Massachusetts


Honeysuckle on rainy day

This morning I submitted the last batch of spring semester grades, so once I finish a final round of faculty meetings this week, my summer will begin in earnest. “Re-entry” is the word I use for the stunned sensation of finishing another semester and returning to the things I enjoy doing in my free time, like walking, writing, taking pictures, and reading.

Lilac on rainy day

Throughout the semester, I’ve been doing those things in scattered snatches of time–the tag ends of days–but summer is when I can return to projects that require more sustained attention. But before I return to those projects, it takes a few days to sort through neglected piles of mail, catch up with procrastinated household chores, and tend to other overdue obligations that accumulated while I had my head down, grading.

Speedwell on rainy day

One of the drawbacks of teaching is that your busy season corresponds with spring: the time of year when you feel least motivated to work. Luckily, I have a dog who insists on being walked, so I haven’t completely neglected the great greening world outside. For the next three months, I’ll have more time to pay attention to it.

I posted a similarly themed blog post with the same title exactly nine years ago today: what goes around comes around.

Yuki Kawauchi (center) - eventual men's winner

This is the tenth year that J and I have watched the Boston Marathon as it passes through Newton, and today’s conditions were by far the worst we’ve weathered. I’d thought the chill and drizzle of 2015 was bad, but this year was colder and windier, with temperatures in the 40s and torrential downpours that drenched the runners and kept many spectators at home.

Eventual winner Desiree Linden on left

Usually, J and I watch the Marathon between Miles 18 and 19, arriving at “our” corner across from the West Newton medical tent in time to see the last of the wheelchair runners, the elite men and women front runners, and then the Average Joes. Our regular routine is to watch the race until the street is thronged with runners, then we walk down to Newton City Hall before heading home.

Flags

Today, we didn’t last that long. After cheering runners who at times outnumbered spectators, we headed toward home and warm clothes soon after the elite runners passed. We can only hope that other spectators showed up to cheer on the later runners who finished the race despite the miserable conditions.

Running as a pack

Congratulations to all the hardy folk who finished the race (or braved the elements to watch it). In good weather, you have to be Boston Strong to run 26.2 miles. Today, you had to be stronger than the rain and cold.

Some Kinda Strong

Click HERE to see my complete set of washed-out photos from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Raindrops on holly

Today is what the Irish call a soft day: gray and misty, with gauzy bands of drizzle wafting beneath an overcast sky. There is no need for umbrellas on soft days: a windbreaker and ball cap are all you need, along with an antsy dog who demands walking in all weather.

Binary

On soft days, Toivo and I have the streets, sidewalks, and aqueduct trail almost to ourselves. On our way to the place of pines this morning, we saw a distant border collie herding her owner toward the dog park; on the way back, we saw a woman walking a white Pomeranian that looked like a powder puff on a leash. Overhead, fish crows called and finches twittered, and underfoot, the needle-strewn trail was damp and spongy, as soft as fog.

They say that April showers bring May flowers, a saying that suggests spring rain is tolerable only if you focus on future beauty. But on a day like today, April showers are their own reward. After months of snow, mere rain cannot daunt us. After months of snow, any precipitation you don’t have to shovel is warmly welcomed.

Snowdrops in snow

This morning when I walked Toivo to the place of pines and back, the sky was full of snowflakes. April snow never lasts; even the thin layer of slush that accumulated on lawns, car windshields, and in the shade was melted by afternoon. April snow is merely a reminder that winter will leave in its own good time: on its schedule, not yours.

Toppled

April snow is decorative: a filmy veil draped across an otherwise drab scene. The snowstorms we had in March were heavy enough to wreak havoc: everywhere the dog and I walk, we see toppled trees, downed limbs, and piles of sawdust that indicate not just storm damage, but storm cleanup. Those March storms dropped snow that shaped the landscape, flattening trees and downing power lines. April snow, on the other hand, is wispy and insubstantial: something that falls and vanishes soon after contact like the ghost of a ghost.

April snow is like the snow of childhood: a nostalgic thing that is lovely to look upon but requires no sacrifice. April snow melts before we have a chance to grow sick of it, a remembered thing even before it is gone.

A single scilla

One odd benefit of having four March nor’easters in a row is the series of springs we’ve experienced in between storms. Even though these past few weeks haven’t been warm, the combined effect of longer days and a more direct angle of sunlight means March snow melts quickly. Even as we wait for our fourth snowstorm, a significant portion of previous snow has already melted, temporarily revealing bare patches of earth.

Resilient

Despite the two feet of snow we received last week, our day lilies are sprouting, and both snowdrops and scilla are blooming if you know where to look. Spring perennials aren’t deterred by snow: as soon as sunlight hits bare ground, they sprout, bloom, and ultimately outlast even the heaviest snowfalls.

Snowdrops in snow

On bright days, the snow sublimes into thin air, and even on gray days, the snow shrinks from below, the soil absorbing and then slowly emitting the warmth from daytime sunlight. Winter storm Toby can rage and spew all he wants, but the simple fact remains: spring snow never lasts for long, and ultimately both spring and summer prevail.

Last storm's damage, this storm's snow

Today we’re weathering our third nor’easter in eleven days: first rainy Riley, then windy Quinn, and now snow-dumping Skylar. Because of long-range weather forecasts, we knew to expect this third storm even as we braced for the second, so it feels like we’ve spent most of the past few weeks either preparing for, enduring, or cleaning up after a storm.

Overhead

Whenever a nor’easter arrives as predicted, I wonder how earlier generations handled surprise storms. Nowadays, we know days in advance to stock up on food, flashlights, and other essentials: one thing I got at the grocery store on Friday, for instance, was a new broom since I’d snapped the old one while clearing heavy, wet snow from our shrubs after Quinn. In the days before reliable weather forecasts, storms simply arrived, so you had to be perpetually prepared.

Along Richardson Field

Apart from the work and inconvenience of storm cleanup, I don’t mind snowy days. This week, ironically enough, is my spring break, so I’ve spent my “day off” walking the dog, vacuuming, and unpacking our monthly delivery of pet supplies: domestic chores I’d have to do with or without snow.

Aqueduct Trail

Walking the dog in a blizzard is, admittedly, a bit messier than on a dry day: for both our morning and afternoon dog-walks, I pulled on thick socks, rain pants, and a hooded windbreaker, and after each walk, I came inside, toweled off the dog, and peeled off my outer layers and hung them to dry.

Only the plows and intrepid dogwalkers are out

On snowy days, dog-walkers have the streets to ourselves, and it feels like heaven to come home, change into dry clothes, and sip hot tea, fueling one’s inner fires for the next round. Skylar has dumped well over a foot of snow, and the flakes are still falling. Tomorrow we’ll pull on our thick socks, rain pants, and hooded jackets to clean away snow all over again, and in the meantime we never stop dreaming of spring.

Madonna of the Star

Several weekends ago, J and I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to see Heaven on Earth, an exhibition of works by Fra Angelico. The highlight of the exhibit is a collection of four reliquaries originally commissioned by the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The Gardner Museum owns one of these reliquaries, and the others are visiting from Florence’s Museum of San Marco: the first time in two centuries that the four pieces have been displayed side by side.

Assumption and Dormition of the Virgin

Heaven on Earth is an eye-popping display of radiant richness. J and I went to see the exhibit the weekend it opened because J is a fan of Italian Renaissance art, and Fra Angelico (aka Guido di Pietro) is one of his favorites. Seeing these four reliquaries in person, I can see why.
Fra Angelico’s paintings gleam blue and gold in a darkened gallery, museum-goers crowding and craning to admire intricate details up close while attentive guards repeatedly reminded us to step back.

Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi

You can’t blame us for hovering close. The figures in these paintings are small; unlike a mural or altarpiece, a reliquary doesn’t offer much space to work with, and Fra Angelico had a lot of iconographic ground to cover. These four reliquaries depict in sumptuous detail key moments from the life of the Virgin Mary: the annunciation and adoration of the Magi, the infancy of Christ, Mary’s dormition and assumption, and her coronation in heaven.

The Coronation of the Virgin

Although Fra Angelico was Italian, his paintings reminded me of the works J and I had seen at the Museum of Russian Icons earlier this year. In each case, an intricately detailed painting is intended as a window from this world to the next, the physical properties of gilt and pigment serving a larger spiritual purpose. Museum-goers at the Gardner were looking at rather than through Fra Angelico’s artistry, but it was impossible not to feel transported by so much grandeur collected in one small space.

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