Rolling By the River’s Edge

Bridging the Charles River

river daffodil
admit it. The Charles River is a gem. I have been living in Cambridge for 25 years and the river is an effervescent, sentinel part of our life. We have River festivals and wildlife; cruisers and duck boats. The river is an artery cutting through Cambridge much older than Mass Ave. It's as royal as any wedding fruitcake.
Some lack an appreciation for the 129 km river. It starts in Hopkinton (just like the marathon),snakes through Waltham and rolls out broadly as it enters Cambridge.
Although not in tip-top health, the River is beauty queen material. I run 4 miles along the Charles River several times a week. I'm not an engineer, nor a Greenpeacer, nor a Harvard professor. Any foot soldier can enjoy the Charles in infinite ways. You can kayak along its shores, without falling overboard  (my son at 14 did this after a dare). Instead of bemoaning the dirty water , you can take litmus tests of Charles' toxicity every month. Harvard students jump off Weeks bridge into deep water after exams. Or go goggle-eyed watching Mallard drakes paddling against the current and geese laying eggs. Did you see the rare spotted turtle by the boathouse? Wave to our new neighbors: two swans like twin towers have moved in near the Western bridge.

What did original settlers call it before the royalists named it Charles? Boston was founded on Indian land:  a slinky little Shawmut peninsula jutting into a deep water harbor (1630). I say founded, but not without homage to the Algonquin people, Pequossettes and Wampanoags who thrived along the waters. The first name for this scarf of water was Quinobequin. Although no one knows how to pronounce this word, it means meandering river. With some shame and deep honor I remember the peoples that cared for the river 4 centuries ago.
When the Europeans first set anchor near the Shaumut peninsula; the South End, Fenway, and the Back Bay were mere tidal pools behind the expansive river. Boston in 1775 was a scrawny isthmus with a big lopsided head (789 acres). The peninsula's Neck was merely 100 yards wide, about twice the width of the street at high tide. This was so remarkable: imagine a goose's slender neck with head perched on top the size of a bear.  Boston was blanketed with forest.  Mr. Winthrop, Mr. Dudley and early settlers scrambled from Fort Hill, over to Charlestown and upstream to Cambridge looking to find clean water. The Charles River was slow-moving brackish sometimes with a distinctive fragrance.
The water was the beacon. Maybe the world watched Winthrop who settled in 1630 in Watertown near the Perkins School of the Blind. But the river was the attraction. Governor Winthrop, a pioneer and an aristocrat, Read more