A lens on Carlisle’s future
by Rick MacDonald
Great things happen right here. Scientists at Westford’s Haystack Observatory recently produced, with seven other radio telescopes around the world, the first-ever image of a black hole, an object that didn’t exist in our minds until Einstein gave us the idea, but whose aura of light has traveled 53 million years to reach us. Information and technology can illuminate things we haven’t yet imagined.
Municipal planning comes slowly to Carlisle. Robert Blood arrived in this niche between towns sometime before 1651, before Isaac Newton had built his first telescope. More than a century passed before Carlisle’s separation from Concord. Another century passed before Henry David Thoreau surveyed the boundary with Concord. Concord already had a train station. Carlisle remained in the woods.
Thoreau was nonplussed by most of Carlisle’s citizens, but did hold respect for one, Robert Blood’s great-great-great-grandson, Perez Blood. Perez shared a farmhouse with his spinster sisters on what’s now Prospect Street. His father had left him $100, and he used the money to buy a telescope. Thoreau describes a visit in 1847 when he came with Emerson to marvel at the farmer’s prize. These worldly visitors were struck that anyone in this rustic place would own such a fine instrument. From a small shack in Blood’s backyard, the learned men gazed up at the sky. They saw the mountains on the moon, the planets, and the stars. Both were touched by the experience, enough that over the next year each wove images of Saturn’s rings into his writings. Later, Thoreau took Perez Blood into Cambridge to see the new telescope in the observatory at Harvard. The “Great Refractor,” with its 2000-power 15-inch lens was the biggest telescope in the country at the time.
Perhaps out of respect for Perez Blood, Thoreau acknowledged Carlisle’s potential. He wrote “the road runs up to Carlisle, city of the woods . . . It gets laughed at because it is a small town, I know, but nevertheless it is a place where great men may be born any day . . . It has a meeting-house and horse-sheds, a tavern and blacksmith’s shop, for centre, and a good deal of woods to cut and cord yet.”
What I most love about our city of the woods is what it is not. In proportion to our more cosmopolitan neighbor towns, Carlisle hasn’t changed much in the intervening 170 years. It’s true, most of us now have indoor plumbing, internet, and at-least-sporadic cell service. The blacksmith has given way to an autobody shop. But the meeting-house still stands on the hill above the tavern, and the sky is still dark enough at night that we can see the stars.
That lack of development—the woods, the farms, the conservation land—is exactly what attracted my family to this town. If you share my vision, you’d also prefer to leave most of that wood uncut. But there’s another side too, about tax revenue, safe roads, clean water, and a great school. Today, the move is finally afoot to create a new Carlisle Master Plan. Before it can take shape, the plan needs funding to collect the information needed to make it work. I hope that, like Perez Blood, we can embrace the latest thinking and work together to build a vision that will serve as a lens into our shared future. Visit the website (https://www.carlisleplan.org/). Go to Town Meeting. Vote.