A narrow section of Second Herring Brook, far upstream from where it flows into the North River in Norwell.

Melting snow, falling rain. Puddles form; water runs over and into the earth. Eventually the sun comes out. The ground dries, the water is gone. Do you ever wonder where it goes?

The planet is made up of watersheds — drainage areas — sections of land in which all water flows to a particular place. In the largest sense, our country has the Continental Divide, a line from which all water that falls to the east flows to the Atlantic Ocean, and all water that falls to the west flows to the Pacific. In a more local sense, watersheds center around rivers, or in coastal areas, the ocean.

Ever since I learned the concept of watersheds, it has been important to me to know where the water goes. When I visit a new city I must find out where the rivers are. If I am to spend any length of time in a particular place, I must know what watershed it’s in. Where does it come from? Where does it go? How does it all come together in the end? I’m always trying to gain understanding of the interrelatedness of things.

A friend of mine recently bought a house and one of the first things I noticed about his yard was the narrow stream that runs through the back corner. “It’s Oldham Brook,” a neighbor told me, “It flows to the North River.”

Knowing the landscape fairly well, I could see in my mind’s eye exactly how this brook might flow over the mile or so of terrain between the house and the river. Watching the snow melt on the driveway one afternoon, I was compelled to find out exactly where that backyard stream led, but brush and brambles and private properties stood in my way.

My friend’s house is set in more than an acre of woods. The property contains a few short trails which connect to a network of longer ones. We had each explored the back yard thoroughly, so one afternoon we set out to see where some of those other paths might lead us.

It was a sunny day, and light streamed through the winter-barren trees, creating intricate patterns on the forest floor. The trail was six inches deep with powdery white snow, pristine but for a series of evenly spaced animal prints running right down the middle, leading out of the woods and up toward the road. Were the prints made by a deer? A fox? Intrigued, we decided to follow them. Crossing Oldham Brook as we departed, I wondered aloud whether we might also discover where this backyard stream flowed into the North River.

The prints led off the property, into the woods, and onto a wider, more established trail. We traced them as far as we could, until tire tracks blocked our pursuit. After that we just walked in the tire tracks. Occasionally we’d see signs of the animal: it made short cuts where the tire tracks couldn’t. By then I was sure we were following a dog. We never did find out.

Our pursuit led us down a gradual decline. I’d had a sense of where we were all along, but finally we arrived at a place that was truly familiar. Approaching a clearing, I was pleased to see Oldham Brook emerge from the trees. Coming into plain sight just long enough for us to acknowledge it, it disappeared once again into the undergrowth. We picked up yet another trail and followed it to a vista overlooking the marsh and the North River.

The woods were lovely. Although the snow had fallen several days before, it was still downy, still pure. The bare tree branches, crusted with snow and ice, seemed more delicate than in other seasons. The evergreens appeared more colorful against the even blanket of white. It might otherwise have been a dim midwinter scene, but the waning light of the afternoon sky reflected on the snowy ground made it as bright as noon.

We stood for a while in silence, taking in the view. We were surrounded by beauty, and yet I felt strangely disconnected from the scene before me. In the past, a visit to such a place would have filled me with a sense of wholeness and peace, but not this time… I just felt confused.

Life can be so good and yet so disorienting… A lot has changed in my life in the past year — mostly for the better. When I think back to last winter and see how far I’ve come, I feel strong; inspired. But lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed too.

Change can throw us off balance. We get swept up in all that is new and different, and feel energized; empowered. But eventually things settle down and we need time to adjust. A combination of adrenaline and survival instinct gets us through even the most difficult times, but once the change is complete we must call on an entirely different set of strengths. We must re-establish equilibrium. It’s this part, for me, that tends to be the hardest.

Standing in the woods, gazing out over the river, it occurred to me that I’d been struggling for some time to get both my feet back on the ground. I’d made it through some significant changes — triumphantly — but in the process I had lost touch with myself. I was no longer sure of what I wanted from life; I was no longer sure of who I was. Looking upstream, I could see where Oldham Brook flowed into the North River, and I wondered what long, circuitous, brush-tangled path I would need to take in order to connect once again with my own source.

I find these days that what I require more than anything else is time — time to recover, time to adjust. I must reconnect to my true self. I must step back and consider where I have come from and where I would like to go. I must tread, one small step at a time, along this new path, not knowing for sure where it will lead me, but trusting it — and myself — all the same.

by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
February 1999

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a non-profit organization which focuses on the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.