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Easter - Starting Over

I know January 1st is generally seen as a chance to hit the reset button on life,  but last night standing in the darkened church of the Easter Vigil service, hearing story after story of love, grace and second chances, I saw the holiday in a new light.  Instead of seeing it on the usual grand scale either of miraculous events thousands of years ago, or the celebration of new life unfolding around us, I saw in it a reminder that each of us can start over, at any time. 

And so today is the perfect day to announce the new life of this long hibernating blog.  The blog began as a way to write about walking and exploration.  It still is, but I've realized those words refer to much more than the physical act of putting one foot in front of another and looking around.  Each day can be an exploration of what life has to offer.  With each new path I encounter, I can take a few steps down it, decide if it's where I want to be, and if not turn back, all the richer for the trying.  This means the content of these pages will be a bit more varied, but the updates will be more frequent and the themes of slowing down, taking a closer look and and finding joy in the exploration will remain.

And now before you go, here's a glimpse of how people in my corner of New England have been getting ready for Easter. 

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Did you see that cute rabbit sculpture?

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Cafe setting Lexington 040412
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Don't these steps look like they have Easter eggs on them?
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On Being has a great interview that weaves together Easter and gardening.  You can catch it today on your local NPR station, or stream it from their website.

 

 


A Walk to SoWa Market


Today is truly November, wet, slate gray and cold in a way that sticks to the bones no matter how many layers I put on.  In short, it's not pleasant walking weather.  I thanked the universe that I never did buy a dog "to force me to walk daily, regardless of the weather" and I happily opted for the warmth and golden light of yoga class instead. 

As I sat on my mat, attempting to focus on my breath and prepare for class, images from a walk I took this summer kept coming to mind.  My brain's just doing it's job - thinking, I told myself as I pushed the images aside.  But they kept coming back, an antidote to the wind and rain I heard battering against the window.  So I welcomed the memory in and basked in the remembered sunshine all over again.

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At some point this summer, I was looking for new outdoor activities and discovered Meetup.   Just a few days later I found myself sitting on the T, riding to a part of Boston I barely knew, to take a walk with people I'd never met on a day where the weather was expected to be 90+ humid degrees.  What had I gotten myself into?

Finding the other walkers wasn't half as hard as I'd expected.  I saw a woman who'd been on the train with me, who had a water bottle and looked just as out of place as I felt.  "Are you here for the meetup?"  "Yes!"  That scene repeated itself over and over until a group of about 10 people, including our organizer, had formed.  Once we were sure there were no stragglers, we set off.  The plan was a short walk, just a few miles along the DCR Southwest Corridor ending at the SoWa (South of Washington Street) Market.

It turned out the trail (think sidewalk marked by signs) was a great way to see new parts of the city without any concern about getting lost.  Mosque 071711

These houses of worship were all on the same street, about a block apart.

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We looked like we were on a college tour, all following the fellow with the baseball hat, but what did that matter?  Everyone was there for the same purpose, so starting up a conversation with whoever happened to be beside you was surprisingly easy. 

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But the best part of all was the market.  When we arrived I saw a parking lot set up with white sunshades and brimming with produce.  I enjoy going to farmer's markets, but this just didn't seem to fit with the organizer's excitement.  Had I been spoiled by living in the suburbs?

Water sign 071711
"You can stick with the group or do your own thing," the organizer announced.  "Me, I'm headed to the other side of the market to get some lunch."  With that he disappeared into tunnel through a warehouse on the side of the parking lot and we all followed.

What appeared before us was the very best parts of a fair without the hawkers and the puddles of questionable origin.  It was a sea of independant crafters and designers, selling their creations, surrounded by a ring of food trucks. 

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Hotdog stand SoWa market 071711

I turned to the woman next to me and said "I thought food trucks were only in California", she laughed and pointed me toward one devoted entirely to the art of the grilled cheese sandwich. (If that sounds familiar, it's because that very truck was a contestant this year on Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race).  It was well past lunch and they'd run out of their  best sellers, so I opted for a classic hot dog truck where they made their own relish.  It was unlike anything I'd ever tasted before.  I think there may have been cranberries in it. 

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Fed and hydrated I wandered the stalls and when I'd seen everything (and done some very early Christmas shopping) I realized there was more to see inside the warehouses that surrounded us.  Let me give you a little taste...

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Bead +Fiber boutique Sign 071711

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Some things just cried out to be bought as a set.

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Name tages SoWa Vintage market 071711

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There was something joyful about the eclectic mix of items.

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What more can I say?  It was summertime.  The sky was blue.  There was delicious food cooked in trucks.  There were artists and craftsmen happy to talk shop, and I had nowhere else I had to be. 



 

 

 


Walk for X

After telling myself a couple years ago that I was done with the whole idea of walking to raise money for a cause, I find myself leading a group of kids to do that very same thing this weekend.  Being in this position has reawakened all my old ambivalence toward these walks. 

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The very first charity walk that I was involved with was the CROP walk back in middle school.  I remember walking through the golden autumn light, away from the familiar roads of downtown and out into rural parts of town I'd never seen before.  Discovering that there were still unfamiliar parts of town, after living there most of my life was exciting, and exploring them powered by my own two feet created a sense of adventure.    I assume I was there with my church youth group, but in the murky way of memories, I also think I remember being with classmates.  The identities of my fellow walkers may be lost, but the feeling of camaraderie and being part of something larger and more powerful than me, remains crystal clear.   

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and I was walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods of Boston, surrounded by a sea of strangers and feeling that same camaraderie and do-goodery.  Again the cause was hunger, an issue whose very existence in this country strikes me as unacceptable.  This time, instead of the seven miles of the CROP walk, the route was twenty and I have to admit I was as driven to see if I could walk that far, as I was to raise the money. 

I did the full twenty miles (and was really proud of the achievement) until the next year when I collected double the money  while only walking half the distance.   This time I had a walking partner who was more into the doing good part and less into "extreme" walking, so at the half way mark we took the courtesy bus back to the beginning and called it a day.  

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Even though all of my sponsors had made a flat donation, rather than a per mile one, I still felt like I'd cheated.  I hadn't suffered for the cause; I'd taken a nice walk with a friend.  And that's when I realized that how much I walked, the part I could truly control, was meaningless.  It didn't affect how much people donated.  They donated what they were comfortable with, regardless. So why were walkers and all the expenditures of a massive walk even necessary?  And that's when I finally understood why charity walks work. 

Charities hold walks, because it's a lot harder for an individual to say no to a friend who asks for a donation, than to ignore a faceless organization asking for money to help strangers.  Boom.  With that realization, nothing about the system had changed from what it had always been, but I felt a bit dirty.  My relationships were being used, and even if it was for a good cause, I felt uncomfortable.   So I stopped.  If I wanted to support a cause I would, but I'd leave my friends out of it. 

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So here I am, about to chaperon a charity walk and having mixed feelings about it.  I hope the kids enjoy that same sense of being a drop in a much larger ocean of good that I did at that age.  I hope they enjoy themselves and look for more opportunities to get involved in the community.  And as for me, I'm looking forward to a walk in the golden light of autumn, exploring parts of Concord I've never visited before.

If you'd like to make a donation to Sunday's CROP walk, your money will go toward local food pantries and international disaster relief. 

Here are a few links to other organizations involved in the fight against hunger.

The Food Project - Bringing fresh, reasonably priced vegetables to Boston and educating a new generation of farmers along the way.

Project Bread  - Check out their beautiful holiday card selection. It's a great way to support their year long effort to feed the hungry children of MA.

Share Our Strength - If you watch the Food Network you're probably familiar with their work.

UNICEF - An organization that needs no introduction

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It was a beautiful day for a walk.  There was something wonderful about a long ribbon of people walking through historic (and rather affluent) Concord to bring some relief to those in need.

Concord Crop walk 101611Taken near the Old North Bridge

Crop Walk crew 101611


Colorful Jamaica Plain - part 3

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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.

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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. 


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


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This goose's evening routine included a little yoga.  Here he's demonstrating an adaptation of  tree pose

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As the summer sun started to fade I made my way back home, happy to have explored this oversize pond within a city.

Boston skyline jp 080611 The Prudential and Hancock Towers, icons of Boston's skyline,

are visible along the tree line to the right.


 


 




Colorful Jamaica Plain - Part 2

 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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. 

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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. 

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These ladies are brand new.  They still had paper hanging beneath them to protect the wall from splatters. 

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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. 

Burito mural jp 080611 On the side of the Purple Cactus restaurant

 

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A mural created by the Jamaica Youth Mural Program in 2004

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The moon in the window, and the running girl's untied shoe laces make me smile.

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A mural of Jamaica Pond, including the boat house.

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This elaborate mural overlooks garbage cans and a municipal parking lot.

And then there's my favorite.

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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.

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 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.

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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!

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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.


Colorful Jamaica Plain - part 1

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. 

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 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.

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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

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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. 

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Even that Boston area mainstay, the 3-family/triple decker had gotten a facelift. 

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I saw more than one that had beautiful gardens cascading off the upper balconies. 

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,


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a little table for your drink,

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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,

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a garage that looked like a cross between a barn and a church,

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  a playhouse complete with windowboxes, 

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and a blue house all but lost between tall apartments, which reminded me instantly of Virginia Lee Burton's book The Little House.  

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On the corner of Green and Alfred Streets I came across a chain link fence decorated with fantastic sculptures made of wood and found objects.

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Her dress is covered in the words "I am 8 years old" in all the languages of the neighborhood.

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That's a scrub brush for his mane.


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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.

 


 

 


Arlington Reservoir

A few years back when we were sure we didn't want to live in our old apartment any more, but not quite sure which town we wanted to move to, each prospective spot seemed to be defined by its proximity to a bus, the Minuteman Bike Trail or "the Res".  More than one agent spoke rhapsodically of walking along the Res on a summer evening, then "popping" over to Mass. Ave. for a bite to eat.  In my mind I pictured a giant lake, held in check by massive levees so thin that people crossed them tightrope-walker style.  I have no idea what inspired this image, but not surprisingly, even though I had a good idea where the reservoir was, I never spotted anything like what I'd imagined when I went looking for it.  Eventually we settled on a different town to call home, and I stopped wondering about the Res.

Tree In November, my curiosity was reawakened when Vicki left a comment on the blog, which lead to us discussing local places to walk.  She mentioned the Arlington Reservoir, and when I explained I'd never been able to find it she gave me wonderful directions based on landmarks (my favorite kind).  On a cold, damp, Sunday morning, armed with a chai (her directions involved a Starbucks parking lot) I was ready to search for the elusive Res. 

Down the cement stairway next to Starbucks and Trader Joe's, across the bike path and onto Hurd Field, everything was just as Vicki had described.  She'd said that the Res could be entered from the far side of the soccer field.  I'd seen that field from the vantage point of the  Trader Joe's parking lot many times and had never noticed a path.  Maybe it was the sort of path that was so covered in undergrowth that you could only spot it if you knew what you were looking for.  If I don't find it, I consoled myself, at least it wasn't a waisted trip, and I took a sip of my chai.   

 

 I followed a trail worn into the grass along the edge of the field, and there it was.  A lovely wide bridge leading to the Arlington Reservoir.   Clearly, I hadn't spent much energy on my earlier efforts to find this trail.

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The trail went over a dam and through some woods that separated the water from the back yards of neighboring houses.  In the soggy grays and browns of November, it wasn't much to look at. Even so, there was beauty to be found. Arlington res
The tangle of bare branches made lacy patterns across the gray sky and water alike.

Leaves in water

I like how the water creates a continuum, so the leaves on shore are distinct individuals, then under the water they start to blend, until finally they're a wash of muted colors.  Someday I'd like to paint this picture.  What a great challenge.

Swan

No matter how many times I see a swan in the wild, I am always dumbfounded that something so large and beautiful can make a life so close to humans.  North America has a couple native swan species, but the Mute (seen here) is a transplant.  They're often found in parks and sheltered waterways like the Res, which makes them seem more tame than wild.  This photo was taken as the swan moved away from a couple mothers and toddlers who had lured it close to shore by throwing small pebbles in the water.  I doubt those mothers knew that Mute swans are known for being aggressive.  Swans are so graceful, it's easy to forget their strength.

Raindrops

Now that summer is here, I want to make a follow up visit.  I'd like to see if the Res in full bloom is a walking destination, or if its the sort of place that is a boon to the neighborhood, but not worth travelling to.  I'll let you know what I discover.


A Walk Through Back Bay

In March when the weather had pushed above freezing, but the scenery was all watercolor shades of gray and brown, I decided I needed to find someplace new to walk.  If nature wasn't going to provide any inspiration, maybe a  change in architecture would do the trick.  So I hopped on the T and took the Red Line to the Charles/MGH stop, with the vague plan of wandering Beacon Hill and Back Bay.  

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Boston skyline, viewed from Rte 2

If Boston post cards are any indication, Beacon Hill is what people envision when they think of Boston.  It's known for its rows of Victorian brick townhouses, and exclusive residences.  I seem to remember Senator John Kerry's Beacon Hill home being used against him during his presidential campaign, as a sign he was elitist and out of touch.  Personally, I can't imagine anyone who isn't financially out of touch with most Americans being able to afford to run for president, but that's a topic for another day.

The streets of historic Beacon Hill are narrow, so few cars are seen, except those owned by residents.  It's relaxing to be in the city without the steady hum of car engines.   A funny little side note - the persistent drone of cars on Storrow Ave. resulted in a green on the Boston University campus being nicknamed the  BU Beach.  If you close your eyes the sound could almost be mistaken for waves on a beach. 

Actually, I find the act of walking through Boston (when I don't have somewhere I have to go) a lot like walking a beach.  It's by no means as tranquil, but I experience the same sense of discovery and the desire to slow down and take a closer look at the little details so easily lost on the whole.  This doesn't make me very popular with people who actually have places they need to be, especially on the narrow sidewalks of Charles Street and the like, but I just pretend I'm a tourist, set on getting my money's worth from the visit.

doorknobs in window
Charles Street is full of restaurants, bakeries, galleries (by appointment only if you please) and a wonderful assortment of expensive little shops.  Most of them are the size of a large living room in the suburbs, but every inch is used to its full potential.  I went in one where there was a single circular path between tables of goods.  Whenever customers stopped to look at an item, everyone behind them had to stop too.

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This is just a small selection of the snow globes decorating one travel agency's windows.  It's such a perfect idea.  Who didn't shake a snow globe as a child and dream of visiting its world? 

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This trend of placing cut birches in flower pots, is much harder for me to understand.  I saw them all over the city and each time I felt like something cruel was being placed on display, much like animal heads hung on walls.  There's no reason for it.  The butchered form lacks the vitality and grace of the living one. 
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A dog does a little people watching from a window

Walking through Lousiburg Square and down Mt. Vernon Street, it's easy to pretend you've stepped into an Edith Wharton novel.  The click of a woman's heels on the brick sidewalks echoes the long ago ring of horse's hooves on cobbles.  It's easy to picture a captain, standing atop his stately home, looking out to Boston Harbor for any sign of his ship's return.

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In this older part of the city, even mundane items like manhole covers are worth taking a second look at.  The winter's road salt had temporarily dulled the colors, but this cover appears to be decorated with rounds of colored glass.

Manhole.jpg
This elaborate doorknocker, is on a door leading to a basement entrance.  I love the tiny ring on the middle finger.  As I took the picture I realized I was being watched by a security camera, and hurried away feeling like I'd done something vaguely illegal.

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A quick walk across Beacon Street and I was in the Public Garden.  A line of tourists waited to take pictures of the admittedly adorable Make Way for Ducklings statue.  I especially love how there are wear marks on the mother's back from where generations of children have climbed on as their parents snapped photos.  If I were three feet tall again, I'd do the same.  

It's been a while since I've been into the city, and I was stunned at 1). how close the squirrels let me get to them and 2). how incredibly fat they were compared to the ones at home.  Were the squirrels in my neighborhood starving?  I'd never thought so before, but for a moment I felt guilty about having a 99% squirrel-proof bird feeder (there's one squirrel who has figured out how to slip seeds out an empty screw hole). 

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The Public Garden is best known for its swan boats.  If you've never read the scene in E.B. White's Trumpet of the Swan where the protagonist encounters these legends, get a copy from your library today.  Admittedly I feel that way about most of E.B. White's writing, but this was my favorite book for many years as a child, so I think everyone should read it. 

During my visit, the boats were still in winter storage, in fact the pond appeared to have frozen over.

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People were out on the ice and snow, walking their dogs and enjoying the change in perspective.  I spotted one woman making snow angels and trying to convince the man with her to do the same. 

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 I joined a crowd waiting for the walk sign at Arlington Street, and headed down Newbury, the Rodeo Drive of Boston.  I'm not much of a shopper, so the charms of this part of town are largely wasted on me, but I do like people watching.  In a window for a salon/spa I saw a couple women chatting in robes and curlers.  The scene was disquieting in that it was both intimate, and incredibly public at the same time.

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 I saw an Easter Bunny costume so scary it deserved to be worn at Halloween.  I'm not sure which was creepier, the rabbit on the right looking like it's about to give a lecture, or the headless rabbit on the left!
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Just as I was trying to decide whether I should head back to the T, I arrived in Copley Square and was reminded what a feast it is for the eyes.  There's the elegant Copley Plaza hotel with it's giant golden lions flanking the entrance; the stately Boston Public Library; and the contrast of Trinity Episcopal Church's gargoyles to the glass and steel of the Hancock Tower. 


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I've heard that the interior of Trinity Copley is itself worth making a trip to see, but this visit I opted to stay outside.  The building is a checker pattern of colored stone, with a ribbon of carved biblical figures and stories reaching all the way around.  The same architect used a similar style when he designed the public library in Woburn, MA. 

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On one side of the church is a bit of a courtyard where there's a statue dedicated to a former priest of the church.  The sculpture was strangely menacing, which I'm sure is the opposite of what was intended.   The priest is standing at a dias, preaching to his congregation.  This is normal enough, but behind him is a hooded figure, reaching out with a bony hand to touch the priest's shoulder.  I think the hooded figure is intended to be Jesus, guiding and working through the beloved priest. To me however, that hooded figure looked like the Grim Reaper.  His looming figure and the sense that he is manipulating the man before him reminded me of the evil Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies.  I'd love to know what other people think.

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By now it was getting late.  The wind was picking up and what little warmth the sun had provided earlier in the day was fading.  I decided to make just one more stop before heading home. 

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Whether you're looking for a book or not, the Boston Public Library is too beautiful to miss.  The hallways feel like a museum, with marble stairs, statues, murals and more. 

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In many ways it feels like visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, with the added benefit that you're invited to pick up a book, find a comfortable seat and stay a while.  The mural above is part of one that goes all the way around an ante room.  The only furniture in the room are benches along the walls.  Some people use the benches to observe the artwork, occasionally I've seen a tired student stretched out taking a nap there. 

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A lamp in the Boston Public Library

And then there's the "library" itself, which is truly a cathedral for books.  Row after row of dark wood tables with individual, green domed reading lights fill the center. The books reach from floor to ceiling, with the higher ones reached by travelling up spiral metal staircases or ladders on runners.  As someone who goes a little weak in the knees at the site of built in bookshelves, each time I see this room I want to stay for hours.

Library.jpg There are of course other more modern sections of the library which are functional and offer abundant resources (including an incredible number of books in lesser known languages like Haitian Creole), but in this older section all the potential locked in the pages of the books is palatable. 

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I took a different route back, including a stop at the Frog Pond in Boston Common to watch the ice skaters. 

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There was a young boy and his father having a silly-string fight.  They raced around trees, dodged dogs on leashes and eventually collapsed on the ground laughing.  The father never once looked around to see if anyone was watching; he was totally in the moment with his son.  I smiled and headed for home.

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Harvest Time at Drumlin Farm

As Thanksgiving approached this year, I thought for the millionth time just how out of place a celebration of bounty feels in late November.  The leaves are bare.  Whatever crops remain on the vine are rotten and bloated.  Yards have been winterized.  There are brightly colored poles to guide plowmen down driveways and the fragile plants have been  swaddled in burlap.

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Apparently I'm not alone in thinking this way.  I heard a librarian comment on how much better it would be to celebrate Thanksgiving in October, like the Canadians do.  The patron she was talking to pointed out that Canada's October is probably much like our November.  After a pause he added that in an agrarian society there would be no time for celebration until the harvest was in and the work was done.  Isn't it frustrating when logic trumps sentiment?

Since  it doesn't look like Thanksgiving will be moved to a more bountiful time of year any time soon, let's go back and remind ourselves how golden and verdant the landscape was just a couple months ago.

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For years a friend told me that I should visit Drumlin Farm in Lincoln MA.  She brought her son there all the time and she'd tell me things like "it's a great place for a picnic", or "they have animals you can pet" and "it's so much fun".   When she mentioned animals and petting in the same breath, all I could imagine was a terrifying experience I had as a 5 year old at York's Wild Kingdom.  Tiny child + carton of animal kibble + excited goats = crying child being pulled out from under goat mosh pit by mother.  Even as an adult, I wasn't eager to go near a petting zoo again. 

Fortunately, another friend invited me for a walk one day without telling me where we were headed.  I'm sure you can guess where we went.  It wasn't at all what I had imagined.  First, it's a real farm.  You can pet the animals if you want to, but there are signs strictly prohibiting their feeding.  The farm is run by Mass Audubon, so the focus is on preservation through education.  There are of course the traditional farm animals: chickens, cows, sheep, goats and pigs.

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If you visit and spot a sheep with a blue back side, it's not the work of rural graffiti artists, just a sign that the ewe has been mated.

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I'm always surprised at just how much character the pigs have.  I remember one litter which definitely had a bully.  He truly knew how to push his weight around to get what he wanted.  He gave his siblings no rest until they gave up their ball or the prime scratching spot (the doorway to the yard).  The pig shed is also fun to visit because of the pig scale. Along with the traditional numbers, the scale is split into the life stages of pigs.  It's fun to watch a group of kids clamber on in an effort weigh more than "piglet". 

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 In addition to the typical barnyard creatures,  there is an assortment of rescues, animals that have been injured and would no longer survive in the wild.  Within a square mile (or less) you can see a turkey vulture, several kinds of owls, a kestrel, a partridge (beware, during mating season he/she has a startlingly loud call), red tailed hawks, several deer, an opossum, a skunk (minus scent gland) and two foxes (whose urine smells like diluted skunk musk, so don't be alarmed).  One of the foxes has extra pigment so it actually appears to be black with touches of silver. And though he isn't as rare as many of the animals, a visit wouldn't be the same without the gregarious crow on Bird Hill, who can often be seen conversing with his cronies in nearby trees. 

I've now been to the farm in every season, and I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite.  In the winter there are few visitors and the snugness of the barns and greenhouse come as a nice surprise after the cold of the wind.  Of course the spring means babies - piglets, chirping chicks and adorable bounding lambs.

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The summer is great for visiting the actual farm and seeing just what all those veggies we're used to buying wrapped in plastic actually look like when they're growing.  It was a volunteer docent at Drumlin who first told me that broccoli is actually a flower and that carrots are related to the flower Queen Anne's Lace. 

And then there's the fall.  If I were pushed to choose a favorite time to visit Drumlin, that would probably be it.  The place is bedecked in hilarious scarecrows.  There are scare-couples with arms interlocked and others wearing lays and outrageous hats.  There are hayrides and carved pumpkins (see my earlier post The Frost is on the Pumpkin). 

The fall is certainly my favorite time for investigating the non-animal portions of Drumlin.  There's a surprising variety of trails, each with its own character and terrain.  Whether it's geographically true or not, I tend to think of Boyce Field as the hub of the trail system (see above link for a map).  Boyce is ideal for a late afternoon stroll.  The "golden hour" light that artists talk about adds magic to the simple scene of produce rising from the earth.  

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     Chard stems 100310 Suddenly you're not just looking at food, you're looking at art.  The swiss chard rows resemble intricate stained glass.  Even the most humble vegetables gain new stature when seen as examples of chiaroscuro, the interplay of sun and shadow. 

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My favorite example of this transformation is the rutabaga plant.  The very word makes my spine tighten; it all goes back to the pasty, a handheld meatpie that originated in Cornwall.  Immigrants introduced it to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where it now has almost a cult following. My grandmother used to tell us about how she and her mother made pasties from whatever bits of meat and veg they had on hand, so her brothers could bring them (wrapped in newspaper) into the mines for lunch.  The exact recipe would vary, but the hearty rutabaga was a staple. 

As a child, I hated rutabagas.  I say "as a child" but in truth I haven't tried one since I was old enough to have a say in what I eat.  My mother and grandmother tried convincing me rutabaga had no taste, and if it had a taste it was the same as potato.  I figured years of drinking black coffee had destroyed their taste buds.  In the end my mother resigned herself to making a special pasty for me with just meat, potatoes and carrots.  She made the vent holes on top in the shape of a T so I'd know which one was mine; and I loved every delicious bite.

So I had to smile when walking in Boyce Field I saw a root vegetable the size of a football with a beautiful tangle of stalks rising up from it, and realized it was a rutabaga.  

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That's what I love about walking.  Even if you've been to a place a hundred times, walking can always present you with a new perspective.  As for rutabaga, I'll keep to my original plan of abstinence... to ensure there's enough for the rest of you to enjoy, of course.

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  • I will be revisiting Drumlin's trail system in future posts.  There's still a lot to share.
  • You can find a recipe for pasties through Real Simple magazine.   
  • If you're in the area and would like to visit Drumlin Farm, be aware it's closed most Mondays and that there is an entrance fee.  Many local libraries have reduced price tickets available for patrons, so it's worth doing a little footwork first.

Pumpkins n' spiders n' ghouls, oh my!

I grew up sheltered by massive pine trees, which each year dropped blankets of golden needles across our yard.   I ran across them, enjoying the way they slipped beneath my feet ice-like and vaguely disorienting.  I bundled them and bound them with string, creating what in my mind looked like a cross between a haystack and the corn stalks people bought at Tuttle's Red Barn.  I'd place these bundles along the front of our porch and wonder why the rest of my family didn't see what I did in them. They usually only lasted a day or two before my brother decided they were fun to use for batting practice, but I continued to make them.

That urge to decorate the front of my home with some of autumn's beauty is still with me, all these years later.   After reading about Julie's decorating for fall in Under the Tulip Tree, I started to think about what I wanted to do this year, which lead me to notice the decorations around me on my daily walks.  Here are a few of my favorites. 

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This one strikes me as quintessential New England, from the shape of the house, to the simple elegance of the assorted pumpkins and mums. 

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I wonder if anyone ever sits in that chair, or if it's just their for appearances.   Either way, it makes the doorway appear all the more inviting.

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I believe it's humanly impossible to look at these without smiling.  Each time I pass them I imagine the giggles and antics that went into decorating them.

IMG_3436 I know there are plenty of scarier ghosts available in stores, but I enjoy the variety you find in the homemade ones.  You can't see it in the photo, but the yard actually has a whole family of ghosties, each with a unique, child drawn face. 

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This ingenious witch sways in the breeze.  She has a tiki torch for a broom, and a delightfully bloated green face.  I'd love to take a closer look inside her robe to see how she's held together, but not knowing the people who live there, that could be a bit awkward. 

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This simple, yet colorful, display ended up inspiring my own decorating.  After years of wanting, but not buying indian corn,  I "splurged".  I felt a little foolish when I realized three ears of corn, that I would enjoy for at least two months,  cost less than a drink at Starbucks.  It made me wonder just how much I had thought it would cost.  It is just corn after all.  Then I remembered years of seeing it in the grocery store, asking my mother to buy some and being told "No, it's too expensive".  It probably was, for a single mom raising two children.    Or maybe she just didn't want to get any and it was an easy excuse.  Either way, remembering that makes me enjoy the little bundle on my door all the more.

 

Post Script - you may have noticed I have a preference for homemade decorations.  If you feel the same way, a pattern for crochet indian corn can be found at Alicia Kachmar's website