“What do you see? How does it make you feel?” asked Paul Wetzel, Curriculum and Research Administrator, Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability (CEEDS). The waterfall at Paradise Pond was the first viewpoint on Paul’s guided tour of the Mill River, organized in conjunction with the exhibition Maya Lin: Mappings. Participants considered Paul’s questions as they looked out over the waterfall, across the Mill River, to the athletic fields and trees beyond. Responses highlight the different perspectives of the intergenerational group:
- Peaceful and calm
- Feels a little artificial
- Water makes you feel calm
- Delight at the layers of colors
- See past and present at the same time
- Power of nature
- Loud but quiet
- Resting place: slope that breaks after tumbling down
- Place of transition: slow and lazy above, active below
- Power and energy
- I see a river constrained (Paul after everyone else had spoken)
Paul’s theme for the interactive discovery walk was the psychology of landscape, inspired by a quotation from Maya Lin. “Each of my works originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings, not just the physical world but also the psychological world we live in.” At each stopping point along the lively ninety-minute walking tour, Paul introduced new ways of looking at the immediate surroundings. He led the conversation with questions and observations, then shared maps, historical photos and interdisciplinary perspectives on why and how the riverscape changes over time.
“Control and command” is the phrase Paul used to describe an approach to water management visible in the levees, dams, former mill sites, floodwalls and floodgates along the Mill River. Standing on the levee across from the site of the former Maynard Hoe Factory, Paul asked, “Why was there so much flooding in Northampton?” Encouraging people to think about what was going on upstream, he revealed through photos and historical records the story of potash, and how it played a major role in the deforestation of New England. Located at the bottom of the Mill River watershed, Northampton was more vulnerable to flooding as a result of deforestation upstream.
Curious about the history of flood management, participants followed the Mill River downstream on the lookout for evidence. “You get to see a cross section of the levee!” Paul exclaimed, pointing out flood barrier supports in the wall. Leading the way behind the former Felt Building, Paul brought the group to a bridge overlooking the 1940 diversion of the Mill River by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was an “aha” moment for many in the group who saw and understood the history of this turn in the river for the first time.
Everyone left the walk brimming with new ideas and questions about past, present and future interactions between people and their river environments. Gina Hall, Museum Educator for School & Family Programs, captured the spirit of the afternoon perfectly. Her 13-year old described the tour as “very fun,” and she reflected, “It was a fantastic connection, truly in the spirit of Maya Lin’s work, and a lovely example of an intergenerational program with something for everyone.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the Mill River from Paradise Pond to South Street, download the walking tour map brochure.
Written by Carol Berner, April 5, 2022.