The Charles River

by Brad on January 7, 2011

As rivers go, the Charles doesn’t count for much. Flowing from Hopkinton to Boston, it’s only 80 miles long – 26 as the crow flies, (or as the runner runs, for it is the same 26 miles as the course of the Boston Marathon). It’s only a few hundred feet across at its widest point, much of that man-made as a result of dams.

Despite its rather ordinary features as a river, the Charles has a story. It began its life draining the surrounding land as the glaciers departed. Flowing in comparative silence for a few thousand years, it has more recently witnessed the emergence of distinguished schools now lining its banks – Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Brandeis. It watched quietly as a bunch of pissed-off colonists dumped a load of tea into Boston Harbor, quickly washing it out to sea in its outflow. (If the colonists had really wanted some-thing to be pissed at, it might have been the choice of the king of England to name the river after himself!) The Charles River heard Paul Revere’s horse gallop past to warn other colonists when the Brits took offense to the tea incident. Its banks supported Thoreau’s footsteps as he wandered & pondered. In more recent times, it has suffered the indignity of being “human-engineered” to suit more modern-day colonists – via both industrial pollution and subsequent clean-up and revitalization. Today, it flows in rather placid surroundings, entertained each summer by the Boston Pops Orchestra, by competitive sailing and rowing events, by college students “studying” on its sunny banks; and each winter by fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

As individuals, most of us are a lot like the Charles. Standing in our own presence, we appear quite ordinary, maybe even “lesser” in some way. We wander through life, thinking we’re on a big journey, yet our meanderings don’t take us all that far (the Charles has visited only 22 towns). But, also like the Charles, underneath the exterior, we have a story to tell. Although we may not make it into any book of “who’s who” either, we’ll nevertheless be remembered by the story we tell, not by how we see ourselves in the mirror.

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