Gail Samuelson


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Beaver Swamp

The beavers came to Rocky Narrows two years ago and plugged up Sewall Brook. The beavers don’t care that Rocky Narrows is the first and premier property of the Trustees of Reservations; don’t care that their dam has made a muddy mess of the trails leading to King Phillip’s Overlook, a magnificent view of the Charles River named for the Wampanoag Indian chief who unsuccessfully confronted the English colonists; and don’t care that the brook they dammed was named for Samuel Sewall, the infamous Salem witch trial judge. The beavers are there to chew down trees and saplings, make their dam, and flood the place.

The resulting landscape is surprising with its dying trees and bright green mud. A swamp quickly replaced the forest, followed by wood ducks, red-winged blackbirds, and mosquitos. This place smells more like the underside of a rotting log than the sweet scent of pine trees. The quiet is broken by the sounds of startled ducks and woodpeckers rummaging for food. Neither the place nor my photographs are conventionally pretty. But this is my place, which I pass each day when I walk my dog.

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Sewell Brook in Sherborn, MA, where I photograph, is named for the judge in the Salem witch trials. The brook empties into the Charles River just up-stream of the overlook, where the Massasoit chief King Philip planned his deadly raid on the village of Medfield. Three years ago beavers built a dam and flooded the brook, an event I captured with a digital camera. This year the beavers and dam are gone, and I am using a 4 x 5 large format film camera to realize the beginnings of a beaver meadow that forms when the flood recedes.  Each day is different and the seasons change, and I am here to watch and photograph the life cycle of this pond to a meadow.

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The Wellesley College greenhouse, which was built almost a century ago, is tired. The metal supports are rusted, and the glass panels are streaked and weathered. However, the collection of plants is magnificent, and the botanists, who take care of them, are happy to let me take photographs. I find the cacti with their sharp spines irresistible. I’m obsessed with the spots, the stripes, holes, and the colors of the leaves of the tropical plants. Such a lovely contrast to the leafless trees in my yard this winter.