Sunday, November 4, 2007

Boston Half-baked Beans

Public Garden

After landing on a dark and stormy night, I got outside as quickly as possible the next morning and strolled beneath the fully-leaved trees in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue. It seemed incredibly lush after the near bare trees I’d left behind in Duluth. This took me to the Public Garden, one of my favorite spots in Boston, where I returned often during the next two weeks. Towering Belgian Elms among many other species, the man feeding rock doves perched on his hand, the lagoon with its geese and mallards, the Arlington Street Church with my memories across the way, tourists taking photos of bright red maple leaves and hefty but sleek grey squirrels. As I sat on a bench jotting notes and thinking how lucky I was to have lived most of my life in this city, I glanced up to see an attractive woman, one of the many who’d already made an impression, smile at me.

She and the other women of Boston had me fantasizing about losing twenty years and pounds, and feeling more aware of that aspect of life than I am in Duluth. I’ve reached an age where I’ve started to have some regrets about my past choosiness in taking lovers, while paradoxically being so much choosier now that I’m really not looking for any new ones at all. Not that the near-vegan, deep ecologist, non-driving, atheist pool is very large anyway; there ain’t a lot of fish in that sea, and I’ve learned over the years that relationships with women who don’t share core values are doomed and not worth much. Except maybe when you’re old and thinking back about missed opportunities of shallowness.

Veggie Food Fest

After a day flying followed by little sleep in a hot smelly noisy hostel, I wasn’t in the mood for the crowds of the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival this year. They really must find a larger space to hold this event. I only stayed for an hour, collecting a bag full of free samples and saying hello to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. The highlight was the award-winning carrot cake from Cafe Indigo. Asked on my second walk by if I’d tried it, I said, “Yes, could I try it again?” Fortunately, my visit the following day to Maple Farm Sanctuary, which I’ll write a separate entry about, made the date of my trip worthwhile.

Arnold Arboretum

Visiting the arboretum was a trip back in time on many levels, not only due to many memories from years past, but also a step back to fall colors after bare trees, and to the sound of blue jays whose brethren had migrated through Duluth in the thousands weeks earlier. My favorite part of the arboretum had always been Hemlock Hill, an area currently being destroyed by the non-native woolly adelgid. It’s very sad to see this spot in decline with most of the trees dying and what had been a dark cool habitat opening up to the sun. My sadness was relieved somewhat when a snake appeared and I watched him for a few minutes. As a winter lover with limited time, I focused the rest of my visit on the conifer tour. Where among these dozens of trees from around the world did I find Eastern Grey Squirrels? Why, under the local native Pitch Pines, of course.

I used to live a couple blocks from the arboretum on the only dirt road (a short alley actually) I knew of in Boston, with a view of tall oaks where I saw fat raccoons. After a couple years, the road was paved and all the space between buildings turned into a parking lot. As I walked past on this visit, I saw on the paved parking lot, they put up some condominiums, and they’ll charge all the people an arm and a leg just to live in them. Incidentally, I was never that much of a Joni Mitchell fan but her latest CD Shine is a good collection focused primarily on the natural world and our destruction of it.

Into the Wild

Saw the movie version in Boston since it never came to Duluth and I thought this might be better on a big screen. I didn’t find any of the book’s power in the movie, although several (Holbrook, Keener, Stewart) of the supporting cast do a great job of bringing their characters to life. What I didn’t feel at all though was the connection with Chris McCandless I get when reading the book, so the movie felt empty to me.

Here Come the Suns

Browsing a bookstore, I found interesting November issues of two magazines I used to buy regularly. Shambhala Sun is a Buddhist mag but this issue includes articles by many people familiar to those interested in issues concerning the nature/society relationship: Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Theodore Roszak, Dianne Ackerman, and a Bill McKibben review of a book by Paul Hawken. Toss in an article about songwriter Leonard Cohen. The second magazine, The Sun, was long one of my favorites, allowing no advertisements and with much of the content written by its readers. This issue has an animal theme with Derrick Jensen writing on zoos, Sue Hubbell on a rehab bird named Bird, an essay on ravens, another on dogs in church, animal photos set to words of Walt Whitman, and animal related quotes including this one by Ed Abbey: “When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.”

Why I Went to Sea and What I Saw There

I didn’t actually. I stood in line in the cold wind for about 45 minutes before the whale watch was canceled due to high waves, and I wasn’t able to reschedule as their season ended a couple days later. But I’d already thought of the title and wanted to use it for Walden fans. Why I went to sea in the past? Because watching a humpback whale breach, or seeing her uniquely patterned flukes slip back into the water following a surfacing is a powerful experience. Because there is a great peace in being 30 miles from shore with no other sign of humanity in any direction, a peace not easily obtained on land.


Sickness had kept me from doing much in my second week other than enjoying being in the area as the Red Sox won the World Series and rereading a couple essay collections I’d brought along and plan to write about. Maybe taking life slowly was what led me feel like I was Home again, which I hadn’t felt on previous trips or even during the last few years I lived there. I found myself appreciating the landscape of hills and heavily forested countryside, amazed by how tall the trees were even in residential areas like the one where I was staying.

So I didn’t make it to Walden Pond until the day before I flew back. After arriving in Concord on a delayed train, I first stopped at Fairyland Pond which I had to myself except for a dozen geese in the water and perched on a fallen tree. Oak leaves and pine needles covered the ground in a combination I hadn’t realized how much I missed. Many other memories of humans and other animals I’d shared this place with hung in the air with the low clouds.

Still heavily congested, cluttered with thoughts of the trip home if not Home, and planning to make a couple more Boston stops that day, I wasn’t in a very alert naturalist mode but I still noticed part of a crushed turtle shell as I walked along the road to Walden, where I found one area of shoreline collapsed (most of the walk around the pond is a narrow path with a fence on both sides to help prevent erosion) but another shoreline area covered with many four-foot pines. There was a big crowd of kids at the cabin site so I didn’t make my usual stop there, nor did I make it downtown to the gravesite for my usual reflection and thanks. The shop was closed due to construction so I also wasn’t able to buy a book I intended to get. Much hadn’t gone as planned both on this day and on this vacation but they had still been good ones.

The Return

The trip east had been made over heavy cloud cover with no good views even during landings and takeoffs. I had much better luck going west as we took off over Boston Harbor with good views of the city and Cape Cod, and heading west over Quabbin Reservoir, Hudson River, Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, Lakes Erie and Michigan. Coming into Duluth over Lake Superior, we paralleled the sand bar with a good view of the shipping entrances and one of my favorite hiking spots.

A smooth travel day until I actually got here. After landing, it appeared my bag had been lost as it didn’t appear. After waiting at a counter and filling out a form, I took a look up the luggage ramp on my way out. Up at the top I thought I just might be seeing a little silver which just might be my black and silver bag in the darkness. Back to the counter where I had someone climb the ramp...YES, my bag was here. Then another wait for a cab (yes, here one must call for a cab at the airport). I’d given my only apartment building key to the person feeding my cat, and with the managers and everyone else I tried calling out, it took me an hour to get into the building. OK, Universe, no need to be so subtle. Just give me that lottery win to pay expenses and I’m outta here.

First thoughts on seeing my cat after two weeks with a miniature dachshund: So Big, So Black, So White.

1 comment:

Lisa J. (aka Oboe-Wan) said...

I thought about you when I read Colleen's entry on the Veg Food Fest. Glad someone I "know" was there! She's a great person (I've talked to her on the phone before) and I hope I have the opportunity to meet her in the flesh some time.

I didn't grow up in New England (I grew up in Western NY) but having lived in MA for 9 years certainly left an impression on me. Visiting friends in Boston was always a fun experience, and I have to admit I do miss our trips...

I'm sure you were a sight for you kitty's sore eyes, too!! Glad to have you home. All of us.

Thanks for sharing the details of your trip! Sorry the whale-watch was cancelled, though marks for bravery because boats scare me to death.

Catch ya soon!!