November 2013


As I mentioned in an earlier post, some of my favorite creatures at the New England Aquarium aren’t fish but birds. The New England Aquarium houses more than 80 penguins in an open (and noisy) habitat that visitors can view from the spiral walkway that surrounds the giant ocean tank. Whereas sea turtles are fascinating because they are creatures of the deep, penguins are enchanting because they seem so similar to ourselves. Bipedal and social, penguins really do seem to be like little people trapped in tuxedos.


Penguins are cute, and therein lies part of their charm: the first time I saw the little blue penguins on exhibit at the Aquarium, I wanted to pop one into a pillowcase and take it home. (Needless to say, such behavior is frowned upon, so I didn’t act on the impulse.) But penguins aren’t simply cute: they are also amphibious, at home on both land and water. Clumsily cute on land, penguins become zooming torpedoes in the water, flying through the sea as fast as other birds fly in the sky. It’s as if a bumbling clown were to realize she is also a gravity defying acrobat.


Penguins, in other words, represent a kind of “ugly duckling” realization, where something that seems clumsy is actually elegant. But whereas the cygnet in “The Ugly Duckling” becomes a swan and is never “ugly” again, penguins keep one flippered foot in both worlds, switching back and forth between their humorously clumsy terrestrial selves and their sleek and swift aquatic personae.


Although I admire every ugly duckling who discovers herself to be a beautiful swan, I myself relate more to penguins, who are obviously in their element in the ocean but nevertheless live on land. Don’t we all have times when we feel out of our element, and don’t we all have places where our inner elegance comes alive? Surely we’ve all encountered stutterers who become self-assured when they sing or shuffling, bumbling types who transform into Fred Astaire when the music begins. As much as we’d like to become swans who never have to be awkward again, most of us are instead amphibious, moving between places where we are clumsy and places where we are self-assured.


When I teach, I feel like an earthbound penguin, bumbling my way through a classroom, trying not to trip over my own tongue and wondering how, exactly, to keep my students entertained and occupied for an entire class session. But when I’m alone and writing, I feel as sleek and fleet as a penguin in water: here is my element, the place where I am at home. It would be tempting to hole ourselves away in the places we feel most comfortable, like a penguin who refused to set foot on land. But land is where penguins live and find love, despite their apparent clumsiness, so like penguins, we learn how to move between two worlds, it only seeming that we don’t belong in both.

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

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.


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.

Two geese and one coot

Today is the 332nd day of the year, and I know that because I’ve been keeping count. Now that we’re rounding the backstretch into the last month of the year, I’m happy to report that I’m still keeping up with the 365-day photo challenge that I’ve mentioned here and here and here. Even on days when I feel like there’s not much photogenic going on, I’ve been shooting and posting to Flickr at least one photo every day: a discipline that forces me to look for something interesting to capture today regardless of how many interesting photos I took yesterday, last week, or last month.

Head of the Charles regatta

When I first decided to take and post at least a photo a day throughout 2013, I knew it would be a photographic challenge: some days, after all, you don’t necessarily feel like taking pictures. What I didn’t know then, though, was how quickly the 365-day challenge would become a kind of spiritual practice. Taking photos, after all, is about noticing the things around you, and if there’s anything that Zen practice is about, it’s paying attention and noticing.

Raindrops on spider web

Beyond the practice of paying attention and capturing interesting shots, however, the 365-day challenge has turned into something of a visual gratitude journal. When I look at the assortment of pictures I’ve collected over the past 332 days, what I see is a collage where each image takes me back to where I was and what I was doing when I took it. Better than a scrapbook that holds mementos from just the good times, my 365-day photo set represents all sorts of moments from the past year: some happy, some ho-hum. Browsing the photos in my 365-day photo set is like seeing the past year flash before my eyes like they say happens right before you die, but without the “dying” part.

Gleaming golden

Many of the images in my 365-day photo set aren’t great photos, but they are significant to me because they remind me of moments I want to remember. Like a kind of bookmark, these images flag a specific time or place. Take, for instance, this iPod panorama shot from the set of The Daily Show in New York. Photographically, it’s not a great shot, but looking at it immediately reminds me of the hours J and I spent waiting in line for tickets, excited to be seeing in person a show we faithfully watch on TV.

Audience panorama

Not all the images in my 365-day photo set are happy ones. One of the most powerful photos in the set is a simple screen shot taken on a day when J and I didn’t stray far from our television. There’s no need for me to repeat the story of what happened on Lockdown Friday: a single photo I took of the corner of our TV screen embodies all the tension of that day.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’d say that’s about right. It would take more than 332,000 words to recount all that has happened–happy, ho-hum, and historic–this past year. That’s why having a visual scrapbook of the year is such an amazing thing.

This is my Day 28 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Sea turtle and barn owl

Apparently I’m not the only one fascinated by sea turtles. On our way to the New England Aquarium on Sunday, J and I stopped to admire the carousel on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which surprisingly was still in operation with a handful of hardy souls braving a merry-go-round ride on a bitterly cold and windy day.


Instead of horses, the Greenway Carousel features native New England creatures like the sea turtle and barn owl pictured above or the lobster pictured at right. I took more than a dozen photos of these creatures the first time I visited the Greenway carousel this past summer, and I shot a couple videos as well, which you can view here and here.

Carousel horse

When I was a child, I loved merry-go-rounds because they were the closest a horse-crazy city girl could get to actually riding a horse. (The carousel horse at right has been retired from active duty and how lives at Kelly’s Roast Beef in Natick.) Now that I know that carousels can feature far more than horses, though, I’m at a loss to decide which of the Greenway carousel’s critters is my favorite. Whenever I try to pick just one favorite animal, I end up going round and round.

This is my Day 27 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.

Bill Russell statue

Yesterday on our way to the New England Aquarium, J and I stopped to take a few photos of the new statue honoring Celtics legend Bill Russell. I knew the statue was located somewhere on City Hall Plaza, so as J and I weathered the brutally cold wind on our walk from Government Center to Faneuil Hall, I told him to be on the lookout for a seven-foot statue, figuring it would be impossible to miss.

Bill Russell statue

Bill Russell is by far my all-time favorite Celtics player. He has the distinction of having won two NCAA championship titles, an Olympic gold medal, and more NBA championship rings than he has fingers to wear them on. Russell was the first African-American to coach an NBA team, serving as a player-coach for three of his thirteen professional seasons, and he revolutionized the way basketball is played by excelling at both defense and rebounding. Before Bill Russell, centers were instructed to play flat-footed, as if jumping were unseemly for a tall man. Bill Russell ignored this advice and became a shot-blocking and rebounding machine, his agility as impressive as his height.

Bill Russell statue

Boston has a fondness for erecting statues of sports heroes. There’s a statue of Bobby Orr flying through the air outside the TD Garden, a statue of Doug Flutie preparing to release his famous Hail Mary pass outside Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, and a statue of Red Auerbach–the Celtics coach with the foresight to acquire Bill Russell–sitting with a victory cigar at Quincy Market. But all of those statues focus exclusively on sports, showing their subject in a quintessential moment of victory. Bill Russell’s statue, on the other hand, focuses on his community work as much as his athletic ability: surrounding the bronze image of Russell in his #6 Celtics jersey are stone plinths with quotes from Russell’s stint as an outspoken advocate of civil rights and community mentoring.

Bill Russell statue

If “all” Bill Russel had done was win eleven championships as a member of the Boston Celtics, that might have been enough to earn him a statue. But it is his commitment to social justice and political activism that earned him a 2010 Medal of Freedom, and it is these same qualities that are commemorated in the stones that surround his likeness on City Hall Plaza. I’d like to think that long after Bill Russell’s exploits on the basketball court are forgotten, young people passing his statue will stop to consider the tall, lanky man who encourages them to reach higher than they ever thought possible.

Bill Russell statue

This is my Day 25 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Sea turtle

Today J and I went to the New England Aquarium: a journey under the sea on a cold and windy day. Although I usually say the penguins and jellyfish are my favorite creatures on display at the Aquarium, today I found myself taking photo after photo of the sea turtles cruising around the giant ocean tank, where you can observe fish, turtles, and an occasional scuba diver at eye-level.

Sea turtle

There is something mesmerizing about watching swimming fish–at times, viewing fish at the Aquarium feels like watching an enormous lava-lamp, with cool shapes and colors randomly appearing and disappearing before your eyes–and there is something equally magical about observing a sea turtle eye-to-eye. Sea turtles are creatures of the deep, so they seem more mysterious than the terrestrial tortoises and fresh-water turtles we see inland. For those of us who don’t scuba dive, the world under the sea might as well be another planet: a place we might imagine but never visit. Sea turtles in particular seem to be special emissaries from this little-understood realm, their soulful eyes suggesting they understand things we’ll never know.

Sea turtle

Sea turtles are big; according to the Aquarium website, they can grow to five feet in length, and “Myrtle,” who has lived at the Aquarium since 1970 and is estimated to be 80 years old, weighs over 500 pounds. These figures, however, are abstract statistics until you find yourself face-to-face with a giant sea turtle, a wall of glass the only thing separating you. When you find yourself eye-to-eye with a sea turtle, your own life and its worrisome cares shrink into perspective, leaving ample room for wonder and awe.

Sea turtle

This is my Day 24 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Building on blue

Last night, J and I watched part of Tom Brokaw’s “Where Were You,” a TV special commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Neither J nor I was born during JFK’s lifetime, so we don’t remember his death…but we did grow up hearing the stories shared by our elders about that fateful day. The JFK assassination was the 9/11 of my parents’ generation: a vividly shocking realization of impermanence and vulnerability. Something that wasn’t supposed to happen here suddenly did, shattering in an instant any illusions of immortality.

Pavilion with flag

Growing up After Kennedy, I was raised in a world where I simply took for granted the fact that a Catholic could be President and that a President could be killed, regardless of how charismatic he was, how elegant his wife was, or how young his children were. Growing up After Kennedy, in other words, I was raised in a world where nothing was unthinkable. People say that the nation’s innocence was shattered when JFK was killed, but I”m not sure human nature (much less a nation of humans) was ever entirely innocent. November 22, 1963 was reminder that life is fragile and idealism doesn’t come easy. Fifty years later, both of those realities are as true as they ever were.

This is my Day 23 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Today’s photos come from a 2007 trip to the JFK Library and Museum here in Boston.

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.

Public Garden

I spent most of today inside, either teaching classes or grading papers between classes. Tonight as I tried to decide what to blog today, I started browsing my Flickr archive to see what I photographed this time last year.

Public Garden

Last November 22 was Thanksgiving Day, and J and I took a walk around Boston’s Back Bay. It was a brilliantly sunny day: the kind of day when nearly everything looks lovely.

Public Garden

I took (and posted) over 60 photos last Thanksgiving Day, but I ended up blogging only a few of them: it was one of those semesters when I didn’t have much time to write.

Vendome Fire Memorial

One of the things I photographed during last year’s Thanksgiving Day walk was the Vendome Fire Memorial on the Commonwealth Mall, not far from the site of the Hotel Vendome Fire, which killed nine firefighters in 1972.

Vendome Fire Memorial

At the time, I planned to blog the memorial, but I never got around to it, which seems a bit ironic now. What is sadder than not finding the time to remember nine men taken in the prime of life?

Vendome Fire Memorial

As much as I would have liked to have spent more time outside today, I’m almost grateful to have been reminded of last year’s Thanksgiving Day walk and the pictures I took then. It’s never too late to remember something you never meant to forget.

This is my Day 21 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Next Page »