'Water Row On His Mind'
By Carole LaMond/ Staff Writer
Sudbury Town Crier / Thursday, October 12, 2006
Bill Schechter thought he had discovered a short-cut to the high school when he made a right turn on Water Row one morning rather than continuing north on Route 27 to his usual commute on Concord Road.
Instead he discovered another world.
"I began to notice I was traveling on a very unusual road," said Schechter.
But that realization took some time.
For several years after he discovered the short-cut about 1985, Schechter traveled the country road along the Sudbury River, his mind filled with lesson plans and the school day ahead. He gave little thought to the beauty, and history, of Water Row.
"Here's the great irony. I passed the memorial to King Philip's War (the site of a Colonial garrison) every day while I was teaching about it," said Schechter. "There was the curriculum right in front of me, but I didn't take the time to notice."
A history teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School for 33-years, Schechter recently published a book of poems celebrating his 20-year commute on Water Row. The 12 poems in "Water Row On My Mind: Poems about a Road," chronicle his experiences on the road as he learned to take in, on many levels, what he saw as he traveled on Water Row.
"Thoreau certainly intensified my interest," said Schechter who teaches a course on Henry David Thoreau, the Concord author and environmentalist. "He makes an important distinction between what you look at and what you see."
Schechter began to appreciate the daily surprises whether it was the first blaze of red along the treetops in autumn or the unexpected appearance of a deer that ran along in front of his car before disappearing into the woods.
There were also times that "The Row," as he began to refer to the road, presented some unpleasant surprises. There was a near-fatal collision one wintry afternoon, and the shock of discovering some man-made changes to the scenic road that Schechter considers "encroachments" to the landscape.
In "Something There Is that Doesn't Love a Line," written in 2003, Schechter describes his reaction to the freshly-painted yellow line that spoiled the rural feel of the road. "The yellow line on Water Row fills my morning ride with woe. Where once the woods were dense and green there now appears a highway scene, complete with stripes like beams of light that startle and perturb my sight."
But worse was to come, when in 2004, a shiny steel guard rail appeared along a curve in the road. In "Early Morning Exchange," Schechter describes his reaction to this "eyesore," and refers the reader to rustic-looking guard rails on Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge and Franconia Notch, N.H., where "the highwaymen build one that blended in, instead of committing an aesthetic sin."
Even the name of the road intrigued Schechter who later learned from a resident that 'row' was a British term for road, and that the original name of the byway was Slough Road.
"At a later point yet, I decided on my way home, to get out of the car and I started walking down Water Row," said Schechter. "I've been doing that every chance I get and I don't find it any less remarkable now after walking it many, many times over many, many years."
"As my feelings about the Row deepened, it wasn't just a quick short-cut to school. It became important in a different way. It was not only what I observed, but an unbelievable opportunity to ruminate," he said. "A lot of things were thought out on that row, and a lot of creative ideas came to me."
The road began to take on a much greater significance to Schechter who views Water Row as a magical landscape, an unspoiled section of a long-gone Sudbury that should be preserved for future generations.
"There are special places that bring us into a very close relationship to nature and our imagination. They have what we might call 'the power of place,'" said Schechter. "Water Row is a little corner of Sudbury that is one of these areas that has the power of place. It deserves not only to be used, but to be protected."
That sense of stewardship led Schechter to publish his Water Row poems which he distributed to residents of the road, and to town departments including the Goodnow and L-S libraries.
"Each of those poems was an immediate reaction to some sort of experience, but as they accumulated they communicated a larger message about stewardship," said Schechter. "Sudbury is fortunate to have this little byway which can deepen our appreciation of nature, but also remind us of who we are and what we were."
The Row not only provides a beautiful landscape that "takes you through the seasons in a very dramatic fashion," said Schechter, but is also a wildlife corridor for marsh, river and woodland animals. It was also the site of events that "fire your historical imagination," and a place where one can imagine Native Americans and early settlers cultivating the fields.
"How often do you get all that on one ride?" said Schechter. "We all venerate Walden Pond and its history, but Water Row led me to the realization that there are Waldens all around us."