Western Massachusetts


I have noticed that many of the people visiting my blog are coming from places all of the United States and even all over the world! Since, very few of you are from Massachusetts, and probably think of Boston as the ONLY place in this state, I thought I might tell you a little bit about where I live. WESTERN Massachusetts.

As you will see if you look at the map above and to the left, these people didn’t think it necessary to put my town on this map. In fact the entire area where I live has nothing labeled. Find Holyoke (pronounced Holy Oak – not Holly Oky – which I once heard someone say) Springfield and Northampton. Between Holyoke and Northampton is a small set of mountains or really hills called the Holyoke Range. Around here it is known as the Tofu Curtain. South of the Holyoke Range is a very different place than North of it. Northampton is an awesome, hip, college town. So from there, head North. To the left of the Quabbin (more on that later) and keep going. Follow the Connecticut River to the place where Massachusetts and the river meet Vermont and New Hampshire. Now back down a half an inch. THAT is where I live.

Massachusetts is really divided into at least three portions. Boston – urban, cultured, steal our water. Central, MA – a lot of commuters to Boston. Flat. Where I grew up. Western MA – which is really western central – also known as The Pioneer Valley and hill towns surrounding the Connecticut River Valley. This is where I live. Then there are the Berkshires – where the Berkshire Mountains are – & what I see as a place where New Yorkers go on vacation. I can’t really speak for any of those other places. But I do know western MA.

I came here for college. UMass, Butterfield Alumni. I never left. I never left because the valley has a much different pace than where I grew up. Though there were rural sections of central Ma, there was still a mall, chain restaurant, fast paced, Boston oriented, mentality. Out in the valley we are much more rural except for our few semi-urban areas. For a long time I lived in a hill town on top of a plateau that was, for most, out in the boonies. But I can tell you, out here, 30 minutes to the store was not much compared to those who live between the hill towns and the Berkshires.

The book and the plow are the emblems of Amherst College and I think that fits this area well. It is both a farming and an academic community. There are professors mixing with good ole boys. The locavore movement is very strong here. Local foods, local products. Small family farms are flourishing and the art community is wonderful.

People in Boston think we are a place to visit. My family, who still lives East of here, always says, I’d move out there, but there are no jobs. Maybe not the kind of urban jobs they think of, but there is a different cost of living here and the slower pace, the organic lifestyle, the prevalence of sheep, chickens, gardens, and sugar shacks (which is where Maple syrup is boiled) is worth it. I am a teacher and my husband works for a large corporation that makes…scented candles. Can you guess which one?
It works out well for us.

In 2006, we moved from the hills into the valley because we were priced out of houses at the height of the boom. We hope to move back up there before too long. But we bought a house in the “city” of Greenfield. It is really a town. We live on a rural highway, but we have nearly two acres of land abutting 60 acres of undeveloped town land and 40 acres of Christmas Tree farm. We have 5 chickens, with three chicks on the way. We hope to have sheep, goat, and alpacas one day – but in the hills.

My husband is a native of the area, and about the Quabbin and Boston stealing our water thing. His family, descended from Salem (one of the executed witches), moved westward and settled in Dana. If you look on a map, you won’t find Dana. It is under water. The Quabbin Reservoir flooded a few towns for Boston’s water. Those families relocated. My husband’s to New Salem, but not before his grandfather was one of the men who dug up the graves of the generations of people who had lived in Dana and moved them. Believe it or not, the people of that area still have a grudge against Boston.

So if you ever visit Massachusetts, don’t just do Boston. Come West and stop in the Pioneer Valley.

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