We live thirty miles inland along the old road to the coast, a road laid down on an early wagon track, which followed the Indian trace—a long day on sure feet giving way to oxcarts that took half the week to return from the sea with their burdens of salt hay. Now the coast is a scant hour’s drive along Broadway, North Lowell Street, Main, and also River Road and Water Street since the way sometimes skirts the muscular currents of the Merrimack, which salts at Newburyport, and pours into the Atlantic.
By the end of its journey the river is almost two hundred miles from the cold rose of its source in the White Mountains. In many places it flows through a yielding channel older than the ice ages. Where it courses over stubborn ledge, where the rock wears away at an incremental pace, are the waterfalls that were once the gathering places and fishing grounds of the Algonquin tribes. Merrimack is their word. River of sturgeon, swift water, strong place.
To the south of our fields and woods the river flows broad and braided and eastward. It is the strong line of our landscape. The low-lying hills slope towards its channel, and every vein of water—the icy melt and the murk, the mineral rich source and the field-drained runoff, waters that taste like metal on the tongue, waters redolent of balsam, and some of smoky tea—every vein drains into the Merrimack. Even the cut of the road depends on the river, since it nearly ghosts the water’s course though we sleep beyond earshot of a steady current, lulled instead by the fine-tuned motors of the night freight trucks that approach and then pass.
From “Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family” by Jane Brox (Beacon Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Jane Brox. Reprinted with permission of the author and Beacon Press.