I looked over at the cover. The book in his hands was not his, or Anna's. It was mine:
Ouch. Ethan didn't realize he'd hit a sore spot.
I've written before about my love affair with the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, near where I grew up. Four Massachusetts towns were flooded; disappeared under water when the reservoir was built in the 1930s to supply the city of Boston with ample drinking water. We used to picnic by the water and race down the grass slopes of the Goodnough Dike with cardboard boxes like sleds. We'd take walks down to the one abandoned town green above the water line and look at old cellar holes. I've always loved the beauty; the melancholy feeling to the place.
You know how when you're a kid, you have these big dreams? You just know you could be an astronaut, or a famous actress, or write a book. For the longest time I thought I'd be an author, but as time went by I realized I wasn't much of a book writer. I preferred short, topical pieces. Except when it came to the Quabbin.
I always thought if I had one book in me, it was about the Quabbin. I've had an idea percolating for years about an adolescent girl, growing up in the years that the towns began to slip away. I could see it all play out. I could feel her pain as she watched childhood slip away, figuratively and literally, as her town was stripped of trees and the familiar buildings were plowed over or moved elsewhere. I had the idea 15 years ago, and began doing research, but then, you know. Life came along. Kids came along. I always figured I could sit down and pick the whole thing up again someday.
A few weeks ago, I finally decided to buckle down and start writing. I was excited. I was inspired. I went online and was
...shocked to discover someone had already written my book. Eleven years ago. Exact same story. Same reservoir and dying town. Same adolescent girl.
And now Ethan stood with this picture book I'd bought long ago about the flooding of the towns, "Letting the Swift River Go." It's a beautiful book. It's one of the most beautiful children's book's I've ever read.
It's also long, and I thought the ideas would be too complex for him.
"Are you sure you want to read this?" I asked.
"Yes! Please read it!" he begged. And so I started with the story, and waited for him to lose interest.
to clear the scrub and brush,
to cut down all the trees: the maples and elms,
the willows and scyacmores, and the great spreading oaks.
then hauled away.
Some were bulldozed.
One great push and they went over
after one or two centuries
of standing strong
against wind and snow and rain.
It is a lovely wilderness;
But once it was a low-lying valley called Swift River,
surrounded by rugged hills.
There were towns in the valley filled with hardworking folks
whose parents and grandparents had lived there all their lives.
Then, between 1927 and 1946, all the houses
and churches and schools -- the markers of their lives --
were gone forever under the rising waters.
to create the Quabbin was not a unique event.
The same story -- only with different names --