Free to a good home

When I was a kid, my Mom encouraged me to weed through my toys before Christmas. Reasoning I’d have more room for Santa to bring me new toys if I gave away some of my old ones, I’d set aside the toys I no longer played with, and my Mom would take these to Goodwill so other children could enjoy them.


Kids in Newton seem to do something similar, but instead of bagging up old toys to take to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, parents leave these toys out on the curb for any interested neighbor or passerby to claim: a grassroots form of curbside recycling where everything eventually finds a new, appreciative home.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The statue of Boston Marathon legend Johnny Kelley at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street here in Newton serves as a kind of shrine for long-distance runners, many of whom leave medals or race bibs from the races they’ve completed: an offering left to honor a man who still inspires.

Shoe offerings

I always wonder about the people who leave these mementos. Why not keep the keepsakes they trained so hard to earn, and why give them to a statue rather than a flesh-and-blood person?

But in asking these questions, I reveal how little I understand of a marathoner’s mind. In the the course of training and then running a marathon, there must be many times when runners hearken to their inner pantheon of heroes, reminding themselves that if Johnny Kelley could run the Boston Marathon 61 times, win it twice, and complete his final race at the age of 84, they can finish their own marathon, too.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The title of Johnny Kelley’s statue is “Young at Heart,” and it shows a youthful Kelley running his first marathon hand-in-hand with his older self. I can only assume that the runners who leave well-worn shoes at Johnny Kelley’s feet do so because they feel he somehow ran alongside them during their marathons, too.

A heaping pile of candy

As if a galaxy of toys weren’t alluring enough, the window display at Green Planet Kids in Newton Highlands now features a heaping pile of Halloween candy, which begs the obvious question. If you were a child, which would you prefer: a heaven filled with candy or one piled high with toys?

Aldermanic Chamber

Today J and I walked over to Newton City Hall for this weekend’s Newton Open Studios juried art festival. Newton City Hall is an impressive old building that houses an assortment of municipal offices, and today a variety of painters, potters, and other artisans set up booths in the hallways, right next to offices where locals pay parking tickets and register for marriage licenses.

Second floor women's restroom

Because Newton City Hall is an old building, it doesn’t have central air conditioning, so when I ducked into the second floor ladies’ room, I was met by a heaping pile of window AC units, including a surprisingly small one marked “Mayor.” More impressive than the crowded corner where air conditioners hibernate was the empty Aldermanic Chamber where each city alderman has a seat at a set of circled desks, each one piled with important-looking paperwork.

Goodies from the Newton Open Studios fall juried art festival

The whole point of an art festival, however, is the art, so J and I did our civic duty by purchasing a handful of locally crafted items, including a pair of figurative mugs by Emma Vesey and a ceramic tile by Lisa Blacher. All art tells a story, and when you buy an artwork directly from the artist, that piece forever has a face on it.

Norway maple gleaming golden

The neighborhood sugar maples have largely lost their reddish orange leaves, but the Japanese maple in our front yard has burst into flame, and the Norway maples in our backyard are glowing golden against a backdrop of pine boughs. In autumn, trees bloom and ripen like flowers in a well-planned garden, with each species turning in turn.

The scary state of Republican presidential politics

This past weekend, Newton held their annual window-painting contest, where area youngsters paint Halloween-themed images on the windows of local merchants. While the contest’s youngest participants typically stick to traditional icons such as witches and werewolves, older kids often paint witty images making punny allusions to current events, such as this depiction of Donald “Trump-kin” and Marco “Boo-bio” discussing the so-called death tax. Is a fanciful debate between a ghost and a toupee-wearing jack-o-lantern any scarier than the actual state of the Republican presidential campaign?

Beneath Echo Bridge

Yesterday was a brisk and brilliant October day, so J and I walked from our house to Hemlock Gorge and back.  Nestled along the Charles River near the junction of Routes 9 and 128, Hemlock Gorge is a hidden jewel that offers a pocket of wildness is an otherwise suburban setting.  I drive past Hemlock Gorge five days a week on my way to teach, so it’s a delight to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon walking there, soaking in the golden light of autumn.

Leaf-strewn stairs

Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a Japanese term for the restorative practice of spending time in nature.  We’ve reached the point of the semester where my students are submitting essay drafts faster than I can grade them, so I welcome any excuse to step away from my paper-piles and into the woods, even for a short time.  An afternoon walk along a river fringed with trees is therapeutic, the natural world going about its business in blithe disregard of human tasks and to-do lists.  For the brief time you’re outside, walking, the obligations awaiting you at home don’t exist, and all that matters is the whisper of wind through the trees and the dapple of sunlight on water.

Autumn reflections

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