In a humdrum


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.

Gray day

The latest issue of the New Yorker shows on its cover an Advent calendar for the month of January–the cruellest month, according to the cartoon’s title. The month is shown to offer an interminable onslaught of challenges: sleet and sickness and existential dread.

The white wall

As if on cue, last night I overheard several of my students wondering how long it was until Spring Break–this, the end of only the second week of the semester. If we’ve already started to count the days in January, what will we do during the long slog of FebruMarch?

I’ve lived in New England long enough–a quarter of a century–to learn this: you need to marshal your emotions against winter’s bleak demands. Yes, you should bundle your body against the cold, and step carefully to assure solid footing, and bolster your immune system with citrus fruits, herbal tea, and properly titrated cocktails.

Parking structure on gray day

But more important than these physical safeguards are the psychological ones. You must pace your days and not grow weary, feeding your spirit with timely doses of light, color, and sun-soaked daydreams. Even when you are sunk to your eyeballs in a busy semester, you need to remember this: winter is its own kind of austerity, a vow involuntarily taken. Whether you choose to embrace or try to distract yourself from winter’s gloom, you dare not fight it. The only way to survive another interminable Northeast winter is to outlast it, and this requires an unrelenting inner stockpile of good cheer.

You can almost hear them saying "Carpe diem."

Today Leslee and I drove to Palmer, Massachusetts to meet A (not her real initial) for lunch, cocktails, and a belated celebration of both Christmas and my birthday. The restaurant we went to–Steaming Tender, a railroad-themed pub in a restored H.H. Richardson train depot at the center of town–was still decorated for the holidays, so we could almost imagine we weren’t weeks behind with our celebration.

Festive libations, with @insta_leslee

We’d chosen to meet in Palmer because it’s halfway between the Boston suburbs where Leslee and I live and the western Massachusetts town where A lives. In summer, the three of us alternate between meeting in Northampton, which is closer to A, and the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which is closer to Leslee and me. But during winter months when the days are short, it’s nice to meet halfway, eat lunch, and be home before it gets dark.

Leslee, A, and I have been celebrating holidays and birthdays over food and cocktails for more than a decade. Originally, I lived in Keene, Leslee lived in Grafton, and A lived in Chelmsford: over the years our addresses have changed, but our friendship continues.

Euonymus in ice

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for taking stock. Looking back on the wins and losses of the previous year, folks with a penchant for self-improvement typically use the occasion of the New Year to make resolutions. Although I’m a sucker for self-help books, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen enough New Years come and go to know that well-intentioned resolutions are often broken and forgotten by February, so setting grand goals for the New Year sounds like a guaranteed recipe for disappointment.

Ice-etched

That being said, I’m a big fan of small, attainable goals. This past year, for instance, I set a goal to meditate at least five minutes every day, so although I didn’t go to the Zen Center as often as I would have liked, I am happy to say I meditated at home every single day. I also met my yearly goal to read fifty books in 2017, a goal I reached by reading a little bit every day.

Iced

The other thing I managed to do in 2017 was take and post to Flickr one photo every day. In any given year, I take far more than 365 photos: on days when I go somewhere or do something visually interesting, I might take and post dozens of photos. But on otherwise ordinary, unremarkable days, I need a nudge to take photos, and a 365-day photo challenge provides that motivation. Even in the gray days of February or the busiest days of the semester, I knew I had to snap and post a photo of something, no matter how boring or inane.

Icy aftermath

Over time, a daily photo challenge starts to feel like a personal scavenger hunt or visual gratitude journal: no matter how uninspired or bland a particular day might have felt, you have to find at least one image worth sharing. This year as always, I posted lots of pictures of pets; this year for the first time, I also posted lots of pictures of postcards. Scrolling through my photoset of “365 in 2017” photos, I see a visual time capsule of the entire year.

Icy

Because noticing is contagious, once you push yourself to take at least one picture a day, it becomes easier to take two, three, or more images. Over the course of the year, you hone your eye so it is perpetually on the lookout for Today’s Picture, and you prove to yourself day after day after day that there is always something interesting and share-worthy going on: you just have to capture it when it happens.

Reaching

So on this New Year’s Eve, I’ve decided to continue into the New Year the three habits I honed over the course of the Old. I’ll keep meditating, reading, and snapping at least one photo a day, everyday. I hope what worked in 2017 will continue to work in 2018.

Click here to see my “2017 Year in Books” on Goodreads, or click here to see my “365 in 2017” photoset. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Robin in redbud

Every year for the past decade, I’ve given friends and family a photo calendar with thirteen of my favorite images from the previous year: twelve months plus a cover.

Snow-laden

Every December, choosing pictures for my calendar gives me an excuse to revisit my photo archives: a way to literally re-view the previous year.

Waterfall

They say that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes.

Spring leaves

Since I’ve never died, I don’t know whether that is true, but I can say this: it’s interesting to revisit your life once a year.

Flying

Every December when I finally take time to scroll through my photo archives, I worry I won’t find thirteen photos worthy of sharing, and every December, those worries are unfounded.

Baltimore oriole

Throughout the year, I don’t try to take calendar-worthy photos: most of the photos I take are snapped at offhand moments when I see something that interests my eye.

As above, so below

I guess you could say I’m a collector of images: when I see something interesting, I capture the moment by snapping a photo.

Carter Pond erratic

I see this year-round scavenging of images as akin to my almost-daily journal-keeping: if I want to know what I was doing this time last year or the year before, I can check my blog, journal, or photo archives.

Cattails

This morning I watched a slideshow of images from each of the past ten years’ calendars: a decade’s worth of images.

Cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens)

For each of these pictures, I remembered the circumstances surrounding the shot: I remembered which photos were shot while walking the dog, which were shot in the backyard, which were shot in a parking lot on my way to teach, and which were shot on my way to or from the grocery store.

Tinged

Where anyone else sees a collection of pretty pictures, I see ten years’ worth of otherwise mundane moments.

Outbound

Anyone else sees what it is the photo, but I remember what was happening outside the frame.

Holly

The photos illustrating today’s post come from this year’s photo calendar. You can see past calendar sets here. Enjoy!

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