of surreal.
Granted, there might be a much better center of town, but this is what I found.
So, when where you completely surprised at what you found that seemed so out of place?
After following all the back roads and maps (GPS reception isn’t that good out there in rural Western Franklin County) I stopped by a country store that seemed to be a part of someone’s house. After waiting for the two men to pause from their discussion at the cashier’s, I asked for directions to the town center. They asked me why I would want to go there, as there’s nothing there. I found out I was standing in the only store in the town!
I got my directions and drove into the town center. There was a small common, with a community hall, a combination town hall and library (open only a few days of the week) and a church. I happen to strike up a conversation with the man who lives between the church and the town hall and told him why I’d traveled to Heath. When I mentioned that I needed to photograph something that could only be in that town, he said “We’ll, you’ll have to get a photograph of the Niebuhr church.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but then he explained that the Heath Union Church, next door to his house, was where Reinhold Niebuhr first read “The Serenity Prayer” in public in 1943. He also wrote it in a little cottage in the town. This was another surprise for me that I’ve been finding when I visit all these towns! The town center was certainly serene!
My new friend gave me some of his beautiful heirloom tomatoes and then he gave me directions back to Rowe, passing by the Heath Fairgrounds. The Heath Fair has been happening for about 100 years and is one of the oldest in the state still happening. Unfortunately, I’d missed it by three weeks, but if I were there then, I’d would’ve been a lot less serene.
So, where have you found done serenity?
While I was staying in Rowe, I decided that this was my chance visit a few other of the towns in the area. Just up the street was the least populated town on the Massachusetts mainland, Monroe. With only 121 residents as of the 2010 census, there’re not a lot of people there! After heading down the steep hill into town, you see the mill next to the Deerfield River, and then come onto Depot Street, where there are about 10 houses and the town hall. One of the houses had a pub/restaurant in it, where a number of motorcyclists had stopped.
This is a town that you certainly wouldn’t get to unless you wanted to get there. There’s no numbered routes in the town, and it’s right on the Vermont border with no larger towns around it. I understand that it had a little boom when the Hoosac Tunnel was built in the mid 1800’s, (population 3000) but it’s been pretty sleepy since. With so few people, there are few municipal services (they have a library, fire station, and post office, but no schools or police station). It seemed like the type of place that would be a village within another town anyplace else, but they’ve managed to keep there own identity.
So, when have you been able to stick it out when others went elsewhere?
I was lucky enough to be asked back for the second time to be a workshop leader for the Gay Men’s Labor Day Weekend at the Rowe Camp and Conference Center in Rowe. It’s a wonderful Unitarian Universalist retreat center in Western Massachusetts off the Mohawk Trail, and they’ve had numerous famous people in the personal development field give workshops there. It’s a great group of men who get together and share their humanity. Thanks to Ben Seaman to have the faith in me to present again!
I lead two workshops: “Finding Your Calling” and “How You Show Up in Dating Profiles” (talk about self-branding!). I also got to take a writing workshop and partake in the other great activities.
The Conference Center is about the biggest thing in the Town of Rowe, which has about 700 people and is miles from the nearest road with a route number. We walked the 1/4 mile from our site to the middle of town to use the old church, which looks like it is now used as a community building. It’s the type of place where you can walk in the middle of the road and can tell if a car is coming from far enough away to get to safety before they get near you.
Most people know the town as the site of the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, which is now closed down. I drove past it on my way to Monroe and its on a side of a steep mountainside way far away from most people. I was told that the construction vehicles used to barrel down those rural roads and almost crash on the sharp turns. I’m sure this town was picked because its so rural.
So, what do you want to be known for?
On my way back home from my Dad’s birthday gathering in Upton where we visited Northbridge, I had a little bit of daylight left and thought that I had enough time to actually visit another town before it got dark. In looking at my route home and figuring out which towns I hadn’t visited yet, I set my sights to go through Hopkinton and visit Ashland.
I managed to find the town center, as it’s not on a numbered route, and found a really cool town clock/sculpture that was in the middle of town. Just as I was about to take my picture with it, the railroad crossing signs started flashing and ringing, and a huge train came through town. You can see it in my picture behind me. It wasn’t a commuter train, but an long haul working train. There was a cool little train station that had been converted to doctor’s offices, so I can image a time when the trains came through and stopped for people. I don’t know if you can still get a commuter train into Boston from here, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere in Ashland the MBTA has a stop.
It was a nice downtown, with a lot of while buildings. Not terribly busy on a lazy summer evening at dusk, but you had your standard pizza shop and municipal buildings. There were kids riding there bikes, and while there was a decent amount of traffic, it didn’t seem that busy. Again, this was a town center that was not on the main route to somewhere else. Next to the library, there was a cannon and a monument to a time capsule that they had buried at the town’s 150th anniversary in 1996. It was to be reopened on the 200th anniversary in 2046.
So, when have you planned for the future that you don’t think you’ll see?
On a beautiful summer’s day, I went over to my brother’s house in Upton to gather for my father’s 80th birthday. It was a very nice day and we went out for ice cream with the family at a local ice cream stand. My nephew, who’s six, really enjoyed it. Now, I got to Upton fairly frequently for family events, and as we were all there and already in the car, I said that it might be nice for us all to go and see the place where my father’s mother was born in the village of Whitinsville, which is not far from there in the town of Northbridge. It was also another opportunity to check off one more town on my list.
I had been to Northbridge before, at another time, and found the address of the house where my grandmother was born and lived as a young girl. Her family had moved to Maynard, Massachusetts (my home town) from Newfoundland around 1890, and her two brother’s were born there, but they moved to Whitinsville just before my grandmother was born, and then moved back to Maynard where she met and married my grandfather.
Whitinsville is the biggest of the many villages of Northbridge, and it’s where most of the town offices are. It’s not on a main route (you have to take the Main Street off Route 146 to get there), so it’s not really on the way to anywhere in particular. The mill there used to be very large and supplied spindles to other mills. It’s another one of the places that used to be quite prosperous when the mills where in full swing, but now is looking to reinvent itself. It’s in the Blackstone Valley National Historic Corridor, and you can see many sites from the start of the Industrial Revolution in the area.
So, have you ever visited where your family came from?
After the busy hustle and bustle of Provincetown, I wanted to get some exercise and a bike ride in before it got too hot, and as Provincetown is at the end of Cape Cod, the only place to go was to the next town of Truro.
North Truro, actually. Truro is very long and skinny, and it was about a 12 mile round trip to North Truro, and given that this would be the longest I had biked in many years, I didn’t want to over do it. It’s beach are and mostly flat and exposed to the sun, so I didn’t want to burn too badly, so I figured I’d take it easy. There were many cottages and complexes along Route 6A, and I could feel a much different pace from Provincetown. I was thinking that this is the Cape that most people think about when they come here. It’s quiet, non-rushed, and nothing to do but sit on the beach. I stopped at Beach Point and just sat and watched the waves and seagulls. As I’m really working on being more present and to slow down, this was a great practice for me. I’ve found that I need to be in vacation mind more, where there’s nothing much to do, and I don’t feel like I’m on the way to anything. This was where I was then, although I know I had to bike back.
I think that we all need those places where we don’t have to do anything.
So, where do you get vacation mind?
A video blog of my trip this summer to Provincetown!