Newton


Eventual winner (Jeptoo)

One year ago today was a beautiful day in the Boston suburbs. It was sunny and cool–perfect race weather–as J and I walked from our house to Commonwealth Avenue, were we watch the Boston Marathon every year. “Our” corner is situated between Miles 18 and 19 of the race, about a mile before Heartbreak Hill. Last year like every other, J and I arrived at the race in time to see the last of the wheelchair runners, the first of the front-runners, and the swarming throng of average Joes running, jogging, or limping their way toward Boston.

Calf sleeves

Folks who live within walking distance of the race route often make a day of watching the Marathon, arriving with picnics, kids, dogs, and sporting equipment in tow. On our way to watch last year’s Marathon, J and I saw two young boys—brothers, best friends, or both—taking turns pulling a red wagon heaped with soccer balls, Frisbees, and a baseball glove that tumbled to the sidewalk. “Hey, kids,” J and I cried. “You lost your glove!” The boys stopped, retrieved the glove, and carefully tucked it back into the wagon, fussing over the contents as solicitously as any new parent would swaddle a newborn.

Blind runner with guide

It looked like a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and I’ve thought of it occasionally over the past few weeks as updated security measures have been unveiled for this year’s Marathon. This year, backpacks and coolers are no longer allowed along the race route, and there will be no more military troops marching with laden rucksacks. One of the unfortunate but understandable effects of last year’s attack is a heightened suspicion toward anything large enough to hide a pressure cooker, whether that be a backpack, baby stroller, or red wagon heaped with soccer balls and baseball gloves. Officially gone are the days of watching the Marathon in blithe disregard of any danger.

Second sole

One of the still-unbelievable aspects of last year’s attack was the way it bisected an otherwise beautiful day into the irreconcilable categories of “Before” and “After.” J and I walked to the Marathon in the morning, watching and cheering runners for a few hours before heading toward home, stopping for lunch along the way. Seeing our cameras, the guy behind the counter asked if we were going to the Marathon, and we explained we’d already been and were heading home. Over lunch, J and I remembered the previous year’s Marathon, which had happened days after we’d put Reggie to sleep. That year, we remarked, had been a trying one, but this year promised to be better. “Unless disaster strikes,” I remarked without any sense of foreboding.

No stopping

One year ago today, disaster did strike, but it missed J and me. By the time the first Boylston Street bomb went off at 2:49 pm, we were already home, sorting through the pictures we’d taken and planning to spend the rest of the afternoon working. I was planning to blog a handful of photos and tried to access Boston.com to look up the names of the winning runners, only to find the site sluggish and unresponsive. Only after J and I got a voicemail from a concerned relative did we realized Boston had made the national news for all the wrong reasons.

Never give up

One year later, I’m still struggling to reconcile the two halves of that divided day. How could a bright and sunny morning so quickly turn into something dark and sorrowful? Today is a gray and drizzly day in the Boston suburbs, and that seems appropriate for a day of remembrance. Next Monday, we’ll show up in our usual spot to cheer on the runners, but we’ll be ever-mindful of the lives, limbs, and innocence that were lost one year ago today.

One year later, the post I eventually wrote about the 2013 Boston Marathon still feels spot-on.

Not yet hammock season

All the times J and I have passed this hammock on our way to or from our local T stop, I’ve never seen anyone lying in it. Still, there’s something soothing about the sight of an empty (and thus inviting) hammock hanging between two trees, even if it’s the middle of February and the snow is puddled with melt water.

Well-dressed

Today and yesterday have been mercifully mild: February thaw. The last looming glaciers of icy snow thundered from our roof on Friday, and there are bare patches of muddy ground beneath the towering pines that fringe our neighbor’s yard. Yesterday we had lunch in Jamaica Plain, where the sidewalks were thronged with window-shoppers, baby-strollers, dog-walkers, and more than a few people sitting outside eating ice cream: a defiant thumbing-of-one’s nose to Old Man Winter.

Dirty snow / buried bench

Old Man Winter isn’t done with us yet: there’s a chance of snow showers tonight, the possibility of more snow on Wednesday, and rumors of snow next weekend. Everyone knows March is a fickle month–in like a lion, out like a lamb–but that doesn’t matter right now, when the temperature is well above freezing and our ears thrill to the sound of bird calls and dripping melt water.

Buried patio furniture

Today was sunny in the aftermath of last week’s snowstorms, as so often happens. In Saturday’s storm, we got about five inches of new snow, which was less than we’d braced for…but that fell atop the eight inches we got last Thursday. Tomorrow, the forecast calls for another three to five inches, one storm layering atop the previous one. After so many storms, three, five, or even eight inches of new snow doesn’t sound like much: just add it to the pile.

Front door icicle curtain

Today, as I said, was sunny, but the temperature never rose above freezing. Still, the icicles that fringe our eaves and curtain our doorways dripped and elongated in the sun, and I found myself hoping the snow piles would sublime under the sun’s radiating glance, passing straight from solid to vapor: snow piles slipping away as mist. Although it’s true that snow piles sometimes shrink on dry and windy days, I can’t say we have any less snow tonight than we did this morning. Still, it’s cheering to see the sun baking exposed patches of road even though too many of our neighbors still haven’t cleared their sidewalks.

Buried birdbath

Later this week, the forecasters promise temperatures warm enough to melt some of the snow: anything to make an inroad on so much accumulation. Although J dutifully trudges through knee-deep snow to fill our backyard bird feeder, it will be a while before the sun sees the bottom of our backyard birdbath, and even longer (I suspect) before it’s warm enough for any brave bird to dip a tentative toe in its brisk bath.

The perfect man...on sale

Friday is my usual grocery day, so yesterday I took advantage of a one-day respite between snowstorms to stock up on provisions for the week. The grocery store parking lot was more crowded than usual, with enormous snow piles taking up a whole row of parking spaces. As I approached the store, a handful of college guys in sweatshirts and slouchy jeans poured out of a car and sauntered in ahead of me, making a bee-line for a colorful display of flowers, chocolates, and heart-shaped balloons. Obviously their girlfriends have trained them well.

A singing spot of color

In the produce section, an employee stood by a display of boxed strawberries and a chocolate fountain, a throng of women waiting in line to select the berries they’d dip. All over the store, lone men steered shopping carts laden with ingredients for a romantic meal, the pasta, salad, and garlic bread in their carts clearly indicating that Valentine’s Day is Dad’s turn to cook.

Icicles on a gray day

What I didn’t see at the grocery store yesterday were panicked people hoarding milk, eggs, and bread in advance of today’s snowstorm, as sometimes happens earlier in the season. This is the ninth snowstorm we’ve had this year: I know because we’ve kept a tally of “snow events” on our refrigerator, another mark added every time we get more than a broom-sweeping’s worth of snow. After eight snowstorms, we pretty much know the drill: we know to hunker down during the storm, dig out as soon as it stops, and return to usual the next day. After eight snowstorms, you might say that Mother Nature has us well-trained.

The forecast said rain

Today is the first day of spring semester at Framingham State, and we have a snowstorm predicted for this afternoon and evening, with potentially a half foot of snow arriving by tomorrow. That’s how the so-called “spring semester” works in New England: you start in snow, then you end in spring. In between you navigate the bitterly cold days of January, the interminable month of February, and the spring-fever of March, when every ounce of your being longs for sandal-season. When April, May, and the end of the semester come, you feel like you’ve earned every last moment of warmth and light.

The forecast said rain

Whereas fall semester starts when New England is at her prettiest, spring semester begins in the dreary, dismal days of midwinter, when everything already feels worn and tired. Both the semester and the year are new, but everything else feels like a trudging slog. It’s easy in September to get your fresh-faced students excited about new ideas and new beginnings: everyone has new outfits, new school supplies, and a new resolve, and simply stepping outside into the brisk autumnal air is refreshing and invigorating. Serving up the same inspiration and energy on a cold and dreary midwinter day is much more challenging.

The forecast said rain

On Saturday morning, before the first fat snowflakes of what had been forecast as rain began to fall, I went into our front yard to look for snowdrops. Last week was unseasonably warm, and I’d heard rumors that snowdrops were blooming early elsewhere…and indeed, there were a few grayish-green shoots poking out of the earth beneath our eaves: the first hint of (eventual) spring flowers. Now, of course, those tentative sprouts are buried under snow and more snow: it will be a while, it seems, before our snowdrops emerge from the snowdrifts and bloom in sun. What starts in snow needs to continue in snow for a few months more.

Snowy backyard, with path to dog pen

We’re accustomed to seeing January as a season of new beginnings when actually winter is the season of stopping. Perhaps the reason the new year starts in January is to convince us that something new is happening right at that point of year when nothing seems to be moving at all. The plants are dormant or dead; the birds are largely inactive, doing nothing other than feeding and fluttering, with little singing or strutting; and many mammals are hibernating, having disappeared into dens and burrows. Even the earth itself seems to be sleeping, the sun having turned a cold shoulder. What better time to turn off or at least inward, letting one’s own imagination go fallow during a season of contemplation and renewal.

Frosted windows

Why are New Year’s resolutions so popular other than the simple fact that this is the worst time of year to make them? Every January when the sidewalks are encased in ice and crusted over with rutted slabs of ankle-twisting snow, throngs of new walkers and runners hit the streets, determined to start an exercise routine when the days are coldest and darkest. It’s infinitely easier to run or walk in the spring and summer, when the sidewalks are clear, the streets are well-illuminated, and you don’t need to wrap yourself in layers of swaddling, but few people start workout routines then. Instead, the middle of winter is when we resolve to turn over a new leaf even though the trees themselves are bare of actual leaves. The season when seasoned runners find themselves most challenged is exactly when new runners (and walkers) set out in droves to begin their self-improvement anew even though all natural indications suggest that mid-winter is the time to stop and surrender all such striving.

Frosted windows

If you want to go against the grain—if you want to defy nature—make a firm resolve to improve yourself in January, or any other month. Something there is that doesn’t like a wall, and something there is that doesn’t like improvement, neatening, and straightening. Closets naturally prefer to be cluttered, bodies are gravitationally inclined to sag, and motionless objects automatically surrender to inertia. As I type these words, I’m surrounded by sleeping cats who show no desire to move or be moved, being content instead to lie nestled into the furry warmth of their own slumbers.

Frosted windows

Winter, in other words, is a natural time for stopping, for sleeping, for retreating; only the perversion of a pagan holiday convinces us instead to see January—that two-faced month—as being a season for starting, for initiative rather than inertia. In January, I tell myself I should walk more at the very time of year when I feel like walking less.

When J and I left for lunch today, there was a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, his pale belly lit by slanting sunlight. At the birdfeeder were three fat squirrels—one hanging on the feeder itself, and the other two scavenging seeds underneath—and all three seemed oblivious to the bird soaring overhead even though red-tails regularly feed on squirrels. Those fat squirrels seemed almost smug in their blithe disregard, as if they knew the fatter they became, the more difficult they would be to be plucked from the sky. The squirrels that would be the tastiest to consume are also the hardest to catch.

Although today’s post is illustrated with photos I shot today, I actually wrote it last year: an overlooked draft I never got around to posting, and thus perfect material for a day when I left the house only to take the dogs to and from our backyard dog pen.

Closeup

Today J and I walked to Newton Centre, where we had lunch at Johnny’s Luncheonette. J typically has the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s off: work is slow then, with many of his co-workers taking the remainder of their vacation days. J and I typically don’t travel for the holidays, so we use this “off but at home” time to rest, take lunchtime walks, and otherwise recharge.

Strutting

On our walk home from Johnny’s, we stopped at a new beer store in Newton Centre, where J bought a bottle of his favorite Belgian beer and I bought a disc of my favorite Mexican chocolate. It was a small indulgence on a day when we hadn’t planned to go shopping: a decision on a whim to duck into a store we’d never explored before.

Quartet

Had J and I not stopped for impromptu beer and chocolate on our way home from lunch, maybe we would have missed the half dozen turkeys we saw foraging in someone’s yard near the intersection of Beacon and Walnut Streets: a busy stretch of road with enough woodsy fringe to harbor our local yardbirds.

And if you’ve ever wondered whether wild turkeys perch on branches rather than simply strutting like chickens, they do indeed take to the trees when the impulse strikes them. So on this second day of Christmas, instead of contemplating a partridge in a pear tree, J and I were treated to the sight of a turkey in a crab-apple tree.

And a turkey in a crabapple tree

Two teams, one anthem

Later this afternoon, J and I are going to Boston College for a men’s hockey game. J and I used to be in the habit of going to Bruins games on Black Friday, as the Bruins typically have a matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving, when both J and I are off work. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, their ticket prices skyrocketed, so now we go to far fewer professional hockey games.

Face-off

Fortunately, Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of our house, and BC hasn’t raised ticket prices after winning three national championships in the past five years. Attending a college hockey game is a different, more “family friendly,” experience than attending a professional hockey game. There’s no alcohol served at college games, so you’re far less likely to sit next to drunk and rowdy fans; instead, BC hockey games tend to attract parents shepherding flocks of hockey-crazy kids whose hooligan antics are more likely fueled by sugar and pent-up energy than anything alcoholic.

Opening face-off

On the ice, college hockey games feature far fewer fights than in the pros: although the competition gets just as heated, college players who fight get tossed from the game rather than simply spending five minutes in the penalty box. As much as I appreciate the unwritten rules of professional hockey fights, I also appreciate the calmer, more “focused” energy apparent at college hockey games. At a professional game, you get the sense that a good number of the fans are more interested in drinking and watching fights than they are in following the actual game. At college hockey games, on the other hand, you’ll often encounter hockey parents who use the game as a teachable moment, coaching their kids on how to apply in their own games the techniques they see on the ice.

Baldwin's bunch

BC’s mascot, Baldwin, also apparently sees home hockey games as a good change to mingle with young hockey fans, both on and off the ice. On a day typically devoted to shopping outings that occasionally turn violent, it seems downright wholesome to spend the afternoon watching a fierce but family-friendly competition that ends in handshakes.

Good game!

The photos illustrating today’s post come from a February, 2009 game against the University of Massachusetts. This is my Day 29 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Leaf bags and snow flurries

…you can shoot a single photo showing snow flurries (which appear here as blurry white streaks) falling on a curbside arrangement of brimming-full leaf bags.

Reddened hydrangea leaves

Late November is a challenging time for photographers. Most of the leaves have fallen and been bagged, leaving both the trees and ground bare. Most of the color has drained from the landscape, and there isn’t yet any snow to brighten the scene. The sun is well on its way toward setting in the late afternoon, leaving us to contemplate long, cold nights.

Although I usually rail against Christmas displays that appear before Thanksgiving, in the darkening days of November, I make an exception for Christmas lights. When the days are gray and the nights are long, any source of extra light is appreciated, especially if it is accompanied by a spirit of festive good cheer.

This is my Day 26 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Furry and fiery

One week after the Japanese maple in our front yard lit up like a red torch, I shot this close-up of a Japanese maple at Boston College, its leaves burning orange rather than red. In autumn, it’s best to stay on the alert, as you never know when the trees around you will catch fire.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday them, Fiery, as well as my Day 22 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

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