The Housatonic

The words "no photo yet"What resides in happy and agonized memory, is the four-mile stretch of the Housatonic River at Derby on which we rowed and raced for four years at Yale. Flowing through a thickly treed valley, with a scattering of houses along the banks, the river was both workplace and retreat, our country classroom and our field of battle. No matter how hard the practices or races, even in the heat of early fall or late spring, even on days, when not a breath of air rippled the water’s surface, even under a burning sun, the green panorama that rose on both shores provided a soothing setting far removed from the stone walls and leaded windows of our New Haven campus.

The most enchanting moments were the rare days in late fall or early spring when we were surprised by a light snowfall that covered the river with a soft blanket of slushy snow. As the flakes drifted down around us, enveloping us in a shifting mist, each time we took a stroke, the boat, slowed by the slush, would lurch forward a few feet before coming to a stop. And there, cut into the undulating greyish white blanket on which we floated, would be the evenly spaced black holes, four to a side, port and starboard, dug by the blades of our oars.

I have returned frequently to that place on the river for over fifty years now. It is where the strongest and fondest memories of my time at Yale have taken root.

Tom Weil

The Lagoon

the open water of a small lake viewed through wetland grassesThe “Lagoon” was a thin alley of water bounded by wetlands grasses on the way to the Yale Bowl. For several decades it was the fall practice venue for lightweight crews, as well as the practice and race course for intra-college Tyng Cup competition. We usually ran there from Payne Whitney, traversing seemingly unfriendly neighborhoods, retrieved our shells and oars from a weary Quonset hut, tiptoed across a rickety raft, and launched for an hour or two of practice. While most days were a tangle of assaults on one’s sensibilities, those occasions when a cooling breeze blew from the cattails, or one heard the croaks and chirps of the wetlands denizens, or basked in the waning sunlight on the water, lent a moment of simple charm to the experience.

In the late 1960s, Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American Airlines, offered to upgrade the Lagoon into an Olympic standard rowing course, which would have transformed rowing at Yale, but the dream capsized in the face of strong opposition from environmental and neighborhood groups. As conditions deteriorated over the years, the course silted up, and it wasn’t long before the Lagoon returned to being the exclusive domain of the winged, webbed and four-footed creatures who now no longer suffer the slap of oars, the shouts of coxswains or the intrusion of the long boats into their kingdom.

Tom Weil