YESTERDAY’S TRACTOR PARADE in Hatfield provided a brief respite from the nonstop shouting that will only get louder between now and November 3. For a few hours on a bright October day, our political affiliations and different backgrounds were pushed aside.
The event, celebrating the town’s 350th anniversary, was one of the few since March that didn’t have to be shrunk, canceled, or postponed.
Tractor after tractor of every age, color, shape, and size. Young men on tall tractors wearing wraparound sunglasses. Old men puttering along on squat tractors who drove fine but looked as if they were holding on for dear life. A young boy and girl waving from the cab of a huge blue tractor while their father kept his eyes on the road. A few women and teenagers. It was impressive!
The parade of tractors brought its own noise, of course, not to mention plenty of exhaust fumes that lingered in the air after they had passed. But the good vibes lingered, too.
The parade celebrated our common heritage, as residents of this small farming community on alluvial plains along the Connecticut River, with hills rising to the west, next to Northampton, Amherst, and the I-91 corridor;
of Massachusetts — one of the 13 original colonies, 44th in land area among the 50 states, 15th in population, and 5th in average income — that despite this summer’s drought has fared better than other regions in recent years when it comes to natural and manmade disasters (though living here means we need to import fuels from stricken areas to heat our homes in winter);
of the United States, which despite its enormous assets and accomplishments currently roils in crisis, the latest being our president hospitalized with Covid, about which we don’t know what to believe (it’s something you say to a six-year-old: the problem with lying is that people can never be certain if you are telling the truth); and
as global citizens, grappling with a range of threats to our species like climate change and the coronavirus.
We are, every one of us, all four of these at once.
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BEFORE THE PARADE arrived near the end of its three-hour journey through town, I visited my neighbors as we waited along Elm Street.
Not for the first time, we complained about the loud air brakes used by some trucks passing through town at all hours, even on weekends, and what could be done about it. The day before, one of the neighbors, in fact, had contacted the police chief about a noise bylaw.
The chief was open to the idea, but he noted that Massachusetts has no statute outlawing the offensive noise, and local ordinances passed by cities like Holyoke and Northampton lack strong language and are difficult to enforce.
Our group considered ways to implement an effective noise bylaw, such as setting up “noise,” rather than “speed” traps that would be within the town’s capabilities and budget. Even if the penalties were small, getting stopped would inconvenience the drivers and send a message.
The conversation next turned to the speed limit. We agreed that it makes sense to lower it from 40 to 35 in this heavily residential area (three new developments have appeared just along this stretch since I moved here 19 years ago). It would be safer for everyone, and it would help address the noise problem.
It may take time and patience to effect changes like these. But the conversation has begun in earnest and will no doubt spread and be of great interest to others.
IT WAS ONLY after the parade that I realized that at no time during our conversation did the president’s name come up, despite the fact that we had talked politics at length just two nights before. The news has shocked the nation and dominated the airwaves since Friday morning, yet none of us said a word about it, focusing on what we could do to improve our own community.
Our only direct impact on national politics is with our vote. The parade and our conversation were reminders that our individual contributions to a functioning democracy do not end there.