I often talk about grand locations, tall mountains, restless ocean shores, or classically appointed New England villages. Certainly, New England offers an abundance of such attractions, but I live in a quieter slice of the region and I revel in the simple beauty of our “Currier and Ives” corner of New Hampshire and Vermont.
|Catsbane Falls and Cascades|
Gently flowing brooks punctuated by cascades and waterfalls are another feature of our region. Spring is a great time to enjoy the flowing water and, since my second annual Spring Waterfall Workshop is coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought this would be an appropriate time to celebrate one lovely little brook in my home town of Chesterfield New Hampshire, the Catsbane Brook
Catsbane Brook winds its way through Chesterfield, meandering north and finally emptying into the Connecticut River in West Chesterfield. It stretches though most of the town and is the longest brook within Chesterfield’s borders, but what is a Catsbane?
Catsbane Brook, What’s in a Name
I have searched for a good definition of “Catsbane” and have found that it is a colloquial name for a variety of Orchid that may be especially toxic to felines, but why was this brook named after a poisonous flower? A good question and, for an answer, I went to Audrey and Neil at the Chesterfield Historical Society. These wonderful ladies possess a wealth of knowledge about our town, and very quickly, they were able to direct me to Oran Randall’s History of Chesterfield, published in 1882. On page eleven I found a story from the town’s early history, in which two scouts rested along the brook for lunch. When one lingered a bit too long to drink the water, his companion wished that the water was poisonous Catsbane, or perhaps “Rats-Bane” (Arsenic). Possibly just a dusty old folk-lore, but whether or not this story is true, it makes a nice tale. You can read the story and decide for yourself.
Finding the Source
|Beaver Pond , Catsbane Origin|
My first goal was to find the point of origin of Brook. Over its course, several streams contribute to the Catsbane’s flow, but its most notable origin is from a large beaver pond in the south of town.
|Beaver Dam Spring|
The pond features an impressive system of well-maintained dams and the brook begins its travels as a modest stream, trickling under the logs. This week I explored the course of the brook and supplemented the many photographs that I have taken of the Catsbane over the years.
Hubbard Falls and Town Brook
|Town Brook to the Catsbane|
Through West Chesterfield
|Pond Brook Falls|
West Chesterfield is one of the villages making up the town of Chesterfield and it is here that the Catsbane Brook shows its most dramatic faces. The Catsbane’s journey through West Chesterfield is marked by frequent waterfalls and cascades. Early on, the brook is joined by Pond Brook with a lovely little waterfall.
A number of other waterfalls can be found as the Catsbane drops though West Chesterfield’s little village, but the most dramatic no longer exists. What I called the Catsbane’s “Little Niagara”Falls was formed as the brook passed over an old mill dam, but sadly, in the last couple of years, the dam has been by-passed. For now there remains only a powerful jet of water feeding cascades, but I won’t object if some trees washed downstream to block the sluice way.
|The Catsbane "Little Niagara"|
Sluice Under the Dam
The Catsbane finishes it course meandering through flats to a broad opening into the Connecticut River.
|Catsbane into the Connecticut River|
For years I have enjoyed photographing the Catsbane’s beautiful features, but it was instructive to follow the water from its modest origins to the dramatic flow at it terminus. It made me appreciate that towns throughout New England are cut by intricate webs of water, which generally go unnoticed, but are critical to the health of the ecosystem. Take some time to explore the patterns of water in your own community, and maybe even take a picture or two.