There's something about the change from summer to autumn that is more ominous and thought consuming than any other seasonal change in the year. The change from winter into spring is more dramatic, but by the time those first green sprouts sparkle like emeralds in the snow, we're ready to get down on our hands and knees to kiss them. We run headlong toward spring.
The change from summer to autumn, however, feels like time is running through our fingers. As I read about others trying to squeeze in that last bit of sumer fun, setting by the bounty of the season's harvest, and making preparations for the long winter ahead, the sense of time being my enemy grows. Summer is so loaded with images of freedom and childhood hedonism, that even someone like me, who grumbles endlessly about the heat and humidity, can fall prey to thinking all will be lost with the turn of a calendar page.
I'd been fighting this dread for about a week, when a wonderfully freeing, and as is so often the case, incredibly obvious thought occurred to me. Whether I grumble and obsess, or smile and accept it, summer will end, autumn will come and the days will grow ever and ever shorter. Why waste engergy dreading it? How could that energy be better spent?
Accepting Autumn - a To Do List
- Return my mind (and hands) to the cozier crafts of knitting, quilting and crochet. Done
- Wipe the dust from my recipe books and dream of the baking and braising to come. Done
- Remember all the outdoor activities that I put on hold through the soporific heat of summer. Done
- Make friends with the darkness In progress
This last one may be the most crucial. The loss of daylight, is really the only thing I dread about the change from summer to autumn. I love the cooler weather, the dryer air, needing a sweater in the evening, and eventually, waking to silvery, frosted grass. If sunset could just continue to happen after dinner, rather than before, it would be the perfect season.
Since I don't see the tilt of the Earth changing to satisfy my preferences, I've started taking my walks after dark in preparation. Taking a walk on a soft, summer night is a pleasure. My theory is, that if I can create enough good associations with walking in the dark now, maybe when I have little other choice I will see it as a good thing. If not, at least I'll be accustomed to it, which is better than where I was a week ago.
My preparations for autumn may not be as tangible as stacking firewood or canning tomatoes, but they're what I needed to help me enjoy summer's passing.
All was quiet this morning when I went for my walk, even by pre-dawn standards. The usual call of birds was replaced by the wind in the leaves. Instead of seniors in colorful pants heading to tai chi, I saw the bright petals of impatiens and black eyed susans littering the street.
Neighbors I usually nod to as they stroll with a mug of coffee in one hand and a dog leash in the other, were all business. One eye to the sky, a blue plastic baggy in his outstreched hand, a man bent low, ready to pounce when his dog finished its business.
Eight hours later, the storm had passed. The electricity was out and so were the people, in the street that is. After nearly a week of anticipation and a day bunkered inside, we were all eager to see what Irene had done. In ones and twos, wearing everything from full rain gear to shorts and T's, we made our way toward the town center. Strangers nodded and smiled, united by the power outage and curiosity. Here and there a knot of people gathered to observe a yard with mutiple limbs down, or an apple tree robbed of its harvest. Fortunately, there was very little to see. The losses were small.
This dead frog (larger than my hand) was the worst of it, until I got to the Battle Green. There, just behind the minuteman statue a group of people had gathered, pointing and taking photos. Cars stopped on the side of the road and families climbed out to get a better look.
A single, giant tree had been knocked over by Irene. It's roots, thick with mud stretched taller than the stick-of-a-man who stood leaning against them, posing for a picture. "It's all my fault. I knocked it over with one finger" he boasted, laughing. For each person who took a picture and walked on, two more arrived. There it was, what we'd all come to see, proof there had been a storm.
The tree, for its part lay in repose, like a Victorian woman on a fainting couch. It landed in the only place it could have both safely and without being an inconvenience. That's a polite tree for you.
May the trees and rivers in your neighborhood have been equally considerate.
A day later, only a spot of dirt shows where the roots were uplifted. The tree fell toward the flagpole. If it had fallen to the left or right it would have knocked down another tree and blocked one of the main streets through town. If it had falled "backward" it would have toppled the town's iconic Minuteman statue. Just a little blessing, in the midst of many.
There seems to be some difference of opinion on how large a body of water can be considered a pond. I have it on good authority (family and friends from the south) that a southern pond is small enough to fit in a field. You might bring your horse there for a drink. Kids might go there to swim. You could take a boat out on it. But why bother?
Clearly Jamaica Pond is something else.
This pond may have started life as a lowly pothole, a divot left by receding glaciers, but today it is an outdoor entertainment hub for urbanites. There's a pavilion for outdoor concerts, a boathouse for lessons and rentals, and the water itself is stocked with fish to please the anglers.
If music, boating and fishing aren't your idea of fun, the pond is home to the usual cast of feathered entertainers. These were the highlight of my recent visit.
This mama was on high alert as I approached, but she never gave a cry of alarm. She let her brood continue toward me until something caught the eye of one of them, and it decided to go for a swim.
And if there's any real-world foundation for the expression, "get your ducks in a row", we know what his sibling had to do at that point.
All along the shore of Jamaica Pond there were ducks tucking their beaks in their feathers and settling in. At the edge of each duck group there'd be a duck who looked more alert. I was really excited because I'd heard about this behavior on RadioLab's Sleep episode. A sleeping duck is, well, a sitting duck, utterly defenseless. So ducks set sentries at the end of each group. The ducks in the middle, close both eyes and go to sleep. The sentries keep their outward facing eye open and alert to danger. The eye facing the other ducks closes. They are truly sleeping with one eye open! At some point they rotate so everyone gets a good night's sleep.
As I walked, other birds were making their own evening preparations. This cormorant seemed to have found a peaceful island of his own, until a breeze stirred the branches and revealed a constellation of cormorants above him.
This goose's evening routine included a little yoga. Here he's demonstrating an adaptation of tree pose.
As the summer sun started to fade I made my way back home, happy to have explored this oversize pond within a city.
are visible along the tree line to the right.
A quick walk down Centre Street in Jamaica Plain and it's clear that this is a town where "main street" is still valued. There are a few big chains, mainly banks and New England's own Dunkin' Donuts, but the majority of storefronts are independents. There are enough restaurants to keep you trying something new for quite a while, whether its spicy Indian cuisine, succulent sushi or sandwiches named after gangsters. I passed a martial arts school, a yoga studio with an adorable monkey on the sign and Kitchenwitch, a kitchen supply store I'm itching to go back and wander through.
It's always a bit depressing when a store can't come up with anything interesting to put in those huge storefront windows that face the street. I've noticed hair and beauty businesses seem to find this especially difficult. But Kitchenwitch caught my eye immediately with their wedding gifts display filled with matryoshka doll inspired wares, tea pots and did I mention the life-size mannequin wearing a wedding dress and witch's hat? Anyone who can come up with a window like that must have a unique perspective to share inside. I tried to capture it in a picture to share with you, but the glare from the sun on the glass worked against me.
This idea of shifting where we spend our money so it supports the local economy and independent sellers/growers whenever possible, really appeals to me. I heard Heather Ordover of Craftlit talking about the book Switch, in which an economically depressed town tried all sorts of expensive projects to keep from dieing. And then a group of students realized that if each person in town just spent $40 a month there, in town, the economy would turn around, and it has. It's something to think about.
A small sign for the Blue Frog Bakery drew me down a side street, where I couldn't miss the shop.
I'm always impressed when a food establishment is willing to give a glimpse behind the scenes at food preparation. There's a dessert restaurant in Boston called Finale where they've placed a mirror on the ceiling above where they torch the creme brule so patrons can watch the caramelizing magic. Blue Frog's action that afternoon wasn't so dramatic, but it certainly made me want to stop in and sample a bite, or two, or three the next time I'm in JP.
There must be something about JP and 3D animal signs. The toy shop had whimsical, Jim Henson-esq aliens climbing its store front, and JP Licks, the ice cream shop which started in JP and spread across the greater Boston area, has a larger than life cow emerging from its brick facade!
The interior is a bit of an ice cream Disney world. The tall ceilings make the space feel huge. There are figures hanging from the ceiling and large paintings, not to mention a display case of pastries and the scent of freshly brewed coffee. And of course the ice cream is rich, flavorful and original.
Outside is a bit more relaxed. There's a bubler with a bowl beneath it labelled "Homemade Dog Water". I don't even own a dog, but I always think it speaks well of an establishment when they remember their customer's furry friends. To the right is an area designated as Belle's Park. Not so many years ago Belle sold her handmade jewelry from this spot. In addition to being craftminded, she was also an avid backgammon player and belonged to the New England Backgammon Club. When she passed away JP Licks set up this little memorial.
My favorite part of this spot, is the giant mural on the adjacent business's wall. What could be an eyesore, an alley leading to trash cans, is turned into an attraction, a celebration of the space.
When I was here just two weeks before, there were different murals. I don't remember what they were of, but they didn't look old or faded. I wonder if they change them out regularly to give more artists a chance to share their work. The abundance of murals was one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and take a closer look.
And then there's my favorite.
It stands opposite to the sports mural, bookending the parking lot. The scene looks like something out of a children's book, but it actually commemorates the annual lantern parade around Jamaica Pond. People bring their own homemade lanterns or buy one on the spot, and join together to walk the 1.5 mile trail around the pond. It looks like it happens in the fall, based on their dress. I'll try to go to it this year and bring back photos to share.
You can see the same boat house here that appears in the earlier mural. I like the variety of the people, the pregnant woman, the women with dreadlocks, the child with the giant hat who is clearly marching and having a great time. And why not? Being outside, at night, with a touch of fire is a recipe for magic.
Can you remember being small enough to ride on someone's shoulders? I remember being on my dad's at the local air show. I was two parts thrilled (I could actually see above the crowds), and one big part terrified, but I wasn't about to let on. Then I'd have to get down and walk!
If you'd like to see more murals, some of which have been replaced by the ones I showed here, visit the JP Community Arts Advocates website.
There's just one more intallment to come of this trip through JP. Fittingly, it will continue from where we've left off, Jamaica Pond.
There are benefits to walking the same places over and over, across the seasons. I get to see the little changes and discover patterns (like the tree that Orioles nest in year after year). But sometimes I just want to see something radically new, to explore the unknown, get lost and find my way out again.
A couple weeks ago I was in Jamaica Plain (JP) getting ice cream with friends, and I knew that I had to come back on my own to explore. I admit some of that feeling was based on a desire to have another cone of Bailey's Cheese Cake ice cream at JP Licks, but it was also based on the quirky shops, murals on every corner and the chocolate box-like assortment of architectural styles. I wanted to see it all.
For anyone reading who's not local, JP is a Boston neighborhood, about 5 miles south of the city. I've heard it described as "eclectic", "shabby chic", "artsy" and "hip". But I've had almost no first hand knowledge of the place - until this weekend.
There are a couple reasons why I haven't gotten to know JP sooner. For one, it's on the south side of the city and I'm usually to the north. Just as important, the few times I've been there have involved driving on the Jamaicaway (designed for carriages) or Route 9; both are way too skinny for the number of speeding cars on them. Getting to JP requires advanced driving.
I arrived in JP for my walk with water, a camera, and my GPS in pedestrian mode in case I got thuroughly turned around. My only plan was to explore until I couldn't resist the siren call of ice cream any longer.
I'd come to walk, but this sign
and the steady stream of people going into a thrift store of all places, caused a small shopping related detour. The sign says:
"Booms has everything you need for your trial watching party.
Even Whitey Bulger can't deny that Booms has the best deals in town.
And he loves raising AIDS funds."
You've got to admit, it's original.
A purchase heavier and a few dollars lighter, I was back on track. I took the first side road I saw and wondered if I might have made a mistake. The yards I passed were overgrown with weeds up to my shoulder. On the other side of the road a few twigs of men were arguing in front of an apartment building. They shared the gaunt, leathery look that comes from hard living. I was just starting to consider turning back and trying a different road, when I came around a corner and the scene changed dramatically.
The gardens still grew tall, but now instead of wild grasses, they were full of sunflowers, black eyed susans and flowering bushes. The houses appeared freshly painted in colors fit to challenge the radiance of their gardens.
And then of course there were the porches. I love a porch that invites you to sit down and just watch the world go by. It doesn't take anything elaborate, just a couple comfortable chairs,
and a bit of something green. No need for an extended family of gnomes, an orchestra of windchimes and so many other things that the space becomes pinched. A porch is for taking a deep breath, letting your shoulders sink away from your ears and stretching your legs out long and cat-like.
Walking through JP made me once again wish I knew more about architecture. If anyone knows a good beginner's book to recognizing what eras different features came from, please be sure to leave a comment or send an email. I saw:
a terrific cupola atop a grand old house,
and a blue house all but lost between tall apartments, which reminded me instantly of Virginia Lee Burton's book The Little House.
That's a scrub brush for his mane.
I would have loved to see this when the colors were fresh. To me this one looks like people growing out of a tree. Is it rebirth? Showing our connection to the earth? I tried to find out who was behind this project and what idea inspired the figures, but the only reference I found was an image on Google maps street view. The next time I'm in JP I'll have to look around and see if there's a sign that I missed.
The artsy nature of JP is not limited to vacant lots. In part 2 I'll share some amazing murals and fantastic store decorations.
I hope you're enjoying this glimpse of Jamaica Plain.