Massachusetts


Immature Cooper's hawk

On Friday afternoon while I was out running my usual weekly errands, I saw an immature Cooper’s hawk perched on the lattice outside Eastern Bank on Commonwealth Avenue. I was at the gas station next door, so I got out of my car, took several pictures, walked over to the bank and took several more, then returned to my car to pump gas before driving away.

Immature Cooper's hawk

During the five minutes or so I was walking around a bank obviously taking pictures, not only did nobody ask what I was doing, nobody even acknowledged my presence. I had, in other words, reached peak invisibility as a Middle-Aged White Woman. Had I been a black- or brown-skinned man taking pictures outside a bank on a Friday night, how long would it have taken for someone to report my suspicious behavior?

Immature Cooper's hawk

I remember taking pictures once on a side street near MIT’s nuclear engineering labs. The buildings look unremarkable from the outside but presumably contain sensitive research inside. I was crouched on the sidewalk photographing an interestingly-angled shadow when a campus security vehicle pulled up and an officer gruffly asked through a lowered window what exactly I was doing.

Filler 'er up

I straightened up and offered some feeble explanation about noticing an interesting shadow on the sidewalk, but it was immediately clear it didn’t matter what I said. The officer simply chuckled and good-naturedly told me to Carry On, his entire demeanor changing the moment he saw I was the most (presumably) harmless of creatures, a Middle-Aged White Woman.

Peekaboo

I know the suspicion that awaits black- and brown-skinned folks who commit the crime of birding while black. Cameras and binoculars are tools of surveillance: threatening in the “wrong” hands, but innocuous if those hands are older and whiter. In broad daylight on a Friday afternoon in suburban Boston, a sharp-clawed killer was perched in plain sight, but nobody noticed him or the presumably harmless individual who both spied and shot him. “If you see something, say something” is the motto of the age of homeland insecurity, but what happens when your preconceived notions knit a veil of blindness right over your eyes?

Anthony and Jesus

Yesterday J and I went to Boston’s North End for the 100th annual Saint Anthony’s Feast. As a good little Catholic girl in Ohio, I grew up praying to Saint Anthony whenever I lost something. I remember my Mom explaining that praying to Saint Anthony wasn’t a magical guarantee you’d find whatever you’d lost, but repeating Saint Anthony’s prayer would help you stay focused while you kept searching. The purpose of the prayer wasn’t to find your lost things for you; the purpose of the prayer was to keep you from giving up hope.

Processing

It’s been years since I’ve prayed to Saint Anthony…and truth be told, it’s been years since I’ve been to church. But whenever J and I go to a religious festival in Boston’s Italian enclave, the pomp and iconography feels natural, like returning to one’s motherland.

Both J and I are a mix of Italian and Irish, we both are lapsed Catholics, and we both wonder how outsiders–that is, people who are neither Catholic nor Italian–react when they see a large statue being paraded through thronged streets, trailing ribbons pinned with money. What would a proverbial man from Mars make of such a spectacle? What, for that matter, do two lapsed Catholics make of it?

Saint Anthony buttons

I don’t personally believe Saint Anthony is a man looking down from a cloud, making sure people’s prayers get answered. But that doesn’t mean I make light of Saint Anthony’s Feast. Regardless of our own lapsed Catholicism, J and I made sure to stop at a makeshift shrine where a smaller statue of Saint Anthony stayed throughout the festival, pinning a donation alongside everyone else’s and accepting a small button in return.

Because I was raised Catholic, I know every dollar pinned to Saint Anthony’s train represents someone’s sincere prayer: a wish for something lost, a hope for something denied, or an expression of gratitude for something granted. (When my Mom taught me how to pray to Saint Anthony, she also explained that if your prayer was answered, you were obligated to thank Saint Anthony as many times as you’d petitioned him.)

Grand procession

Seeing all the prayers pinned like a cape to Saint Anthony’s statue, who am I to hold myself aloof from those who search, seek, hope, and sometimes lose hope? Haven’t we all lost things, and don’t we all continue to search? One person loses their car keys, another loses a ring, still another loses an important document. It is a universal fact of life that anything that can be held can just as easily be lost. Isn’t any of us lucky to reach the end of our days without losing our faith, heart, or mind?

Pinning offerings

Anne Lamott once said there are only three prayers: help, thanks, and wow. Pious Catholics appeal to Jesus, Mary, or Joseph when the Big Stuff is on the line, but even those of us who are feeble in our faith trust Saint Anthony with our trifles. As the patron of lost things, Saint Anthony is privy to our mundane frustrations, and he knows more than anyone the tiny trinkets we hold dear. How can anyone who hasn’t lost all hope belittle him for that?

Click here for more photos from this year’s Saint Anthony’s Feast. Enjoy!

Bug

Now that summer is here, Toivo and I have a new routine. After I’ve finished my morning chores, we take a short walk, then we sit on the patio while I read and write my daily journal pages. We started this ritual earlier in the summer, when Toivo couldn’t walk fast or far. J suggested that being outside surrounded by new sounds and smells would be good for Toivo’s spirits while she recovers, and he was right.

Dragonfly and day lily

We call these days when Toivo and I sit on the patio our “beach days.” I pack a bag with a book and notebook for me and water and snacks for us both, and we sit in the shade until the day gets hot. We sit outside for the sensory stimulation a summer day brings: Toivo hearkens to every smell, and I follow every flash of motion. We both are all ears, but we are attuned to different things. My ears perk to the smallest bird sound, like the chirp of a house sparrow in the neighbor’s hedge, while Toivo sits alert and expectant, waiting for the smallest sound from any of our neighbors’ dogs.

All eyes

At first, Toivo was restless and whiny on beach days, tangling her lead while pacing the patio, unsure why we were sitting outside doing nothing rather than walking. But now, she’s come to see our time outside as another everyday routine, my accustomed spot at our patio table no different from my place at my indoor desk. In summer, the size of our house expands, the yard and patio being an extra room without walls whose roof is the summer sky. If it weren’t for the dog, I’d forget to venture out, having grown too accustomed to long winter hours at my desk, still tethered long after my lead has rotted away.

Bleeding hearts

This past weekend, after finally getting a diagnosis and treatment plan for the mobility issues Toivo has had since March, I drove to western Massachusetts to visit A (not her real initial). It was a welcome break from my usual routine, and a chance to debrief after a particularly stressful semester.

Raindropped

A and I spent the weekend taking scenic drives, looking at art, and staying up late drinking wine, playing dominoes, and having the kind of conversations that happen best in person, not via text or email. On Sunday, A and I drove to North Adams, where we went to Mass MoCA, took a labyrinth walk, then visited Rabbi Rachel for yet more wine and conversation.

This past semester was particularly stressful in part because I had to keep my head down during most of it: as I scrambled to keep my plates spinning, I didn’t have much time to write, visit friends, go to the Zen Center, or engage in other acts of Mental Health Maintenance. Visiting A for the weekend and Rabbi Rachel for the afternoon was wonderfully restorative: like returning to sing a favorite song exactly where you’d left off.

Marathon Monday

J and I awoke this morning to thunderstorms and pouring rain, and as I write these words, the wind is rattling our windows. But this morning when we headed out to watch the Boston Marathon at our accustomed spot on Commonwealth Avenue between miles 18 and 19, the raindrops stopped. It was largely overcast with only occasional moments of sunshine, but it was nothing like the frigid washout we’d (briefly) weathered last year.

Wheelchair runners

Although J and I couldn’t stay and spectate as long as we have in past years, we observed our annual ritual of cheering for the last of the wheelchair runners, the elite women and men, and then the start of the stream of Everyone Else.

Women's winner Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia

When we saw her, front-runner (and eventual winner) Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia was nearly five minutes ahead of the rest of the elite women.

Elite women runners up

When the elite men passed, eventual winner Lawrence Cherono of Kenya was in (but not leading) a tight pack of fleet-footed fellows.

Men's winner Lawrence Cherono of Kenya

Elite marathon runners move so fast, it’s easy to imagine them outrunning even raindrops.

Gone past in a flash

J and I move a lot less quickly, but we were grateful to have found a spell between storms to observe Boston’s annual ritual of spring.

Fleet of foot

Click here for my full photo-set from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Lenten rose

Yesterday morning, I heard the first phoebe of spring, and as I write these words, I have one window open to let in fresh air and the sound of soft rains.

Glory of the snow

This is how spring arrives in New England. One wet day you decide your rain shoes will suffice instead of rubber boots, you shed your coat then your jacket in turn, and you realize all of a sudden that long sleeves are too warm and short sleeves are just right. I haven’t worn sandals yet this year; so far, the weather has been too indecisive. Yesterday was almost warm enough but a bit too breezy; today was briefly sunny until the rains came.

Red maple flower buds. #signsofspring

But the phoebes know which way the earth has tilted. The song of the Eastern phoebe is unremarkable–nothing more than their name repeated, incessantly–so it is easy to overlook among the whistling cardinals and warbling house finches. But when you hear the first phoebe of spring calling in the distance–like a rainbow, the first phoebe always seems far off, its actual location hidden in a shrubby suburban tangle–your heart thrills, not because it is a beautiful song but because it comes only when winter is almost over and spring has almost come.

Stump and toppled trunk

Today was a bright, breezy, spring-like day, so after lunch J and I went walking at Newton Cemetery. Most of the snow has melted, leaving the grass bare and blanched: mud season, the awkward pause before spring.

Fallen

Throughout the Cemetery, there were fresh stumps and piles of massive trunks and branches: cleanup from trees that had either fallen in winter storms or had been preemptively culled. It was sad to see massive tree-corpses lying among the gravestones: if these fallen giants could talk, what stories could they tell?

Stump

The lesson of any Cemetery, of course, is that impermanence surrounds us. Seeds sprout, trees tower, and winds wreak havoc: even evergreens can’t stay green forever. A neatly landscaped grave creates the illusion of immortality: as long as a headstone stands, one’s name and memory live on. But aren’t tombstones ultimately like so many tree stumps: dead reminders of a once-living thing?

Toppled

In a few weeks, the earth will erupt in green, landscape crews will have cleared away the last of these toppled trees, and both the mallards and Canada geese that swim the Cemetery ponds will have nestlings in tow. The annual death that is winter, in other words, will miraculously transform into the resurrection that is spring. In the meantime, I like to think the massive tree stumps J and I saw today aren’t dead, but sleeping: their cellulose selves dreaming of sunny skies and chlorophyll-fed days.

Next Page »