October 2005

Baker Farm Road, Lincoln, MA

Yesterday on my way to the DeCordova Museum to meet Leslee for a sun-drenched afternoon of art, I took a wrong turn, venturing down Baker Farm Road toward the Thoreau Institute before I realized the road I wanted was Baker Bridge toward the Gropius House. Luckily the Sunday drivers in Lincoln, MA were out in force, forcing me to sit at this corner long enough to snap a picture while waiting my turn to turn onto Route 126, headed away from Walden Pond.

Thoreau himself liked to get lost in the woods around Concord…and the first and only other time I ventured into the Sculpture Park at the DeCordova was years ago by accident, after I’d inadvertently wandered from the Lincoln Conservation Lands onto the DeCordova property and promptly found myself staring, confused, at a giant stone head. Yes, unannounced art can be disorienting when you’ve been wandering the woods alone.

Yesterday’s wrong turn was promptly righted: Baker Bridge is the turn just past Baker Farm and offers visual delights of its own. Given these two roads diverged in a yellow wood, which would you have taken?

Baker Bridge Road, Lincoln, MA

Superheroes lurk in surprising places. I snapped a surreptitious photo of a local hero’s hideout while waiting at the bank drive-through yesterday. Although I’m mildly curious about the secretive hero who lurks within an otherwise mundane second floor office, I’m more curious to know where I could get a similar sign for my office window. (Click on image for an enlarged version.)

For just as the splendiferous Superman goes incognito as the mild mannered Clark Kent, I spend my days as a quiet college prof and my nights as a wild-roaming, pencam-wielding SuperBlogger. Last night I met A (not her real initial) for Beer & Burritos at one of our preferred hideouts in Cambridge, MA, followed by chocolate goodness at another favorite haunt. Below is a secret shot I snapped with what “A” has begun calling my “spycam.” Do you think any of these chocolate- and mocha-sipping sophisticates had any clue that a photo-blogging superhero was in their midst?

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Delicate, which gives me a good reason to repost this image from the US Botanical Garden in Washington, DC. With all the gray weather we’ve been having in New Hampshire these days, it’s nice to see a splash of remembered color. And since it currently isn’t raining here–and since we actually have a SUNNY day forecast for Sunday–maybe my weather-influenced moods won’t continue to be so Delicate themselves.

It’s official: we’re officially Sick of Rain here in the sodden Northeast. This morning I made my usual rounds through the blogosphere only to discover that both Leslee and Kathleen share my drizzle-drenched malaise. It looks like the only Quick Fix anyone can think of it to get outta here, fast: anyone with three tickets to Warm, Dry, & Preferably Hurricane-Free can send them this way, quickly, and I’ll tell Leslee and Kathleen to pack their bags, pronto.

While I’m planted here in Mudville in the interim, I decided I needed a little help staying Warm & Happy this winter. Since yesterday was the one-year anniversary of D-day, I D-cided I D-served a reward for surviving the first year after my D-vorce. Heeding the prophecies of a long, cold winter, I headed to my local Bed, Bath, and Beyond to buy one of these. And after just one night of toasty comfort, all I can do is wonder how I survived New England winters back in the day when winter meant crawling into a blanket-laden bed with cold flannel sheets.

So yes, it’s official. This year, I’m hibernating. Somebody tell Mother Nature that I for one am mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it any more. The ’60s were the era of Sit-Ins, and I propose the ’00s to be the decade of warm, electric-preheated Sleep-Ins…starting tomorrow, after I go to teach another gaggle of sleepy-eyed, freshly crawled-from-bed freshmen who love this dismal weather about as much as I do.

Rain-soaked quad

This is what the campus of Keene State College looked like yesterday, when day-long rains turned the quad in front of Huntress Hall into a sloshy swamp. Huntress is presumably haunted, but these days it isn’t ghosts that disturb my dreams but the seemingly ceaseless sound of raindrops and the possible floods they presage.

Rain-soaked foliage

With all the rain and flood-warnings we’ve had here in the Monadnock region over the past few weeks, I’m starting to think we’re suffering Post Torrential Stress Disorder. In the antediluvian days, I used to enjoy the sound of raindrops on windows: there was nothing cozier than the thought of curling up in bed with a book while wet weather raged outside. These days, though, my stomach sinks when I hear the sound of rain. Even though my house was spared the worst of the flood damage, I find myself worrying that my luck won’t hold: what if the cellar floods? What if the furnace fails? How can I curl up in bed with a book if I lose my heat, hot water, and power (again)?

Although most of Keene has recovered from the worst of the flooding, I still hear from my porch the sound of pump motors and gurgling water-tubes from neighbors’ basements: no sooner do their cellars start to drain but another round of rain begins, filling basements like wells. Over two weeks after the flood, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing drenched piles of belongings along curbsides and filled Dumpsters in neighbors’ yards as clean-up continues to continue. Long after my landlord drained my cellar, yellow-jacketed Disaster Relief crews still frequent nearby houses where the fight against damp, mold, and mildew is not yet over…and in today’s newspaper, there’s grisly news of another sort of clean-up as the bodies of missing residents are being gradually recovered among wayward flood debris.

Fallen leaves

In light of these reminders of the real toll of our recent floods, it seems petty to complain about smaller losses, but complain I shall. With so many rainy and overcast days, it’s been all but impossible to take decent pictures, light being my favorite photographic effect. Coming during a warm year when the changing leaves were behind schedule, weeks worth of rain and wind have stripped much of the usual autumnal color before we had a chance to enjoy it, meaning that the ground under trees is often more colorful than the trees themselves.

Autumn ivy

Autumn is supposed to be the Grand Prize associated with living in New England: the reward for enduring long winters. But here in October, before winter has rightly started, I find myself already fed-up with New Hampshire weather, wondering how I’m going to make it through cold gray days and long winter nights without the pre-game nutriment of dry, crisp air and bright, sun-saturated foliage. Yesterday I kept ruminating on that line in Moby-Dick where Ishmael laments the depression of a “damp, drizzly November in my soul”: here in the midst of October, an unthinkably long time before spring, I’m already feeling the weight of weather, wondering if taking a quick trip to the tropics could serve as a Melvillean “substitute for pistol and ball.”

Smile, Keene

And yet, in the midst of such rain-drenched despair, yesterday I happened upon an odd, out-of-place thing: a bright, cheeringly child-like painting left on a window sill in the Student Center at Keene State College, accompanied by a motivational note. Although I didn’t take this freely offered painting, having no need for additional art in my home and feeling that someone else might need more than me a reminder to smile at random people more often, I smiled to think that Bren Bataclan (or one of his minions) had ventured all the way to Keene to share some post-flood love from his Smile Boston Project. (Click here for a larger version.) Yes, we need more than just an occasional ray of light here in southwest New Hampshire: yes, we need the hope that only a smile (or a painting traded for the promise of a smile) can bring. This morning, the rain has stopped here in Keene, and although everything is still soaked and soggy, we just might make it through October after all.

    If you’re a writer and something other than the weather has got you down, there’s still time to register for next week’s Move That Boulder tele-group, a free virtual workshop for writers facing daunting projects. So if you’re burdened with an unwritten dissertation, novel, proposal, story, or other troublesome writing project, click here for more details, including registration information. Enjoy!

Here’s proof that even downtown merchants get into the Pumpkin Fest spirit each October: a genuine pumpkin drumset in the window of Cheshire Music, which also features a pumpkin electric guitar, pumpkin amp, and pumpkin trombone on display.

If you aren’t thoroughly sick of pumpkins by now, check out Keene blogger Jon Udell’s screencast of Pumpkin Fest 2005, which includes video evidence of how festival volunteers light all those towering pumpkins along with proof that yes, candle-lit pumpkins can and do remain lit in a torrential downpour. Enjoy!


This blind pencam shot of Joey’s Diner in Amherst, NH is my belated submission for last Friday’s Photo Friday theme of Retro. I love to sit and write in diners, and I also love to take blind pencam shots there. I pass this 50s-style diner every time I drive to Nashua, NH to meet my friend A (not her real initial) for beer & burritos, so earlier this month when I had some extra time on my way to see imbibe margaritas & appetizers with Leslee in Salem, MA, I stopped by Joey’s to see what the inside looks like.

As it turns out, Joey’s piped-in music (50s classics, of course) is too loud to encourage serious thought…but otherwise it’s the type of clean, well-lighted place that makes for good writing. The next time I go there, I’ll bring earplugs, and I’ll order an old-fashioned chocolate milkshake. How retro is that?

Had yesterday been clear and sunny instead of drizzly and overcast here in Keene…had the trees been more brilliantly colored instead of muted and half denuded…had this year’s Pumpkin Festival crowds not been disheartened by high gas prices and rumors of rain, rain, rain in southern New Hampshire, the above scene would have been Picture Perfect with its glimpse of the giant gourd atop the Central Square pumpkin tower, our pristine Congregational church steeple in the background, and flags flying high and proud. Instead of being picture perfect, though, yesterday’s annual Pumpkin Festival was all but: dampened by day-long drizzle that turned full-blown downpour by nightfall, this year’s pumpkin count was significantly smaller than last year’s.

Not only did this year’s Pumpkin Festival tally of 22,157 lit jack-o-lanterns fail to top our own 2003 World Record of 28,952, yesterday’s attempt was bested by the Life Is Good festival, which featured 24,541 glowing gourds on Boston Common. But although Boston’s relative upstart festival won this year’s battle, they haven’t won the Gourd War. Considering that Keene streets were awash in water two weekends ago, it’s a wonder we had a festival at all…and the healthy crowds cruising Keene’s all-but-dry streets yesterday didn’t seem to mind World Records and numbers games. Instead, yesterday’s festival was all about community, a good time, and the simple act of strolling solid ground with family, friends, and neighbors. Unbroken World Records notwithstanding, that’s nothing to feel disappointed about!

Two weekends after the flood, Keene seems to have found the sense of humor that was temporarily submerged in soaked basements and damped amid evacuation orders. Not only did I spot a pumpkin with the carved slogan “Floods suck,” I was quick to note the humor of this year’s parade-leading drum major, who was dressed as every flood victim’s favorite super-hero: a plunger-waving plumber.

Here in Keene at least, being called a “Pumpkin Head” is a compliment, not an insult: it means you’re in excellent company.

Although rain dampened the after-dark conclusion of yesterday’s festival, during the daytime at least the crowds were healthy and enthusiastic, even under overcast skies and amid sporadic drizzle.

Families who arrived without jack-o-lanterns gathered to carve last minute creations alfresco.

Although by early morning, still-empty shelves suggested that this year’s pumpkin count wouldn’t match last year’s, by dusk the Main Street scaffolds were full of gourds–and the streets full of people–stretching from one end of downtown to the other.

Although Leslee, Gary, and I left the festival before it was completely dark and every gourd was lit, around 7 pm there seemed to be more pumpkins than available scaffolding, with a neat queue of jack-o-lanterns glowing at curbside.

Although we didn’t break our own World Record, and although Boston thinks they can challenge our reign as the Pumpkin King, I have to say that a day spent strolling pedestrian-filled streets with smiling, happy people is even better than a sunny day. While Boston bean-counters are crunching the pumpkin numbers, yesterday in Keene turned out to be all but picture perfect after all.

In case you’ve grown bored with Plain Jane jack-o-lanterns, check out these eye-popping pumpkins, spotted at today’s Pumpkin Festival.

Those last three were my and Gary’s contribution to the cause: Gary’s “Go Astros” pumpkin, my fanged and angry smiley face, and Reggie’s “Woof!” For more festival pictures, check out Gary’s photoblog.

Although it’s always a challenge to shoot night-time digipix, last night I couldn’t help but take a handful of blurry shots from Community Night, the night-before Sneak Preview to Keene’s annual Pumpkin Festival.

Downtown was hopping all day yesterday and into the night as locals brought jack-o-lanterns by the bag-, cart-, and wagon-full to log-in stations where they were counted and registered: an essential step toward official World Record status.

Last night on the ground near every log-in station was a neatly arranged pool of carved pumpkins patiently waiting to be placed on the Main Street shelves that had yet to be built.

In Central Square, shelves that had been assembled by midday were filled by nightfall with as-yet-unlit jack-o-lanterns.

Many of Community Night’s jack-o-lanterns are provided by area businesses who truck in pumpkins for their employees to carve on company time: one small step to improved employee morale and a positive image in the community. If you’re a big corporation like FedEx, of course you have to prove that fact by prominently displaying a HUGE carved pumpkin surrounded by smaller “kids.”

Attracting tourists by the thousand to Keene, the annual pumpkin festival is a boon to area businesses, including Center Stage, the organization responsible for the event and its attendant merchandise.

Occurring as it does right before Halloween, both the Pumpkin Festival itself and the Community Night which precedes it attract a rather odd after-dark crowd.

Truth be told, the Pumpkin Festival is a family event, and everyone loves a mother and baby…even if the mother is a witch and the baby is a deformed demon.

Ultimately, the sight that garners the most Ooohs and Ahhhs at both the Pumpkin Festival and Community Night is that of the lit pumpkin towers in Central and Depot Squares. As one passerby remarked upon seeing the Depot Square tower, “I’ve seen it before, but I’m always amazed.” (Click on the image for an enlarged version, including a glimpse of the huge “Keene” pumpkin that tops the tower.)

As impressive as Community Night is, though, it’s only a dress rehearsal for today’s Real Deal. For as pumpkins glowed from those Central and Depot Square towers, hundreds of jack-o-lanterns–the fruit of Keene State College’s annual Pumpkin Lobotomy–lurked in the darkness outside the Clairvaux Center, waiting to be loaded onto scaffolds and shelves this morning.

    For those of you craving “the rest of the story” about last night’s pumpkin proposal, this morning’s newspaper gave the happy details: the pumpkins spelling out that marriage proposal were carved by students in teacher Mark Martin’s fifth-grade class at the Franklin School. The object of Mr. Martin’s affection, Kathy Nelson, said “Yes.”

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