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January 2014

Looking for a Sunset Bird while Snowshoeing

Each time I ratchet my snowshoe straps tight and take my first step, I'm amazed at how ridiculous I feel.  There is no way I can take a walk like this, I think to myself and consider taking the snowshoes right off and making a break for the closest clean sidewalk.  Of course, if getting snowshoes on just right (toe properly positioned, back strap not flapping like an injured bird) is a challenge, taking them off has been known to make me swear.   So I take a deep breath and start my walk.  

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I play around with my poles.  Am I gripping them the right way?  Do I even need them on this terrain?  I take a few steps holding the poles like a closed umbrella.  If I'm going to carry them anyway I may as well be using them I decide, so they return to their in-use position.   A cross-country skier slips past on my left and I feel as athletic as Big Bird.  A family up ahead lets their dog off its leash and it takes off running across the snow. The dog jumps, circles, races after invisible prey, rolls in the snow only to race off again.  I'm jealous...of a dog.  I'm not sure which feels worse, the jealousy or knowing how ridiculous it is.  

I walk a bit more, noticing the engagement of unfamiliar muscles. My mouth opens to get more air.  My cheeks feel hot.   I stop to take off my mittens and look around.  

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What's wrong with me? I wonder, and this time it's not because I feel awkward and frustrated.  No, this time it's because I've been trying so hard to walk at my normal speed, and have been so busy criticizing myself that I haven't noticed where I am.  It's January in New England.  I'm in the center of a glittering field, surrounded by forests and farm houses, brilliant blue stretching into eternity overhead and crisp air in my lungs.  Who cares how fast I go?  These snowshoes that slow me down, also make it possible for me to be here.  

I walk on, across the field and into the silence of the forest beyond.  A tiny gray bird with stripe of bright yellow on his head flits from branch to branch.  I've never seen one before, whatever it is.  Smiling, I stand and watch as it moves about with near humingbird speed.  I try again and again to get a picture so I can ID it at home, each time getting just the branch where it had been moments before.  I adjust and fiddle with my camera, but give up in the end.  Maybe not knowing makes it more magical.  

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The shadows grow and I realize at some point I stopped keeping track of which trail I'm on.  The cold is starting to seep through my layers and though I'm not in any real danger (I'm no more than a couple miles from civilization in any direction) I don't want to be wandering in the woods, in the dark in the cold.  I think I know which direction the field is, so I set off that way. 

No, the woods aren't suddenly much larger.  It's just my imagination.  Is it getting colder?  

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And there it is, the field.  I don't know its name, but it's lovely in the gloaming.  The words of a Robert Frost poem I memorized in 6th grade come back to me, as if Frost himself had seen this place.

 

"Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter"

The west was getting out of gold,

The breath of air had died of cold,

When shoeing home across the white,

I thought I saw a bird alight.

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 In summer when I passed the place

I had to stop and lift my face;

A bird with an angelic gift

Was singing in it sweet and swift.

 

No bird was singing in it now.

A single leaf was on a bough,

And that was all there was to see

In going twice around the tree. 

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From my advantage on a hill

I judged that such a crystal chill

Was only adding frost to snow

As gilt to gold that wouldn't show.

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A brush had left a crooked stroke

Of what was either cloud or smoke

From north to south across the blue;

A piercing little star was through.

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This walk was taken in the Mount Misery parcel of Lincoln MA's conservation land.  The Lincoln Land Conservation Trust puts out a terrific map and guide book.  They also provide downloadable maps on their website.  If you happen to visit on a Sunday and use the St. Anne's-in-the-Fields parking lot as your starting point, you should take a moment and go in. It's an incredible place, and and a lot of them love the out-of-doors too. 

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Exploring New York continued

If you combine the three times I've visited NYC, my time spent there comes to less than a week.  What I know of NYC comes from books, movies and TV. 

In Central Park I tried to find the entrance shown in Mo Willem's book Knuffle Bunny Too, but I think I was on the totally wrong side.  If you aren't familar with the series, each page shows photos of real New York city places, with the characters hand drawn images added on top.  I heard somewhere that a laundromat which plays a central role in the first book is now a common tourist destination. 

I did run into the Central Park carousel that appears in When Blue Met Egg by Lindsay Ward.  The illustrations in this book are made all the more interesting by the fact that Ward appears to have used scrap paper to make her buildings.   You have to see it. 

IMG_5400The carousel was closed for the season when I visited.  

 
IMG_5402As I walked, I listened to The Age of Innocence (Craftlit), set in 19th centure NY.  I smiled thinking of how the characters complain of the park being so remote, and Archer fears one day the island will be connected to the mainland by a tunnel.

From the park I headed south, taking any road that looked interesting or had a familiar name: 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue...  I soon found myself in front of Lincoln Center, watching street venders set up their wares.  Of course Lincoln Center is famous in and of itself, but as a fan of Project Runway, it was exciting to see where their final runway occurs. 

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I passed a diner with a sign in the window that said The Apprentice, no a Food Channel show had been there.  It didn't mean anything to me, so I kept walking.  But I was drawn to all the tiny diners where New Yorkers crowded, bunched shoulder to shoulder to eat their breakfast.   I imagined locals having their spot, whether it's near their home or on the way to work.   How else could so many of these places stay in business?

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I wanted to try every bagel I saw, it was after all NY, but ended up with just one perfect bagel, with a smear of Nutella, purchased from a fellow who teased that Nutella was gross and I really ought to be getting lox. I would have, if I wouldn't have been out $12 if I didn't like it.  That's a lot for a sandwich that might end up in the trash.  My server then had a friendly laugh over my confusion about what 3rd was, a street an avenue?  I still don't know.  I just knew I needed to head in that direction.  I was trying to find Mood, the fabric store featured on Project Runway. 

I never did find it.  I got turned around and didn't realize until I was on the opposite side of the island, but I did stumble upon some other well known spots.

IMG_5506Dylan's Candy where Runway contestants had to find supplies to make wearable outfits.

IMG_5424I used to watch the Late Show religiously.

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Remember when Annie goes to see the Rocketts with Daddy Warbucks?

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I think this might have been a casting call. 

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Do you see the knitter? Red bag, in the center.  She'd wearing gloves!  I was tempted to go over, ask what she was working on and compliment her on being so hard core.  Instead I kept walking.

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Times Square looks much more interesting on TV. 

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I turned a corner and wondered why there were so many policemen and street crews until I noticed the Macy's sign.  They were in full parade prep mode.  The sidewalk was full of tourists taking photos and videos in front of the famous Macy's holiday windows.   Much of the window displays' magic was created with large TV screens.  Compared to the windows I'd seen in movies, a few computer animations were a disapointment.  It was just too easy to create.  The clock across the square, now that was impressive. 

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I headed south and saw something vaguely familiar.  I couldn't place it, so I kept walking toward it.

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I had no idea the new World Trade Center had been built.  I'd seen plans for it on the news some time back, but last I'd heard there was fighting about the design.  My first visit to NY was after 9/11 so I dont have any personal memories of that old skyline, but this was a surprise all the same. 

By now the temperature had managed to drop, rather than rise with the sun.  It was a cool 20 degrees with a biting wind, and the word "frostbite" kept popping to mind.  I considered taking the train back to the hotel, but there was one more spot I wanted to see with my own eyes.  I was so close, it would be a waste to turn back now. 

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I'd always seen her with a soaring skyline as the backdrop.  A working dock full of cranes and equipment was not especially poetic.  It was a bit like seeing the Mona Lisa in person.  The professional photographs I'd seen all my life showed her at her best.  There was no way for reality to compete.

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The must-see spots often as not can't live up to their hype.  It's the unexpected encounters and sights that make travel an exploration and not a to do list.

 

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I can't help suggesting a couple great New York based books for adults

And some YA (Young Adult) classics


Exploring New York

I've finally figured out how to travel.  I don't mean travel for work; I have no idea how those folks manage not to lose their minds with all that planning and packing (the two worst parts of travel).  No, I've finally figured out what to do once I've arrived at the place I've been daydreaming about. 

I can't be the only one who gets to point X and says "Now what?"  Some of you may, quite reasonably be saying, well if you planned ahead, you'd know what what to do; I disagree.  Planning is for figuring out the best times to go to must-see spots so you stand in the smallest line possible.  Planning is for figuring out what tickets and transportation it will take to get you to said must-see spots.  Planning does not help you feel like you know a place, that you've really seen it and experienced it.

In my twenties when my friends and I travelled, we planned out our must-sees and then figured we'd wing the rest.  That winging usually became shopping.  Not because we loved to shop, but because we wanted to get out, to explore and we needed a destination.  This was not particularly satisfying.  In my early thirties we tried the go-somewhere-and-relax vacation.  We'd see some sights and then have time for leisurely naps, reading on park benches or beach chairs.  This too was not particularly satisfying.  Not that I'm against naps and reading, but I can't see any reason to travel to do either.  It seems a waste to go so far and do what I could most comfortably do in my own home. 

Recently I tried something different.  My partner Z and I took a little weekend trip to NYC the weekend before Thanksgiving.  No reason.  Just to see some sights, visit friends and break with routine.  Z adores sleeping in.  A vacation is not a vacation for him if it involved alarm clocks.  I on the other hand feel a little gross, like I've eaten a whole chocolate cake on my own, if I sleep past 8.  So I decided while he slept, I would walk.  No, "walk" is too prosaic a word.  I would explore.  

Saturday morning: Chai in hand, I headed for Central Park.  We were staying in the upper east side, a place I only knew from TV shows, so I figured the park would make an easy landmark to start from.  I considered trying to look like I  belonged, not gawking at buildings and not taking a million photos, but soon decided with my mismatched knit wear and down coat, no one was going to mistake me for a local.  This was driven home to me when I saw a local.  He wore an  impeccably tailored suit, gleaming black shoes, perfectly gelled curls, and a bright red leather man-bag.  Oh and he was flossing his teeth while waving down a cab!  My first thought was, yeah, I don't look like I'm from around here.  My second thought was, wouldn't he rather spend a couple less minutes on his hair than be caught flossing in public?  Guess not.

I wish I'd got a picture of him, or the woman I saw wearing fun from head to toe while walking a dog the same color as her fur (yikes), but I'm just not that brazen with my camera.  I couldn't do it without being obvious, and that felt rude.  Here's what I did get pictures of.

IMG_5376Love those doors

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 This old firehouse was now someone's home.  Are those water towers still functional?

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I'm a sucker for lion statues

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The city was getting ready for the holiday

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It was freezing, 25 degrees, yet he was washing away the previous day's grime

As I approached the park the stands were still shuttered and locked up.  The homeless could be seen packing up their meager belongings.  There were no horse drawn carriages waiting for tourists, but there was a group of friends walking their dogs.  As soon as they stepped inside the gate they let them free.  Is that legal?  Weren't they afraid the dogs would run into traffic?  Nope.  The dogs jumped and sniffed and raced ahead to a clearing where more unleashed dogs were having a great time.

  IMG_5386For a moment I thought this was the entrance featured in

Mo Willem's Knuffle Bunny Too, but sadly I wasn't.  I never did find that one.  

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The friendliness of city birds and squirrels was not a surprise,


IMG_5388but seeing a heron was.

IMG_5483This walk was not a workout.  I stopped to read the bench inscriptions.


IMG_5406I may or may not have squealed when I saw Sting's name,

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but this one is the best by far.


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As I walked through the park, I felt surprisingly at home.  I've only been to Central Park once or twice in my life, and I knew I hadn't been to this section.  I looked at this bridge and had my answer. 

IMG_3312It looks quite a bit like this one

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and this one - in Boston.

Both Central Park and the Emerald Necklace chain of parks in Boston  were designed by Frederik Law Olmsted, who believed strongly in the importance of urban people having access to the serenity of nature.   

“We want a ground to which people may easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them…”
(Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870)

Even though the city is never far from you, it is easy to feel apart from it in Olmsted's creation.

To be continued... 


Before you toss your tree...

Growing up, we always got our Christmas tree on my brother's birthday (Dec. 20) and dragged it out into the woods on Epiphany (13 days after Christmas).  Now that I'm an adult, the tree comes home on MY birthday (Dec. 8) and leaves when I'm feeling tired of all the festiveness and want a return to normal.  No matter how you decide it's time to take out the tree (maybe you use the "I can't take stepping on another *%#@ pine needle" method), why not get a little more use out of it before it goes?

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I usually associate wreaths with the weeks leading up to Christmas, but why should our celebration of winter end there?   The weeks after Christmas can be hard.  For the last month there was so much to look forward to  and so much to get done before Dec. 24th and then splat.  Nothing.  Just cold and dark and chores that were neglected in the preChristmas crunch.   If ever there was a time that needed a little festive cheer, it's now. 

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I'm sure a google search would bring up half a dozen ideas on what to use as the base of the wreath, but I used what I had on hand, the base from my Advent wreath.   A grapevine wreath (the sort you find at craft stores) or a styrofoam ring would work too. 

Then with gardening shears and plastic bag in hand, I headed out for a walk.  Along the way I gathered pine cones, interesting dead flower heads, bittersweet, and assorted greens. 

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Back at the house I turned the shears on my Christmas tree, cutting off branches until I had enough to fill the wreath.  For some reason I felt like I should be careful to cut evenly from all sides of Scrappy (yes I named it) so the tree, which was headed for the curb, wouldn't look funny.  You needn't follow the same "logic". 

Anyway, once the wreath was covered in greens, I added the bits and bobs from my walk.  Then a scrap of ribbon for a bow and it was door ready.  A nice sight to come home to and it didn't cost a thing.

 
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Where to?

Thanks to a slow two day storm, our world is once again covered in white fluffy wonder, rather than the icy glaze we had Christmas week.  When I looked outside this morning I saw wild turkeys roosting on the wall separating my yard from my neighbor's, not to mention high on theneighbor's pergola and even their porch railing.  My neighbor's yard is bird heaven, with a dozen or so feeders which I imagine as the bird equivalent of Vegas' all-you-can-eat buffets.  These prehistoric looking behemoths may have had their fill for now, but they're not dumb.  They plan to stick close to the food, not go trudging through the deep snow wasting calories.  Which somehow made me realize, it's perfect weather for snowshoeing.

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The only thing is, and I hope I haven't talked about this here before, is that snowshoeing requires a  bit more thought than just taking a walk.  You need a place where there will be enough open space or trails that you can explore for a while.  If I'm walking and the conservation land I chose to visit  ends up being just a five minute detour, that's fine; I can keep walking on the sidewalk.  Not so with snowshoeing.  Take a look at this map of Lexington's conservation land to see just how variable these in size these saved areas can be.

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There are three local conservation areas that immediately pop to mind as good snowshoeing spots: Willard's Woods and Meagherville in Lexington, and Great Brook Farm in Carlisle.  I've written about snowshoeing in Willard's Woods at least once here before.  And though the other two haven't made their way to posts yet, I have been to both many times.  I'm in the mood to explore.

There is a conservation area in Lincoln that I've been meaning to visit.  It starts out with a field and looks like it stretches into woodland.  Of course, there is always the question of whether or not the parking lot will have been plowed.  Maybe it's worth a drive over. 

I'll let you know.

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Success Momentum

"Success momentum"  Isn't that a great term?  When I first heard it I instantly knew what it meant and just as completly recognized the truth of it.  Success does build momentum: emotionally, monetarily, you name it.  This idea is at the heart of what B.J. Fogg and the Stanford Persuassive Technology Lab have to say about changing habits.  First, don't talk to him about "breaking habits".  That implies that a habit is one set of behaviors that will power alone can destroy.  Fogg talks about "untangling habits" and replacing them new positive ones.  This involves designating a trigger to do the new behavior and then keeping the new habit incredibly small and easy.  The third step is celebrating these tiny sucesses, thereby creating momentum.  If you'd like to hear Fogg explain this himself (and how tech companies use these ideas to change your behavior) you can listen to an interview on WGBH's Innvoation Hub.    Fogg also has a funny, quick slideshow on creating new habits.

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I've been thinking about untangling habits and creating more healthy ones lately, no great surprise since it's national resolution season.  I thought I would go back through my blog posts and see what I've tried in the past to change my habits.

  • July 2010 - Replaced resolutions with "wannas"
  • Dec. 2011 - using gmap.com to track my walking habits
  • Jan. 2012 - Set out to finish my canvas of all Lexington Conservation Land
  • July 2012 - Joining walk related groups
  • Feb. 2013 - Choosing the pedometer that works best for me

It was nice to see that I hadn't tried anything that would count as a fad.  I was surprised to see that I never talked about MapMyWalk.com  I started using this website a couple years ago because it had all the helpful features of gmap, but without the bugs of a system created by one person in his spare time.  MapMyWalk's basic version is free.  You can track your calorie intake, the weather and half a dozen other things, but I've used it to make note of my exercise, whether that's walking, yoga or even raking.  Yes, the website has a drop down menu with all sorts of exercise options.  You choose the exercise and the duration and it calculates your estimated calorie usage depending on your weight and height.  You can then look back on your workouts using a number of filters depending on whether you care about your distance, duration, calories etc. 

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I like the feeling of typing in my exercise.  It's like giving myself a high-five.  I also like that if I forget my iPod/pedometer, the website has a map feature that lets me easily calculate how far I travelled.  The website also sends me weekly workout summaries (which I tend to ignore) and then a final end of year one.  Here's what my year end summary says:

  • Workouts 158
  • Routes mapped using website 10
  • Miles 299.1
  • Hours 178.4
  • Calories burned 68,024

OK. Now what? The number of workouts tells me that there are way too many days where I'm not getting any sustained exercise.  My walks equal out to less than a mile of walking per day!  That's disturbing.  I need to revise my life so I encourage myself to exercise more.  

 I know that I like writing down (recognizing) when I exercise. I also know that it's easy to convince myself I've exercised more than I have.  So, I'm going to try a visual approach.  I'm going to use one of those ubiquitous free calendars you receive in the mail at this time of year, and track my healthy habits there.  That way the information is right in front of me (no hiding from it by not visiting a website).  I'll let you know how it goes.