In a humdrum


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.

Late afternoon at the place of pines

Today after running errands and attending a meeting on campus, I came home and walked Toivo to the place of pines and back. You won’t find the place of pines on any map: it’s my name for a segment of the Cochituate Aqueduct that snakes behind suburban backyards, with a trail that follows a shady ravine carpeted with pine needles.

I started calling this particular segment of footpath “the place of pines” when I used to walk Reggie there on hot summer days. We’d walk to a place where the trail climbs up the ravine, then we’d return on a path that skirts its upper ledge.

It’s a short walk there and back; the whole time, you can see houses, garages, and treehouses in neighboring yards, and you can hear passing cars and planes overhead. The appeal of the place of pines isn’t that it’s wild and remote, but that it’s near and handy. During a spare half hour, you can walk to a place with tall trees, indulging in a brief break on a day without much time for breaking.

Ready to go outside

As Reggie grew older, our trips to the place of pines changed. First, he struggled to climb the ravine, so we’d walk the level part of the trail and then retrace our steps when the way got steep. Eventually, Reggie couldn’t walk even that far: our walks got shorter and slower, and eventually he couldn’t walk at all.

Walking Toivo to the place of pines today, there was a thought at the corner of my mind: someday, this spunky girl who tugs at her leash, eager to sniff and chase after squirrels, will be too old to make it this far. But today the way is smooth and easy, and it would be a shame to stay inside.

Almost spring

We’re already three-quarters of the way through February and almost halfway through the semester: almost, but not quite. I’m in my office at Framingham State and can hear a colleague lecturing in her classroom; outside, the grounds crew lumbers by in an all-terrain cart.

(Kinda) half-staff and snagged

It is warm outside, in the 60s; students stroll by in shirtsleeves, and one brave couple boldly spreads a blanket on the snowmelt-muddied quad. It’s a tentative foray into spring; winter has stepped off stage but has yet to leave the building.

I open my second-floor office window for a taste of almost-spring air, a fresh breeze trickling in like an elixir. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I spend my days inside a single building, walking from class to office then back to class again. The world outside might as well be a foreign country–a distant land–another planet entirely. What business do I have here in my brick-building perch with the fresh-aired world outside, with couples on their snowmelt-muddied blankets?

Almost spring

And yet, the gentle waft of spring breeze brings it back: memories of study sessions in the sun, the itch of grass blades on bare flesh, the kiss of cold earth. This morning I walked into our backyard and marveled to see the bare earth again–the same rusty mud as three days ago, before the intervening snow. Although I’ve seen it day after day, year after year, this morning I was stopped short by the inevitable earth, with ground the hue of dead-leaf dirt lightened by yellowed lawn and a tinge of thawed moss.

It’s too early for spring green–that won’t erupt for another month. But the earth today is different than it was last week much less last month. The earth is still sleeping deep in this almost-spring, but it’s felt the warmth of lengthening days strip away its snow coat, and it knows which way its axis lies.

Frozen lagoon

Today J and I took the T into Boston, where we had lunch at Quincy Market then walked the Greenway to Chinatown, through Chinatown to Boston Common and the Public Garden, then through the Public Garden and down Newbury Street to Mass Ave, where we caught the T for home.

Mehdi Ghadyanloo, Spaces Of Hope

It was good to be out walking on a gray and warm day. Nearly all the snow has melted, so the earth looks bare and barren–just muddy, as if the landscape were under construction, caught between seasons. Plenty of people were out, Boston living up to its reputation as a pedestrian city. One of these days, we’ll keep track of the various languages we hear on a typical trip downtown and back: today we heard Spanish several times and Chinese at least once.

Holocaust memorial

At Haymarket, we walked through the weekly farmers’ market, with stalls selling produce and fresh fish arranged under long tents. Not all the food for sale is local: there were bags of out-of-state oranges piled into pyramids next to flattened skids of emptied cardboard boxes. Whether from near or far, the food was hawked by farmers, fishermen, and wholesalers who seemed eager to haggle. Yes, you could buy similar fruit, fish, or vegetables at your neighborhood grocery store, but would you have an actual conversation with your grocer before heading for home?

Chinatown gate

In Chinatown, there were red paper lanterns hanging from utility wires in advance of next weekend’s Chinese New Year’s celebration along with even more open-air merchants selling fruit and firecrackers out of trucks and car trunks. Everywhere, people were walking and trying to do business: merchants in Haymarket and Chinatown, panhandlers outside of T stations, and buskers in the Public Garden.

In case you forget where you are

At City Hall, there were families skating on a rink leftover from Christmas; at the Public Garden, small throngs of twenty-somethings were out on the ice, walking where the Swan Boats and ducks float in summer time. The ice was porous with puddles–I wouldn’t have trusted it–but more enticing than the chance to walk on water was the promise of the yellowing willows that fringe the lagoon. If the willows are brimming with yellowing buds, spring can’t be far behind.

Ram in snow

Yesterday we got a freshening of snow: just a few inches to brighten the ground as January ends. February in New England is always a trying time–the longest month–so it’s good to begin with a clean palette that will eventually turn February gray like everything else.

Morning commute / stuck in traffic

During yesterday’s morning commute, I saw a motorist accomplish an impressive (albeit inadvisable) feat. While steering with one hand, the driver next to me stuck one arm out his driver-side window and cleared his windshield with a snow-brush, all the while staying in his lane without swerving.

Drain

It’s not uncommon to see drivers hop out of their cars to clear snow while stopped at a light, but I’ve never seen a driver clear his car while moving. You know winter has overstayed its welcome when you’re so good at clearing snow, you can do it one handed while otherwise occupied.

View from footbridge over Leverett Pond

Today J and I took a trolley to Longwood, where we walked the Emerald Necklace to Jamaica Pond and back, stopping for lunch along the way. It was a perfect day for walking–partly cloudy, warm, and windy–with bare ground and long, stark shadows.

Muddy River at Longwood

All along the way, there were scattered throngs of pedestrians, Lycra-clad joggers, dog-walkers, families with strollers, and one rollerblader in shorts, taking advantage of the weather. In January, any day above freezing is a delight, so a day in the 50’s felt like spring, even with a brisk wind.

Sailboats in winter

The stretch of Emerald Necklace J and I walked today–a woodsy stretch of path connecting the Back Bay Fens, Olmsted Park, and Jamaica Pond–follows the Muddy River and runs through otherwise busy Boston neighborhoods, snaking along Brookline Avenue, crossing Route 9, and running parallel to the Jamaicaway with its constant stream of vehicular traffic. There is, in other words, no denying you are in the heart of a busy city.

Yellowing willow

But the genius of Frederick Law Olmsted is this: when he designed the Emerald Necklace, he knew natural landscapes needn’t be distant and untamed to refresh the human heart and mind. At no point today were J and I more than a literal stone’s throw away from traffic and densely populated urban neighborhoods, but we enjoyed the placidity of walking among trees and geese and flowing water all the same.

Leverett Pond

Olmsted believed that city-dwellers need green spaces to help soothe the stresses of urban life, and I think he was right. After we’d had lunch and were retracing our steps back toward Longwood, J and I saw an elderly couple sitting on a park bench overlooking Everett Pond. The woman had a walker and the man fingered a well-worn rosary as they sat chatting in Russian. How good it must have been for their bodies and souls to sit outside on a sunny January day, and how good it was for us, as well.

Long shadows at Longwood

Once we’d returned to Longwood, J and I boarded a crowded trolley headed toward home. Standing alongside fellow strap-hangers didn’t feel any more stressful than walking alongside dog-walkers, runners, and baby-strollers. During the hour or so J and I had been walking, our daily lives felt very far away. At a time of year when cabin fever is endemic, it’s a welcome gift to spend an afternoon outside.

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