Lexington Feed

If you're local... Lexington Symphony Holiday Pops Concert

If you live in the Lexington area, you'll want to be in town this Friday night.  Lexington  starts off its holiday season with lighting the town tree, main street shopping (stores will actually be open past dark), carolers and the Lexington Symphony's Holiday Pops concert. 

 I attended their first Holiday Pops concert four years ago, and loved it.  The blustery walk from my house.  The sound of carolers serenading diners at Marios.  Main Street decked in balsam bunting, Christmas trees in barrels and thousands of tiny white lights.  Finally entering the warmth of Carey Hall, my toes warming up as the symphony does the same.  And then the music - the golden horns, the fairy harp, the percussionists with their bags of tricks, the violinists moving together like waves on the sea and the oboists surprising us all with the sounds they can pull from their Dr. Seuss instruments.  It's a wonder-filled event.   I wouldn't miss it.  In fact I haven't missed one yet.


The evening ends with a lively sing-a-long during which Santa has been known to make an appearance. It's a lovely, low-tech, heart warming evening that I wish everyone could experience.

Lexington symphony 120310

Here's the official description:

The Holiday Spirit Starts at Lexington Symphony's Holiday Pops!

Friday, November 30
4pm Kids Pops! 45 min.
8pm Evening Pops!  1.5 hr.
Cary Hall, 1605 Mass. Ave., Lexington
Maestro Jonathan McPhee conducts

Tickets are still available at www.lexingtonsympony.org or in town at The Crafty Yankee.  While you're there to pick up tickets, don't forget to choose a name of a family or senior in need from their giving tree.   

No matter where you live, remember concerts are a great chance to work on your holiday crafting.  Not that I'd know anything about that...

Scarf in progress Dec2011




Susan G. Komen Boston 3-Day

Of all the walks that take place each year to raise money, I suspect the Komen 3-Day to fight Breast Cancer may be the best known.  They do a terrific job getting out the message that walkers come away not only feeling good about helping raise money, but stronger emotionally and physically.  Their ads are ubiquitous.  

So I'm surprised that I had no idea this year's walk was going to go right down the main street of my town!  The night before, I walked into town for some frozen yogurt (we now have 3 sources of the stuff within a 2 block area; it's crazy) and saw big white signs with black arrows stapled to posts.  I was reading The Night Circus at the time.  The black and white color scheme with the mysterious nature of the signs made me hope, just for a heart beat, that someone had brought the circus to life.  A moment later I knew it was a ridiculous idea, but clearly something was up.  By the time I got home, I'd forgotten all about it.

The next day when I went to the post office, downtown was coated in pink.  There were balloons, banners, inflatable sticks (still a bit confused by those) and people dressed in every conceivable  shade.  It was a 4 year old girl's dream!

For such a big event, with so many people gathered on the side of the road to cheer and offer refreshments, I didn't see a single sign with the event name on it.  I finally asked this fellow, figuring he must be in the know.  

Komen supporter 072812
I wasn't going out on much of a limb with that assumption.  He explained it was the second day of the walk, and he was there to cheer on his 70+ year old wife!  He was far from alone.  There were people in lawn chairs, clearly planning to encourage every last straggler.  And the walkers looked excited.  This was near the end of their longest day, and they were smiling, clapping, wearing funny headdresses and sparkly beads.  It truly was an impressive sight to see so many people cheerfully exerting themselves to help others. 

So if you're ever out walking or driving and find yourself surrounded by pink - honk your horn, clap like you mean it, and smile as the best of human nature surrounds you. 

Komen car 072812



Busa Farm's Bird Songs

Could you see a bird, just a black silhouette against slate gray sky and identify it as a chimney swift?  Could you then see another bird (similar in size and flight), and be just as certain it's a barn swallow?  Nope, me neither, but Herb Pearce can and did for the small group of bird enthusiasts who joined him for a bird song walk through Busa Farm and the Arlington Resevoir.  The walk was sponsored by the Lexington Community Farm Coalition, a.k.a. LexFarm.

Busa sign 060312

I wasn't sure quite what to expect when I arrived.  I tend to avoid group walks, probably due to too many elementary school field trips where we were herded, bovine like, from place to place without any chance to explore what interested us.  I decided to take a chance on this one, however; because I've always wanted to recognize birds by their song.  I get a little better at it every year,  but there are still so many to learn.  It turned out that bird songs played a rather small role in our walk.  Herb simply used them to help point us in the direction of interesting birds, but I learned so much about bird behavior and the plants I walk by every day, that I was anything but disapointed.

We started off with a look inside one of the buildings at Busa Farm, where both house sparrows and barn swallows make their nests. 

Back of beyond 060312
Barn Swallow 060312

Barn swallow tails 060312You can just picture the two little birds snuggled together in the nest.

Swallow eye 060312"I've got an eye on you..."

I was amazed at how unperturbed the birds were by our presence.  As a kid my friends and I would race fearfully across the field that separated our houses, as swallows swooped and dove menacingly at our heads.  Now here we were just feet from their nests, and though they arced and spun among the rafters, they took no notice of us.  I now suspect those swallows of my youth weren't interested in us either.  They were probably diving to catch insects, too small for us to note. 

Here and there on the floor of the building lay evidence of the less idyllic side of bird life.  Eggs had fallen from their clay cradles, either from an accidental push or during an attack from the neighboring house sparrows.  These tiny brown creatures are surprisingly visious. 

House Sparrow 060312
House Sparrow back 060312I'm not sure why this fellow looks so downy.  Maybe he's a juvenile?

From there we made our way along the edge of the vegatable fields (where their pea plants were four times as tall as mine) to a spot where Herb had recently seen a family of robins

Walkers 060312
Following the chirps of the juveniles, he lead us to where two siblings were following their mother and persistantly begging.  As soon as a baby gulped down the worm the mama offered, it immediately began to beg again.  I think all of us with experience around little ones of the human variety, felt for the mama bird and thanked heaven that kids' needs aren't so incessant.

Robbin family 060312
The juveniles are paler than adults.  The mother has her back to the camera.

A little further on one walker discovered a snapping turtle who appeared to have made her way from a nearby river to lay her eggs.  She'd chosen the shadow of a hulking John Deer tractor as a secure site.  Outside an aquarium, the only turtles I'd ever seen were tiny, adorable painted turtles.  Aside from the shell, they look nothing alike.  The snapping turtle was roughly a foot long, and at first glance resembled a rather flat boulder.  Her tail looked lethal, all spikes and muscle like an aligator and her face came to a beak-like point.  This creature appeared prehistoric.  She was the image of latent strength. 

John Deer and turtle 060312
Snapping turtle 060312
Stumbling on that turtle was the start of something neat.  The walk became less of a guided tour and more of a pooling of knowledge.   One walker pointed out a nearby patch of pineapple weed.  We all stopped to bend down and roll its golden flowers in our hands, breathing in its sweet citrusy scent.  It smelled like sunshine and pina coladas, a world apart from the wet gray field where we stood.   I've read that pineapple weed can be used to make tea, but I haven't tried it yet.

Pineapple BUSA 060312
We nibbled on the rosy flowers of Lady's Thumb plants (named for the dirty "thumb print" on their leaves), and  

munched heartily on the succulent tops of lamb's quarters.  This plant has a pleasant al dente feel as you bite into it, with a taste similar to spinach, only milder. 

Lambs quarters 060312

And then there was jewel weed.  I was completely unfamiliar with it, so one of the walkers offered to demonstrate how it got its name. 


This effect is caused by the interaction of the tiny hairs on the back of the leaf and the water in the puddle.  Aside from being entertaining, the plant can also be used to combat the itch of poison ivy.   A quick internet search later lead me to pictures of the plant's flowers and the realization that I've seen this plant all my life and had known nothing about it!

At the edge of the field farthest from the farm buildings, we encountered a pair of killdeer.  These shore birds can often be found around farms.  The two we met clearly had a nest nearby and were intent on drawing us away from it.  One ran back the way we'd come, stopping to look at us now and again like, "Hey guys, what's the hold up? Come on!"  The other moved toward us hobbling, its wings held out at an awkward angle as if broken.  I'd seen this sort of behavior on documentaries, but never in real life.  It was a fascinating act of bravery on the parents' part, serving as decoys.  As much as we wanted to stay and watch, we moved on to save the birds from uneccesary distress.

Killdeer 060312

Killdeer wing displacy 060312

Killdeer distracting 060312
A quick scramble over a rock wall, and we were on the trail that surrounds the Arlington Resevoir.  I'd been to the Res about a year earlier, in the fall, and had found it a bit depressing.  It was still in the center of town, with houses always visible, but this visit was entirely different.  Herb showed us Jack in the Pulpits, the largest Poison Ivy plants I'd ever seen, and an entirely safe-to-the-touch plant that is nearly identical to Posion Ivy. 

IMG_5187Poison Ivy

Do you see the differece?  On this plant the center leaf starts really close to the other two.  On poison ivy that middle leaf has a longer stem than the other two do.  Please DON'T take my word for it.  I'm just passing along what I was told, and it's always possible I misheard the explanation.  

As we continued our route, Herb suddenly broke off from telling us about a plant and cocked his head.  "Did you hear that?  That's an orchard oriole!"  With that he was racing toward the sound, his eyes raking the leaves overhead.  Above us a bird, all rusty red and black sat singing among the leaves.  A moment later it had taken flight and though we continued to look for some time, we never caught another glimpse.  Herb explained that the orchard oriole is quite rare in this region.  We probably would have missed it entirely if it weren't for its song, and most importantly Herb's recognition of it.

We continued on around the resevoir and back to the farm, but for me the walk ended with  sighting that rusty minstrel.  I was mentally overflowing with all that I'd seen and learned.  What a great way to start a Sunday.





Battle Road - Minute Man Historical Park (Part 2)

Trail avenue 040712
When we look back on history, it's hard to see events without a sense of inevitability.  We think of the siege of Fort Sumter as intended to launch the Civil War, when in fact other southern forts had been ceded to southern control without launching a war.  The chain of events is only obvious in hindsight.  This is true too of the American Revolution.  The colonists did not set out to start a new country.  They intended to work within the system to gain more equitable treatment.  It was only after their complaints were ignored (or greeted with punishment) and the crown rescinded their right to self govern, that the idea of separation started to take hold.  This is just one of the little tidbits of knowledge I gained while walking Battle Road.  I grew up in New England where there is only one war that matters, in a school where the Revolution dominated any discussion of history, daughter to a woman who enjoyed visiting historic homes of that period; so the fact that I learned something new about this topic I thought I knew so well, was truly exciting.  Did I mention that Johnny Tremain was my favorite book in 5th grade?

Battle Road does a wonderful job of showing how ordinary people make history.  There's the Nelson's house (Ok, doorstep and well at this point), where a member of the family heard steps on the road, went out in the dark to ask for news of the soldiers' advance, and was shot by those very soldiers.  

Thomas nelson junior 040712
There's the field where a farmer waited for the line of soldiers to pass, and shot at them from the relative safety of the boulders.  As I looked at this "field" full of new growth, I was reminded of something Bill Bryson said in one of his books.  Modern day New England is a veritable forest compared to the same land a couple hundred years ago.  All those stone walls hikers come across in the woods once marked the edge of a field.  Of course back then the cleared land was not covered in strip malls and parking lots, so our current abundance of trees is not a clear win for Mother Nature.

Boulders for cover 040712

Not far from here stands one of the many memorials along the route to the British soldiers who died in the fighting.  I heard a battle reenactor explaining that many of these impromptu graves were found when digging began for Route 2A (relatively recent history).  As he explained, the colonists didn't want any sign of the enemy dead to remain near their homes, out of fear that the British would come back and take vengeance. 

British burried 040712
Just think about that for a moment.  This was not a battle fought in the open, far from women and children.  It was fought over thirteen long hours, along a well travelled road, from behind hedges and stone walls,  across farmers' fields, and  just steps from civilians' homes. 

Farmed since 1700s 040712
Hartwell tavern 040712

There's a scene in the miniseries John Adams that illustrates the proximity of the war to civilian's lives beautifully.  This is a bit later in the war, but you an imagine it playing out hundreds if not thousands of times.  In the scene, you see Abigail Adams tending to the family farm, feeding the chickens, hanging out clothes, and then she and her children stop what they're doing because they've heard something in the distance.  The rumble of drums and footsteps, the sharp squeal of a fife and before you know it there are soldiers marching down the road just a few feet from her and her babies.  If you have any interest in this period of history, I highly recommend the miniseries and of course the book it was based on, by the same name.

One of the best known structures along Battle Road in Minute Man Historical Park belonged to one of Abigail Adams' relatives. 

Cpt william smith house 040712
The Captain William Smith house stands in a meadow abutting the intersection of Route 2A and Bedford Street.  Runners can often be seen using the stone wall to stretch.  Children run happily through the field, after the relative confinement of the wooded trail.  The house is closed to the public, but people peek in the windows to see what's there.  

Several of the houses in the park have this saltbox silhouette.  It's a style that originated in New England in response to the weather.  The bulk of the house's windows were on the southern exposure, taking advantage of the sun's light and heat.  The northern exposure was low and often windowless, ensuring that precious heat wasn't lost.  The sloped roof helped heavy snows slide off, rather than accumulating and endangering the roof.  

Cpt william smith door 040712

Saltbox house 040712
If you've ever read or seen anything about the Revolutionary War, you are probably aware of the disadvantage the Bristish army's red uniforms placed them in.  This year, spring came early and the landscape is unusually lush for April.  Even so, those red coats stand out like a beacon.

Bristish soldier 040712

As you can see, I was lucky enough on my walk to run into some pre-Patriot's Day events in the park.

Brits and colonists 040712
I'm assuming the white uniforms were the equivalent of the dress whites today's navy wears on formal occassions, but that's just a guess.  If you happen to know, please be sure to leave a comment.

Woman and soldiers 040712

Lincoln minutemen 040712
The colonists may not have had the same gun power as the soldiers, but they blended into the countryside (their clothes dyed using local plants).  They had the advantage of knowing the terrain, and were fighting for their lives.  As I write this I can't help but think of the similarities between these early patriots and the people our modern day military is battling overseas.  Yes, there are important differences, but the similarities give pause.  Our national heroes, the original patriots, the people who everything (and I do mean everything) is named after in this region were rebels and terrorists in the eyes of the King. 

Minutemen potty 040712
Yes, that's a patriot on the side of a port-o-potty.

Minuteman sign 042412

Today, a good section of the park borders Hanscom Air Force Base.  At some points on the trail you look down through the trees onto base housing, at the families who today continue to place their security and happiness second to the needs of the country.  I often see solderies training together, running the Battle Road trail, and I wonder if they give any thought to the events the park commemorates.  Do they see themselves as inheritors of that tradition?

Candidate 040712

The Minutemen who answered the call some two hundred years ago, didn't know what the outcome would be.  They didn't know that their actions would become the stuff of legend, or that their actions were one step along the way to the founding of a new domoctractic nation.  their legacy is alive in this man.  He's a candidate for the state legislature.  While people gathered to listen to music and hear the details of Paul Revere's capture, he was making his way through the crowd, introducing himself and talking with potential voters.  As I watched him I marvelled at his willingness to go up to stranger after stranger and insert himself into their day.  Everyone I saw him talk to was polite, but I'm sure that's not always the case.  No matter our political system's flaws, the people who get elected really have to work for that office.  There's beauty in that.

  Clouds over barn 040712
When I set out to walk the Battle Road trail, I did it more out of a sense of duty than pleasure.  So I was surprised at just how moving I found the experience.  As I walked, read the signs, and listened to the audio tour, I found myself wondering if I would take the kind of risk Mary Hartwell did, when she left her children asleep in their beds, to get the message of the British advance to the Minutemen leaders in time for them to act.  I was made uncomfortable as I realized that our bitter enemy in the late 1700's, is today our closest ally.  While this gave me some hope for a more peace-filled future, it also highlighted just what an inevitable waste enmity between nations is.

By the time I got home again, I was tired and sore (I really hadn't realized just how substantial a walk it would be), but it felt like a day well spent.  I had no idea how much I'd see and learn when I left the house that morning, and for that, the surprise of life, I'm grateful.

Swamp walkway 040712


Of Trees and Sidewalks

Anyone who has ever tried to walk  down a classic tree shaded avenue, has probably cursed the very trees that make the location so appealing in the first place.  Tree roots and sidewalks are natural enemies.  As the trees grow, the roots do too, leading to cracks and ridges in more modern paving surfaces, and whole root islands in older ones.

Cracked sidewalk 100911The tree may be gone, but the damaging roots remain

Roots_newburyport 101511
The placement of trees in the sidewalk (as a little square of life surrounded by pavement) has been one of my pet peeves for years.  I don't know if it's common in other parts of the country, but it's ubiquitous in New England.  I love trees, their prevalence is one of the reasons I moved to this town, but trees  in the sidewalk make it incredibly awkward to walk side-by-side and talk.  Have you ever done the 'round the tree two-step? 

It goes like this:

  • stop in place,
  • let your partner by,
  • follow quickly,
  • return beside
  • ask "What did you say?" 

 Add a few low hanging branches to duck below, and the conversation becomes a full body workout.  

Mass Ave Lexington 070111It's lovely...until the trees mature.

Clearly trees + sidewalks = hazard, damage, nuisance and expense.  Right? 

Not exactly.

While I still can't understand why towns plant trees in places that are clearly going to cause damage and expense in the not so distant future, trees set just a little farther back from the sidewalk actually provide a lot of benefit.  I read this summer that Lexington was looking for homeowners who would allow the town to plant trees in their yards "beyond the Town right-of-way but no more than 20 feet from the front of the property" (Lexington's Colonial Times July/August).  While some tree benefits (aesthetic beauty, creating oxygen) are obvious, there are others I'd never considered.

  1.  Trees reduce skin cancer if planted in places where people spend a lot of time outside.  This is really just another way of saying that shade is better for your skin than direct sun, but it goes on to say "Trees absorb up to 90 percent of UV radiation, providing a natural form of  sunscreen - an equivalent to SPF 10-20."   
  2. Help avoid erosion and reduce storm runoff.  
  3. Trees planted around parking lots "reduce automobile hydrocarbon emissions by 2 percent". 
  4. And the one I found the most surprising - the shade trees provide actually extends the life of paved roads.  "Repaving can be deferred 10 years or more for heavily shaded streets."

When it's put that way, I just don't feel right complaining about some exposed roots and low hanging branches.  I'm probably better off with one less pet peeve.

   Lex sign 070511


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. 

Bedford st 082811

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.

Dead toad 082811
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. 

**************P. S.***************

  New statue view 082911

See that empty spot behind the statue?  That's where the tree used to be.

Battle green 082911

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.

A Blue Ribbon Walk

Why do I walk?

  • To exercise,
  • To clear my mind,
  • To see someplace new,
  • To see someplace known in a new way,
  • To relax,
  • To vent,
  • To catch up with a friend,
  • To remove guilt.

I'm guessing that you were with me up until that last one. Let me explain.  There's nothing like walking to food-too-delicious-to-be-good-for-you, that makes the eating of it guilt free.  It works regardless of what the actual relationship is of calories burned to calories consumed. 

Tower park

Which is exactly how I found myself on a picnic blanket in Tower Park, a good book in one hand and a smorgasbord of deliciousness from Blue Ribbon BBQ spread before me. 

Book view

Big Green Salad
What's that? 

This isn't what you were expecting when I said BBQ?  A few years ago I would never have gone to a BBQ place for a salad, but a friend introduced me to it and now it's all I order at Blue Ribbon.  The salad is big, crisp and refreshing.  It comes with savory, still warm from the oven pulled chicken, that you mix into the cool greens.  Add to that homemade balsamic dressing, croutons made from their dense, rich corn bread, and as if that weren't enough, a hearty hunk of the corn bread itself. Oh, and don't forget a side of their pickles!

Now doesn't that sound good?

Take a moment and imagine yourself there:

toes in the cool grass,

birds calling in the trees above,

Trees above
icy water in your thermos,

fresh sweet potato pie melting on your tongue,

and the happy glow that comes at the end of a long walk.

  Trees and sky
It doesn't matter that Tower Park is a thin strip that runs between Mass. Ave (one of the busiest roads around) and the Minuteman Bike Trail (full of bikers, rollerbladers and walkers of all ages on such a sunny, summer afternoon).  It doesn't matter that I feel a blister mysteriously forming, on of all places, the side of my middle toe.  This - the walk, the indulgence, the sky above, the joy of shade - is summer.



A couple historical notes about the park:

  1. Tower Park was donated to the town of Lexington in 1927 by Ellen Tower.  She made this donation in an era when people were becoming aware of the need to preserve some open, green space in and around towns. 
  2. Tower Park was the scene of a battle during the famous Battle of Lexington and Concord at the start of the Revolutionary War.  Each year on Patriot's Day (a holiday celebrated in mid April in MA) that battle is reenacted.  Below I've included a great photo montage of the reenactment from 2010, found of course on YouTube.





For the Love of Porch Swings

  Piano player porch Not the house in the story

Not long ago I saw an open house advertised and couldn't resist taking a closer look.  Before I even stepped inside, I knew the house was not for me; the roof was bowed and mossy, the exterior walls were mottled with mold, and even from the ground I could see that the second story window frames had lost chunks of wood.  But I was there, so I went in.

With my first step on the azure carpet, I was cloaked in the scent of dust, disuse, and Renuzit air fresheners.  Do I even need to mention that the next room had faux panelling and shag carpet?  Visions of my childhood bedroom filled my mind and I wondered, would it be rude to leave without even signing the book?  Then I saw something I knew I had to see before I left.  Off the dining room was a screened in porch, the sort that belongs on a building referred to as "the camp".  It had that same rough, well-used feel, where the screens are sturdy and the carpentry may or may not be.  And most importantly, at one end hung a wide wooden porch swing.  I climbed on, casting an eye at the beams to see if they were sound and began to swing.  Back and forth.  Drowsily push off with my toe -  back and forth.  A chickadee called.  A squirrel complained unseen from a branch high above, and I thought, maybe this house has some potential.  Such is the powerful draw of the porch swing.

  Boardwalk in woods
Last summer, while trying to find a new route to the library, I stumbled on a street that knows the value of the porch swing.  On Parker Street, which is at the most a quarter mile long, there are no fewer than seven porch swings!

Porch swing 050111

Parker street 060710

There are swings that appear purely ornamental, on porches so full of flowers and sculptures I can't imagine anyone relaxing there.  While other swings sway beneath wind chimes and grape vines, begging you to sit, sip an icy lemonade, and sing "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

My absolute favorite, however, is one that by all rights shouldn't be there at all.  This house doesn't even have a porch by conventional standards; it's more of a landing.  The inhabitants didn't let such minor details get in their way.  No, they removed the railing and attached the swing in its place! 

Porch swing 060710

You can get a better sense of just how tiny a space it is from the side view.

Side porch swing 060710
I love the ingenuity of it, the optimism, the unwillingness to let conventional wisdom dictate the rules.  I'd like to meet these people - if I ever see them out on their swing.



Practicing for the 4th

Lions Club Carnival 2011

The first week of July, every year, the Lions Club Carnival rolls into town and takes over part of the athletic fields.  As I type these words, I can hear the music of the rides.  It's just loud enough for me to realize I don't know current, pop music - at all; but it's not so loud that turning on my own music wouldn't drown it out completely.  I like being in the quiet of my office and knowing that not so far away people are attempting to pop balloons with darts, quiet their stomachs after a ride on the Zipper and eat cones of cotton candy without getting cobweb-like wisps of it through their hair. 

Carnival ride 070111
Each year there's talk about how the carnival has gone down hill, or has grown a bit seedy, compared to years gone by.  I've never been to a carnival, the travelling sort where the midway promises giant, overstuffed toys as reward for your skill (or luck), that hasn't been a bit dirty and let's just admit it, low class.  That's just as much a part of the experience as fried dough, the clink of a lapbar absentmindedly shaken by an attendant  and the whine of over-tired, over-stimulated little ones.  On some level, I think the garish, loud, chaotic elements of the carnival are exactly its appeal.  As a teen it seemed like Vegas.   It's a different world from our orderly, everyday existence.

Mass Ave Lexington 070111
Mass. Ave Lexington Center

No matter what people's thoughts on the rides and the midway, I've never heard a word against the annual fireworks show.  Not many towns in the area put on their own fireworks shows, being so close to Boston and the famous Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.  While no suburb could possibly compete with the show the Pops puts on, it's televised nationwide after all, I'll take the hometown experience every time. 

Flags mass ave 070111

Last night as the daylight started to fade, cars streamed into Lexington center.  Troupes of families toting lawn chairs converged on  Mass. Ave, making their way toward the high school.  Many people with dogs or especially young children opted for the reduced vision, but increased space of watching from the Battle Green.  Blankets formed little islands of color, with dogs, children and frisbees tumbling and racing in between. 

Most years I plan fireworks night so I have time to walk to the carnival and stand in line for fried dough before finding a place to view the fireworks.  But yesterday it dawned on me that it was already July and I hadn't had my favorite summer treat, a pretzel cone from Rancatore's.  So I walked to Lexington center just as everyone else seemed to move away from it. 

Rancatore's is a local, ice cream institution.  I think I've mentioned here before, that they are one of the few places in town that stays open past 6pm.  Year round, you can get your ice cream fix until 11pm; now that's civilization.  Of course the best part of living in walking distance is their ever changing variety of ice cream and frozen yogurt flavors.  Yesterday they weren't offering my favorite, the almond chocolate chip frozen yogurt in a pretzel cone, so I tried Peanut Butter Hydrox Cookie.  The peanut butter flavor was mild, but very much like a Peanut Butter Cup and then the Hydrox bits were just a tad soft so they felt like part of the ice cream, rather than a crunchy shock.  And then the cone.  The flaky, salty goodness of a pretzel against the smoothness of the ice cream is perfection.   I considered taking  a picture of it for the blog, with a nice background of all the other people in line who that thought fireworks were best enjoyed with ice cream, but I was too busy enjoying mine. 

Summer days make for great postcards, but I love summer nights.  Summer nights invite you to stretch your day into the dark, to feel the cool grass between your toes, watch the fireflies dance and listen to the last calls of the birds as they drift off to sleep.  Of course as I neared the high school and the carnival, those quieter summer scenes were replaced by the rhythmic screams of riders on the Pirate Ship and a group of teenage boys carrying what appeared to be plastic chairs from an elementary school, laughingly asking people if they needed a seat.  Some families had staked out a parking space well in advance, and now sat on the roofs of their minivans eating snacks and awaiting the show.

A rogue firecracker went off from a neighboring street and the crowd cheered.  In the quiet that followed a father could be heard saying soothingly, "That's what fireworks are.  Just cover your ears and you'll like the next one".  Seconds later a whistling sound filled the air and the show had begun. 

Fireworks 070211

As always, I was amazed to see how many people could resist the pull of a fireworks display and were actually walking away from the show (and toward the rides).  A man to my left was watching the fireworks through his iPhone as he recorded a movie of it.  On my other side was a photographer who frantically set up his tripod as the first rockets exploded, and sweared loudly when his camera instead of screwing onto the tripod, fell in the dust.  

Fireworks photographer 070211
At that moment a scene from Eric Weiner's Geography of Bliss popped into my head.  Weiner was in Bhutan, researching how a country so poor, could be so happy.  A learned man asked him why he was always writing things down.  "Just be", he said. " Just experience".  Weiner copied down every word, then stopped, realizing the irony of the moment. 

Was either of the men recording the fireworks, enjoying them as much as he would have if he'd watched the fireworks directly, rather than through a lense?  And then I realized I was doing it too; I was composing blog drafts of the experience in my mind as it was happening rather than just experiencing it. 

So I stopped.

I breathed in the acrid smoke.  I felt the concussions of sound hit my chest. I watched the embers sizzle and snake across the sky.

And I smiled. 

A Personal Landmark

A landmark was destroyed recently.  It's demise didn't attract the attention of the media, just as it's existence never did.  You won't find it on any sort of historical registry, but it was a piece of the local landscape for years.  It was a life size wooden sculpture of a black bear; the sort that is carved with a chainsaw.  He stood on his hind legs, his paws over his stomach, looking out at the Bedford Street traffic with a sort of bemused curiosity, a cross between Gentle Ben and Winnie-the-Pooh.

When I first started to get to know Lexington I used the bear as a landmark, a sign that I'd found the right road to take me back to the highway.  Once I knew my way around better, he just made me smile.  His owners must have had a soft spot for him too.  When they built a wall along their property to block the noise of the street, they designed it so the wall formed a little alcove around the bear.  It was like the bear was on display at a museum, a more rustic and ursine Birth of Venus

Sunflowerish Newburyport 081410


I'd love to show you a photo, but I never thought to take one, until the morning I drove down Bedford Street and saw a wood chipper parked next to the bear. No, I thought.  They wouldn't chop him up into so much mulch.  They must be trimming the overhanging limbs and this was just a convenient place to park.  When I passed on my way home that evening, he was gone.  The absence highlighted by the unpainted boards of the fence that had previously been hidden by his massive form. 

This winter when the snow piles were so deep only the bear's shoulders and head were visible, I thought about doing a little yarnbombing.  He looked like he could use a scarf.  I never did knit one; the bear, after all, was someone's personal property, but I kind of wish I had.


Thanks to Google Earth I was able to find a photo of the bear.