Upper Lake and My Sense of Place

By Sandy Nichols Ward
MHC Class of 1965
December 5, 2006

An early April walk around Upper Lake on the campus of Mount Holyoke College 15 years after graduation led me to a unexpected, new realization about my relationship to New England. During college years I had often walked here, especially late at night before bed, a relaxing end-of-day ritual for some of us living in dorms near the lake. But this time I had flown in from my suburban house in California and saw the lakeside path with fresh eyes.

Signs of early spring delighted me: trees with hints of red and green buds at the tips of bare branches; green skunk cabbage growing in the marshy areas, and a turtle sunning itself on a log in the shallow water. I'd almost forgotten that this season existed!

I grew up in eastern Massachusetts in a little house beside a pond and near woodlands like this. Never before had I thought that the MHC campus resembled my childhood home. It was a poignant moment for me. I was stunned to realize that I was reliving not only my college memories but much deeper childhood memories. How had this happened? I went “away” to college to a new place, far out in western Massachusetts.

Later, I had moved to NY, and then CA. I loved CA and told everyone that I would never move back to New England. To visit yes, but not to live. My home area had been destroyed under the Route 95 highway construction in the 1970's, and there was no going back. I had a new life in CA.

What a wonderful surprise to discover that my college had preserved the woodlands of my childhood!

[This piece was written for and read aloud at a Special Reading and Reception honoring Prof. Lauret Savoy. Lauret is Director of the Center for the Enviroment and a beloved professor of Environmental Studies. The December 5, 2006 event was hosted by the Center for the Environment's Writer's Group and CE Student Advisory Board of Mount Holyoke College. The invitation included this line: “ Everyone is invited to bring a piece they would like to read that celebrates their own Sense of Place.”

Later that day we attended Lauret's book reading and signing at the Odyssey Bookshop. Her latest book, Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology, is a “compilation of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that explores geology's deeper impact on our everyday life.” I've been reading it since, savoring the delightful words. I highly recommend it. - Sandy Ward]

Links: | Mount Holyoke College | Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology |