More like a polar bear, IMO

It was the phrase on every weather guy’s lips this week:  “In like a lion, right?”  An arctic blast that was supposed to last a day had enjoyed its visit to Boston so much that stayed through the whole week, bringing with it the lowest temperatures of 2021.  The weather guys are promising a warmup on Tuesday.   We’ll see.  

At the moment, most of the warmth is radiating from my cabin fever.   “How is it out there?” I asked Sonny on sunshiney Thursday.  He’d been walking for an hour.    

He shrugged off his winter coat and hoodie.  “It’s not too bad,” he said.  

I grabbed my coat, headphones, and mask and headed to our back door.  The doorknob sent a chill through my fingers.  I opened the door halfway and stuck my head outside.  Nope.  Not too bad, indeed.  I should have considered the source.  Sonny had been wearing both his coats (he usually just walks around in his hoodie).  His cold tolerance is much better than his parents’.   Dave and I spend fall and winter bundled up in sweaters, thermal socks, and slippers.  Sonny lives in  short-sleeved T-shirts.  

Yesterday I felt restless, annoyed with myself for being such a weather weenie.  I added layers  and headed outside.  Four or five minutes of shivering and then I’d feel okay; that’s what usually happens.  The sidewalks were about 75% free of snow and ice,  the remaining bits melted into ridges that were relatively easy to dodge around.   I stomped on a few of the bigger snow piles, hoping they’d melt faster.  After twenty minutes my fingers, feet, and cheeks were still feeling frozen.   Back inside for me.   

Comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.  I thought the line might come from a poem—it had that feel.  Some poems have indeed been made from the idea, but the saying seems originally to be an old English weather-adage.   Something along the same lines as “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” or “Ring around the moon, rain real soon.”   “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb” is the way the proverb is phrased in Thomas Fuller’s 1732 classic Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British.  (Which you can buy in hardcover on Amazon, if you have a spare $30.95 handy).    What surprised me was that in some versions, the proverb is phrased conditionally:   “If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb.”   

Well, well, well.  

Modern interpretations state that the saying aims to reinforce a sense of order and balance in the universe.  Rough weather will be followed by mild.  Spring will come.   We all know that the timing’s questionable, but I’m happy for some reassurance.  My tolerance for snowstorms and sub-freezing temperatures is at its nadir in March.    

The day I love most happens sometime in April, when suddenly I notice that the winter-bare branches are now covered with buds.    I’m not in synch with that T.S. Eliot quote, “April is the cruelest month.”  The little green buds, they are on their way.    

Every month has some aphorism or quote associated with it, so I assembled this commonplace calendar.*  

          *   *   *  *  *

“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”  —Anton Chekhov

“January, month of empty pockets!” —Colette

“February is a suitable month for dying.”   —Anna Quindlen  

“March is the month of expectation.”  —Emily Dickinson

“The first of April, some do say,/Is set aside for All Fools’ Day./Bt why the people call it so,/Nor I, nor they themselves do know.” —Poor Robin’s Almanac, 1790

“All things seem possible in May.”  —Edwin Way Teale 

“This is June, the month of grass and leaves.”  —Henry David Thoreau

“Never trust a July sky.”  —Folklore  

“August rushes by like desert rainfall.”  —Elizabeth Maua Taylor 

“By all these lovely tokens/September days are here,/With summer’s best of weather/And autumn’s best of cheer.”  —Helen Hunt Jackson

“I have been younger in October/than in all the months of spring.”  —W.S. Merwin 

“November comes/And November goes,/With the last red berries/And the first white snows.”  —Elizabeth Coatsworth. 

“I speak cold silent words a stone might speak/If it had words or consciousness,/Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak…” —Robert Pack

 At least in March the birds are back.  They start singing before sunup.   They peck at the the cherries in the tree next to the kitchen, flash between branches.  Yesterday Dave and I watched a flock of starlings, moving as if with one mind in a Nike swoosh from the garage roof, to the grass, to the oaks, to the sky.  

* Sources of these quotes:  Michael Garofalo “The Spirit of Gardening,” and The Old Farmer’s Almanac,  

The Wall

First cold snap of the 2021, with a projected high of just 19 degrees Fahrenheit.  My mind remembers Chicago winters, how springlike a 19 degree day with no wind felt after weeks of windy days with where the thermometer didn’t crack 10 degrees, but my body doesn’t.   I’ve acclimated all too well to mild Massachusetts and can’t imagine going outside.   

Facing a cold, snowy February, I feel frustrated.  Walking’s one of my favorite ways to self-soothe and think.  I used to spend hours on the treadmill in our basement when the weather was bad, but its motor died last winter.   I paced around the house (barely satisfactory) until the weather improved, then went  outside.    As often happens (possibly it’s an autistic thing),  I soon became absorbed with the idea of systematizing the activity.  It was irresistible, the notion of strolling down every avenue, court, street, circle, road, place, and terrace in town.  This led by degrees from April, 2020’s “Hey, what’s down that side street?” to July, 2020’s daily sessions with Google maps to pick walking routes to January, 2021’s trip to Staples to turn a foldable street atlas made of slippery paper into a 25”x 20” map.   I decided to start from dot (“dot” being my home address, located in the upper left quadrant), this time tracing my progress in markers of many colors.       

January had been pretty mild, so I did a bunch of walking, but now there was black ice on the streets and a frigid wall between me and my project.   I drank hot coffee and cleared out my inbox.  Bulk mail from our town community center showcasing the February calendar, don’t know why I opened it.   Book clubs, craft clubs, activities for seniors and toddlers.  Some chocolate fondue drive through thing.  And then a pair of items that made my clicking finger twitch:  an Around the Town photo challenge and a 1000 Hours Outside 2021 challenge.      

The Around the Town photo challenge involves a weekly mystery photo.  The challenge is to identify the location of the picture, then take and post your own photo.   I won’t be posting snaps, but this contest seems made for me and my map.   It got my toes wiggling, warming up.     

“1000 Hours Outside”  (  promotes the idea that people (especially children) should be spending at least 1000 hours outside per year.  This averages to around three hours a day.    The site feels a bit mompetition-y, as it seems to assume surroundings and resources that not everyone has.   I agree that being outdoors is a good thing.   I easily got more than 1000 outdoor hours as a kid most years.  So did my friends: this was how the moms on the block got some peace and quiet in their days.  While I went to parks with my parents fairly frequently, and brought home the ticks to prove it—ticks luuuurve me—I remember more fondly the interesting indoor spaces they took us.  Museums and concert halls, etc., which doesn’t seem to count for the 1000 Hours people; ah, well.   I think it was the idea of setting an annual time goal, always appealing (even though I know I’ll probably fail).  Plus the 1000 Hours Outside website had a page with dozens of printable trackers, featuring all kinds of designs, plain to fancy.  I found some very pretty ones, but ultimately I figured that my map of many colors would serve me best.    

I can’t wait to see the first Around the Town photograph (set to appear in just three days!).  Probably they’ll start out with something easy: the gazebo, the cannon across from Town Hall, the train station, swans on the reservoir, stuff like that.  I hope they’ll go farther afield, though: the candy company in the industrial park, that former nursing home out by the highway that is now…something mysterious.  The log cabins (I’ve found two—one in at the north end of town and the other in the south).  That house with sooo many garden gnomes.    

I doubled my socks, put on my puffy coat,  tugged a wool cap over my ears and stuck Blue Tooth headphones on top of it, and did a trial stroll.  It was reasonably, bearably toasty.  Thanks, Universe: the very day I hit this wall, you passed me a stepladder.  

Snow Day or Sloth Day

Yesterday we got more than a foot of snow. Dave and I started shoveling the driveway at 5:15 a.m. so that Sonny could make it to his six o’clock shift at Target, and the day went on predictably from there. Inside for a while, then back outside for more shovelfuls of the heavy wet stuff, working from the premise that it’s less taxing to shovel four inches of snow three times than twelve inches of snow one time. Not surprisingly, when I lifted my coffee mug this morning my biceps yipped like outraged Pekinese.

The rest of me felt fantastic, though. Relaxed. My body seemed to be thanking me for the work.

To be sure, it was a bit of a change. As the weather’s got colder, and with no holiday or work gatherings to get me out of the house, my sloth-like tendencies have increased dramatically. I’ve taken afternoon naps, and second afternoon naps. Looked wistfully at the low-hanging branches of the oak tree in my front yard, wondering if I could climb up and sit for a spell.

Sloths have a terrible reputation, but they can do lots of cool stuff that I can’t. They can turn their heads 270 degrees! They can swim faster than they can walk! They can fall 100 feet without hurting themselves! They’re strong enough to keep their hold on a tree branch even when a jaguar twice their size and four times their weight is trying to pull them off! They are their own ecosystem, with algae, moths, and beetles living in their fur! They can sleep hanging upside down!

I’m similar to sloths in the less cool ways. We both have bad eyesight, especially in bright daylight. They have the slowest metabolic rate of all mammals and move slowly, especially at ground level, because of that. My metabolism’s slowing down, for the usual reasons, but not enough to justify my sloth-ish tendencies of late.

I’m all for rest days, especially after hard work. After I wrap my brain around a tricksy idea from an online course or tough book, I watch some fun TV or read something silly. Athletes take rest days; I take a day or two off from music practice most weeks so that I don’t get burned out. The problem is that I’ve been taking rest weeks, lately, from most things physical.

The Thursday storm was a useful reminder of the physical satisfaction of exertion. So…let it snow?

Swans of winter

When we moved to this suburb, a few miles south of Boston, there were still a couple of working farms in town. It’s sad that the one nearest our house stopped operating about eight years ago–the horse farm’s still in operation–but the town made lemonade of the situation and turned the site into a park. Now there are turkeys and ducks and occasional deer, as well as other critters, wandering around there up close and personal, instead of cows seen at a distance. And there are swans (also best seen at a distance, for swan-temperament reasons). The leaves are down, and the reeds on the banks have thinned, so it was easy to see the swans on the pond. Hanging out, having breakfast, stirring the water with their beaks. A couple of ducks swam also, at a respectful distance.

Norroway Pond’s swan family has three members, just like my family: a cob (male), a pen (female) and a cygnet (kid). I think of them as the King, Queen, and Prince. They’ve been on the pond at least since spring of 2020. It’s possible that the King and Queen have been there for much longer, maybe from the farm days, since swans can live as long as 20 to 30 years, or even longer in some cases. In spring the Prince was a ball of gray fluff. Now he’s the same size as his parents–i.e, a bowling ball with a long neck and big wings attached–and almost as brilliant a white.

I haven’t yet tired of swans–or most of the other animals that wander here from the Blue Hills (excluding skunks: skunks can suck it). When we moved to this area, 22 years ago, swans in the reservoir were one of the first things I noticed. It felt quite exotic. For years I’d lived and worked mostly in cities, Chicago and Boston. In Boston you can see the swans Romeo and Juliet paddling in the Public Garden lagoon, but the pair winter at the Franklin Park Zoo and there’s something a little tame about them. Though beautiful.

Free-range swans don’t necessarily avoid cities. Dave and I visited Ireland a couple of years ago and were impressed to find nearly as many swans as street musicians in Galway. Like our swans in Norroway Pond, the Galway swans are commonly mute swans, although a Black swan recently made its way there from Australia.

I was glad to see the royal family was still in town, given that it’s December. The Canada Geese have already come and gone this fall. I thought swans migrated, but it turns out that mute swans, as opposed to some other swan species, such as the North American trumpeter swans, do not migrate regularly. Mute swans, especially mated pairs, stick around their nesting areas. They migrate when forced to by ice and food scarcity, but not great distances and not every year. So if we have a mild winter King, Queen, and Prince may stick around throughout.

I’d love that. The Prince’s parents will probably spend the winter teaching him to forage for food and giving him unsolicited relationship advice. Just like my family, although probably with fewer games of cribbage and episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 thrown in. Next summer Prince will flap off to find down a mate and pond of his own–best of luck to him–and I’ll get to watch the new brood rising.

NaNoWriMo 4: an educational week

Moving into the final full week of November, and I have not abandoned NaNoWriMo. Today’s my Sunday review. Last week, after a frustrating week #2, I made these adjustments: write at the dining table. Write in the morning. Drink tea while writing. I achieved the time and location. But when Dave would ask “Do you want another cup of coffee?” I kept answering yes. I’m extra twitchy, but as of Saturday I had cut my word deficit from a bit more than 4K to 2,006 words behind target. So…yay?

7:30’s turned out to be a decent time for me to write. Not much going on in my life at that point in the day beyond the breakfast dishes and the news that makes me angry and sad. Coronavirus triumphant, the loser of the 2020 election occupying his time with golf, complaints, and treasonous plots. Even on the worst days, the days when every word turns out to be crap destined to be deleted from the second draft, writing is better than news-crying.

When I was stuck (after I stopped swearing at the computer screen) I did research. This week’s discoveries included new-to-me information about

  1. Cuckoos. Beethoven, Mahler, and Saint-Saens, and other composers have written music where the cry of the cuckoo is given to the clarinet, so I’ve been imitating these birds on stage for years. One of the rabbit holes I went down this week involved cuckoos that practice brood parasitism, or laying their eggs in the nests of other birds (hosts). Which led to the term coevolution, which happens when two (or more) species reciprocally affect each other’s evolution. Thus, cuckoos, as they evolve ways to get better at sneaking their eggs into the host nest, are matched in an evolutionary arms race by the hosts’ defense tactics. The cuckoos lay more quickly, produce eggs that hatch earlier than the host species eggs, or eggs that look like the host species eggs. In response, the host species evolves new defenses to the cuckoos, such as getting better at recognizing cuckoo eggs, proactively driving cuckoos out of their territory, etc.
  2. Pretzel rides. As opposed to the fast scares of a roller coaster, a pretzel ride gives a slow scare. Pretty much anyone who’s visited a carnival or amusement park has been on one of these. You get in a car that moves along a twisting track through a dark building filled with spooky sounds and glowing scary sights. The inventors of the ride, which debuted in a New Jersey amusement park in the 1920s Leon Cassidy and Marvin Rempfer, reportedly decided on the name after one early rider said he felt “twisted like a pretzel” during the experience. Voila! the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company was born. By the time it went out of business, in the late 1970s, these contraptions had become known more commonly as dark rides or ghost trains, and that’s how people refer to them today.
  3. Queen bees. In the nature shows and books that I read as a kid–pretty much the last time I learned anything about bees–I absorbed the idea that queen bees (who have mated) and virgin queen bees (who have not yet mated) were each others’ mortal enemies, and that a new queen and the old queen would fight each other to the death, winner take hive. If one of them survived, she would have to leave the hive. Now I learn that there are often several virgin queens, and their greatest enemy is one another. It’s the virgin queens who fight each other to the death. A new mated queen doesn’t drive the old queen out. She doesn’t have to, as the old queen tends to weaken and die shortly after a new queen comes along. Also, queen bees and virgin bees communicate by “piping” (vibrating) in their cells at the pitch of G#. Also, to keep track of the queen, beehive keepers often dab her abdomen with a dot of paint, and this paint is frequently color-coded to the year that she was born.
  4. The Berkshires. I first encountered this scenic part of Massachusetts when I drove from Chicago to Boston. (I wanted to shake up my life by moving to a coast; I flipped a coin and drove east. It turned out great.) The Berkshires in August, when I first saw it, is a place of rolling hills, hiking trails, and arts festivals. Even with all the tourists, it feels laid back. However, in the 1770s the Berkshires was the site of civil unrest. A citizen uprising prevented judges from meeting in 1774, just a few months after the Boston Tea Party. The Berkshires were also the forbidding terrain through with Continental Army Colonel Henry Knox moved 59 cannons from New York to Boston in the winter of 1775-76. The cannons had been captured from Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and the journey entailed 300 miles in the miserable conditions familiar to anyone who has suffered through a New England winter. Facing frozen lakes, mountains, and swamps, Knox still managed to deliver the artillery to Boston by the end of January.
  5. My writing preferences. When it comes to pantser or planner, it’s been a scary time pantsing. I enjoy the moments when some interesting twist comes out of my back brain, something I’d never have included in an outline. When I blow yet another tire on a plot-hole, though, I regret that I haven’t planned things out more elaborately in October. Still, I like pantsing enough that I’m going to alternate writing and planning on my next project.

So that was my week, ghost trains, queen bees, and revolution, along with a moderate amount of catching up. On the bright side, if I can stick to 7:30 at the dining table it looks as though 50K might be possible I hope, dear readers, that things are going well with your NaNo projects/other creative work, and that you also learned some cool new stuff this week.

Duke and the serpent

On the pond before sunrise the swan parents were still groggy. The teenager, ready for the day, arched his back and flapped his wings, sending ripples in their direction. Mother pulled her beak out from under her wing, but father kept his head tucked down. He looked like a plastic bag, adrift. If I hadn’t been looking for swans, or if the light had been just a little poorer, maybe I’d have conjured up a monster for our little pond.

Nessie keeps poking her giant head into my journal this month. “Why do I keep drawing the Loch Ness monster?” is apparently a unique Google question. Auto-complete is happy to answer the how, but not why. Nessie’s easy to draw (even for somebody as bad at drawing as I am), and as I like to sketch ponds and seas and rivers, etc., she has popped up occasionally in the past when I go into “here be dragons” mode. Then she started peeking out of the curves of the numeral 2. I found myself piling her curves into a bathtub with a glass of wine, trailing her around a dressing table. She drove the kids to school, compared her to-do list with mine.

Google directed me to pages where I learned the word “cryptid.” (Autocorrect doesn’t believe it’s a word…Suck it, Autocorrect.) Cryptids are animals presumed to exist based on anecdotal (some might say manufactured or suggested) rather than scientific evidence. Bigfoot, yeti, Nessie.

I was familiar with the blurry black-and-white surgeon’s photograph of her, but I didn’t know that stories about a water monster near the loch dated back at least to the A.D. 500s. Supernatural/monstrous water creatures have long been a part of Scottish folklore. The Nessie of the early stories was fearsome: man-eating, bloodthirsty as a great white shark. Ultimately she was repelled by a saint. That temperament might fit Nessie in the car–at least on the roads here in Massachusetts–but the Nessie of the past century or two seems wary of people rather than hungry for them. A flurry of reported sightings in the late 1800s made the local papers and then died down. It was in the 1930s, a decade heavily populated with human monsters, that Nessie reared her lovely head again.

In 1933, George Spicer and his wife claimed to have seen, while driving in their car, a serpent-like creature with a long neck, about four feet high and twenty-five feet long, with no visible feet. The creature slithered or perhaps lumbered or waddled across the road in front of their car and into the loch. The loch itself is 22 miles long at its largest point and has an average depth of 433 feet. Plenty of room for a fabulous beast.

The most fascinating person associated with the 1930s sightings has to be Marmaduke (“Duke”) Wetherell, a British-South African movie actor, writer, and director with crazy eyes and a Vandyke beard 80 years before hipsters took up that trend. While his movie career is documented as lasting from 1918 to 1937, his greatest role may have been convincing the Daily Mail editors that he was a big game hunter who should be put on the Loch Ness story. Arriving at the loch in 1934 with camera and crew, he quickly found tracks. He confidently asserted that these had been made by an enormous beast consistent with the Spicers’ description. Photos document him looking moodily out at the lake, boarding a boat, consulting maps, and #lstanding in long grass and holding up a pair of calipers up to the footprints, a cigaret dangling from his lower lip.

Alas, it wasn’t long before experts determined that the footprints had been faked, possibly using an ornamental hippopotamus foot from an umbrella stand. I personally think it was genius, choosing an animal whose name in greek meant “water horse”; also, how glad I am that I have never lived in a house where there was an umbrella stand made from a formerly living animal’s foot. Following those revelations, Wetherell performed shocked outrage and embarrassment convincingly. It wasn’t until years later that he was suspected of having contrived the footprints in the first place.

Sixty years after the fact, in 1994, Wetherall was revealed to have been connected to the surgeon’s photograph, which was taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson. Christian Spurling, Wetherell’s stepson, told journalists that the monster had actually been a model, sculpted by himself and taped to a child’s submarine. Supposedly this was done at the instigation of Wetherell out of a motive of “revenge” towards the Daily Mail after it made fun of him for being fooled by the hippo prints. Although…if he wasn’t a real big game hunter, but a movie actor, how much had his pride actually been wounded?

Loch Ness monster sightings continue to this day. As a nearsighted person who hates to wear her prescription glasses, I find this unsurprising. I doubt that Nessie naps in the loch’s frigid waters, but I welcome the ambiguous photos and films. Life is more interesting when the faraway is blurry enough to be fantastic. On a closer view the dwarves may resolve into tree stumps, stags fold into mailboxes, marvelous taletellers devolve into hoaxers. But sometimes rocks turn into turtles, or plastic bags into swans.

Word choice terrible

I pressed the Publish button with my usual sense of relief.

“Shouldn’t that be ‘streets,’ not ‘roads’?” Dave asked. He’d been reading my last post, Exit from the Sore Losers’ Club, over my shoulder and had gotten to the paragraph where I describe elements of the cribbage board. I’d put “roads” as the name of the line of holes that cribbage pegs travel over the course of the game.

I checked my references and found that I’d reached for lightning and hit a lightning bug, again.

Maybe you’ve run across this famous Mark Twain quote? “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” A piece of advice that’s stuck in my brain alongside of E.B. White’s dictum on the difference between nauseated and nauseous and my address at age 11.

Twain didn’t originate this phrase, though he improved on it. The American dialect humorist Josh Billings, a friend of Twain’s, wrote “Don’t mistake vivacity for wit, thare iz about az mutch difference az thare iz between lightning and a lightning bug.” Twain’s version has fewer annoying misspellings and reorders the consequent so that the bigger and better (right word) matches with “lightning” rather than with the bug.

Although maybe Billings meant to match lightning bug with wit? Lightning bugs (aka fireflies, and more properly, Lampyridae beetles) are fascinating creatures. Garden-level stars, they are purposeful, which lightning is not. As kids, we tried to lure the males–they’re the flashy flyers, signaling in hope of finding a mate; the females respond from the ground, single flashes–into lantern-shaped jars with ventilated lids. Once in the jar, though, the boy bugs would quickly cease flashing. After a few minutes, we would unscrew the lid, hoping for better luck next time. We never learned.

Freed, the males continued their mating flights, a venture that involved greater risks than kids with lantern jars. Adult fireflies are protected from many predators. Evidently the chemicals that produce their glow taste yucky. Lightning bugs’ diet varies by species; some eat pollen or nectar, and some are carnivorous. What do carnivorous fireflies eat? Other species of fireflies!

It’s rare that I see lightning bugs now. When the developers move in with McMansions and strip malls, the fireflies don’t leave; they just die out. Pollution’s also reducing their population. Lightning, of course, is still around. I love to see those magnificent flashes, especially in the summer, from a distance. My favorite is the kind that arcs from the sky to the ground, burning a road in the sky.

That little word “road” snuck in like a bug when I wrote my post about cribbage, flashing at me. My first draft referred to “streets,” but as I jammed more words into the jar, streets flew free and roads stayed.

I understand why it seemed right. A “road” is the name for something that connects one point to another. That would be apropos to cribbage, where there are two points: start, and finish. “Street,” however, is “a public way that has buildings on both sides of it.” There’s also a connotation of a street being within a town/city, so it could be spun as appropriate, given that it’s confined to the cribbage board. (Avenue, boulevard, lanes, alleys, drives, parkways, circles…each one is its own thing–maybe tomorrow’s dive down the rabbit hole?) To my mind road fits the cribbage board better than street. What matters is that “streets” is the true name. The lightning.

I shooed Dave out of the room, hit the edit button, and began to type.

East-west tangent

Four months into the project to explore my town on foot, I’ve been backtracking a bit, revisiting favorite neighborhoods and catching some side streets I missed.  Saturday I returned to a development curled between Main Street and the highway.   The first pass was back in May.  Rain and hill-strained calves had led to a shorter walk than usual, and I’d skipped Army Street.  On Google maps, Army Street ended in a curious loop, rather like a bubble wand.  Intriguing.    

I parked behind the northernmost strip mall in town, the last before the exit to the highway.   The morning was overcast, temperature in the high 60s, with a breeze–almost chilly, a delight after a string of  horrible hot days.     

The neighborhood is built into the Blue Hills, which get their name due to looking blue from a sailor’s distance.  (That’s because they contain a lot of riebeckite, says Wikipedia.)   Large portions of the Blue Hills–much of the area just across the highway, in fact–have been designated parkland/nature preserve, and people swim, hike, bike, and even ski in them.        

I followed the central road east, going up a (mostly) gentle rise.  The hills’ contours here  been smoothed and graded for streets and houses. The highway noise blurred to something like ocean waves.   At the end of the central road I found Army Street.      

At first it was quite ordinary-looking.  Split-levels and small ranches, mostly.  Through the tree belt came silver flashes as pods of cars swam toward the city.    At the end of the street, at the loop, I found five McMansions in a semicircle.   It’s typical around here to find a grander, newer house or two on streets that dead-end (rather than terminate at another street).  The McMansions, all built in the 2000s, are larger than the average 1900s houses.  They almost universally feature a central front door beneath a large cathedral-style window (and sometimes a purely ornamental balcony), symmetrical sets of neat square windows upstairs and downstairs, and an attached two-car garage…  Some developer had managed to take another bite out of the Blue Hills.

But the center of the cul-de-sac contained a wonder: an island of wilderness.  Not huge, maybe 25 feet in diameter, but with big, climbable rocks, bushes, and trees, rising rather defiantly into the air.    I wished I could clamber up the rocks into the center, shinny up a tree, and see all the way to Boston.    

Definitely worth the revisit.

I turned west, took in a couple of new-to-me side streets, then came on Christy Lane, which I remembered…I wasn’t sure for what, though.   It was close to my car, so I took the street.  Memories flooded back.  In May it had been decorated end-to-end with sidewalk chalk,  down the middle of the street and spilling onto sidewalks and driveways.  Bright stars and butterflies, hearts and vines, messages of hope and encouragement and solidarity.  Signs in windows and on doors that echoed the words chalked on the street.  I’d never seen anything quite like it, and it made me feel happy.  

Christy Lane encompasses a single curving block.  Houses are set into the hill on the east side, with driveway-to-door stair-cased walks.  Houses on the west side of the street are on leveled ground.   It’s a street too old and too short for McMansions.  

In May, I remember feeling united with my fellow New Englanders in the fight against Covid-19, convinced that with some shared sacrifices things would sort out in just a few months.  We’d already been through almost two months of shutdown, so an end was surely in sight.   In August, the pavement on Christy Lane was black and bare.  The signs were gone from doors and lawns.  I wondered if rain had washed away the drawings, or if it had been too hot to have children out drawing on the pavement.   The summer flowers bloomed vibrantly and the air was sweet with the promise of rain, but my mood flagged as I walked past the neat, still houses.      

Then I rounded the bend and saw letters at the mouth of the lane.  A reminder writ big, the first thing residents must see when coming home.   The last thing I would see before going home.   “Be the change you want to see in the world,” the words said, ringed by hearts, flowers, vines and stars.    I want to see change in the world, but the future is so blank and bleary I can’t seem to fix on a vision.   Christy Lane hasn’t given up; maybe that resolute optimism can sharpen my eyes.  

Golden half hour

Our bedroom’s on the west side of the house.  At this time of year there’s one window close enough to the oak in our background so that the frame is entirely filled with leaves, big messy waving bunches of them.  The best time to view that living picture’s about 6:30 on a summer evening.   

Photographers call it the golden hour, before sunset or sunrise, when the light glows warm, where shadows soften.  Pictures taken at these times are particularly flattering.  From my comfy chair across the room, the sun seems even brighter, more brilliant, slanting at an angle that sets a halo around each leaf.  Sadly, the light show lasts half an hour at most.

The leaves change from dusty green to emerald with veins of gold.  Some bleach to silver and snow.  The west wind splashes the light around, revealing more colors: hunter, jade, seafoam, smoke.   The gusts move the branches like a housewife shaking a feather duster.   Then the wind stills.  The leaves droop, disappointed.   A zephyr blows in a new rumor–the leaves shiver and pass it on.   

Who knows what the leaves hear from the wind, what stories are they’re passing along?  Maybe it’s news of where the squirrel has moved its den, or something seen through our windows.     Yet I love the green and golden leaves, no matter whose secrets they’re spilling.