A New England perspective on the American experience

Those of us who live near the Connecticut River or its tributaries deal daily with the beauty and power of moving water. We cross the river to get to work or buy groceries, and discuss its seasonal changes around our kitchen tables. We fish, swim in and row on the river; paint, photograph and write about it. We harness its current for energy and siphon water for crops. The river’s presence helped develop our cities and towns and remains a common feature of our communities, from Canada to Long Island Sound.

Despite its influence, the river is overlooked by many. But this is not just any river, and these are not ordinary times. As Americans, we are experiencing unprecedented challenges and demands about how best to express our democratic values in the contemporary world. We face unique threats to our liberties and environment, and confront new and conflicting definitions of life and love. We follow the breathtaking arc of technology, uncertain of its destination. We have more sources for news and information than ever before, yet find fewer reasons to see them as credible.

New England Watershed Magazine has been created in response to these challenges, to strengthen our sense of community and foster the exchange of ideas. The word “watershed” refers to a region “bounded peripherally by a water parting and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water,” and also to “a crucial dividing point or line.” Both meanings describe the new magazine of the Connecticut River corridor. Watershed builds bridges of understanding while satisfying our thirst for ideas and new ways to think about the world.

The vitality of the Connecticut River watershed is reflected in the civilization that has evolved along its course. Pioneering men and women, native and from around the globe, have explored the river’s length in canoes and rafts, barges and steamboats—even atop logs floating to market. The farmland along its banks is some of the richest in the world. Few regions can claim as many colleges and universities, museums and cultural institutions.

Mark Twain once lived here, as did Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, Dr. Seuss and Katherine Hepburn. The Connecticut River has been home to such visionaries as Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of many of our most celebrated public spaces; Sojourner Truth, a champion for equal rights and social justice; artists Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Maxfield Parrish; Samuel Morey, inventor of the steamboat; and Noah Webster, author of the first American dictionary. Today a diverse group of internationally recognized writers, artists and scholars have settled within the river’s watershed, continuing an intellectual tradition as rich as the region’s spectacular soils. The river has played a role in forming both.

The Connecticut River itself provides a reason for optimism as we confront the challenges of our age. The river was so polluted in the 1960s and 1970s that few would go near it. Through the persistence and vision of numerous people, the river has been reclaimed, its waters cleansed: the Connecticut is now a federally designated Heritage River. Many of the people who reside within the river’s watershed today share a similar desire to positively shape their natural and cultural landscape.

New England Watershed’s essays, articles, photographs and artwork examines issues particular to life within the Connecticut River watershed. But our regional identity is just one aspect of our involvement with the world. New England Watershed explores the “crucial dividing points or lines” of our times, articulating what it is to be American, in all its complexity.

Russell Powell, editor and publisher