Scenic


Fall foliage with contrails

When you spend your weekdays in New Hampshire, you don’t have to drive for miles to see beautiful fall scenery; you just have to wake up and walk the dog.

Click here for the rest of my photos from yesterday’s morning dog-walk at Goose Pond. Enjoy!

Reflecting

The three-day Columbus Day weekend is always a popular holiday for New England leaf-peepers, so as I was driving back to Keene from Massachusetts on Monday afternoon, I encountered stream after stream of cars with out-of-state license plates leaving New Hampshire, toting canoes, bicycles, and backseats full of kids back home. The drive between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was lovely, like driving through a yellow, orange, and red kaleidoscope shot through with golden light, and I felt honored to live (at least part-time) in a place other people only visit.

Overgrown

It was still light when Reggie and I arrived back in Keene, with the late afternoon sun already starting to settle toward the western horizon, so I stopped by the Ashuelot River on the way to my apartment, figuring Reggie and I had enough time for a dinnertime stroll before dark. The leafy banks of the river were more colorful than the last time we’d walked there, and the park itself was more crowded, with far more locals enjoying the park on a sunny afternoon than we’d typically see on an early-morning dog-walk, when Reggie and I typically have the trails to ourselves.

It felt good to be back in Keene, good (as always) to be walking, and good to be bathed in the deeply angled, golden light of autumn, New England’s prettiest season. It also felt odd to be back in Keene and yet among strangers, as if my erstwhile neighbors were invading a place that has always felt as if it were mine and Reggie’s alone. These days, I realize that I, not those other walkers, am the outsider: commuting each week between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I feel as if I have less and less claim to a landscape I see only three days a week, and then only hurriedly. When Reggie and I walked along the Ashuelot in September, we walked on a Wednesday morning when we had time to enjoy the solitude of the scene; on Monday afternoon, I was mindful of the setting sun and a long Monday night to-do list, preoccupied, like Robert Frost’s famous speaker, with “miles to go before I sleep.”

Virginia creeper

Walking is how I understand any landscape, whether I visit as a local or as a tourist, and these days in Keene I feel like both. Last Friday, I surrendered my New Hampshire driver’s license in return for a Massachusetts one; next, I’ll switch my car title and registration as well. Soon enough, I too will have out-of-state license plates when I venture into New Hampshire, thereby announcing myself as merely a transitory interloper in a state well accustomed to tourists. It’s been over three years that I’ve lived with one foot in two states, and it still feels strangely unsettling–not uncomfortable, but odd as I move between the alternating predictability of two different daily routines in two separate worlds. Where (if anywhere) do I truly belong; where (if anywhere) do I have the deepest roots? Or does my lack of lasting roots–my ability to migrate between two addresses, each with closets full of my things–point to the mobile nature of modern life, where our meals, our phone calls, and our personal interactions can all happen on-the-run?

Old man's beard

These are the in-between days here in New England as we transition between seasons, and these are the in-between days of my life as I migrate back and forth, back and forth, between my once and current homes. Where am I at any given moment or any given day? My home these days is perpetually “here,” wherever “here” happens to be.

The title of today’s post is one I’m particularly fond of. “In Between Days” is the name of an ’80s song by The Cure I’ve always liked, and it’s the title of two old blog posts and the implicit theme of a third.

The Wikipedia entry for that old Cure song describes its “lyrical themes of ageing [sic], loss and fear” as “not particularly reflect[ing] the upbeat tempo of the music.” Perhaps I’ve always lived, unsettled, between worlds.

You can click here for more photos of the Ashuelot River in autumn. Enjoy!

Rowers and ripples

It’s been two weeks since I submitted grades for my spring semester classes at Keene State, and today I’m finally starting summer break in earnest after spending too many days waking up early to drive back and forth to Keene, attend faculty workshops, and otherwise fill my so-called free time with work-related obligations. This break feels like a long time coming.

Weeks Bridge

Leslee has already blogged our Thursday night meet-up in Harvard Square: the first we’d seen one another since January. Leslee described what we ate, as food is something she’s energized by. For me, place is just as energizing as food; as much as I enjoyed my fish and chips at the Grafton Street grill, what really nourished me on Thursday night was a postprandial stroll along the Charles River.

It’s fitting, I think, that Leslee and I celebrated my semester’s end with dinner followed by a walk along the Charles. I’ve lived on both sides of the Charles River, first on the Boston side during my Beacon Hill days, then on the Cambridge side when I lived at the Zen Center. Given how many times, with how many different walking companions, and in how many different contexts I’ve walked, biked, and driven alongside the Charles, it’s no wonder it feels like a literal landmark–a littoral watermark?–in my personal history.

Jogger, cyclist, and four rowers

This past semester, I spent a lot of time thinking about rivers as I taught a section of Environmental Literature titled “Rivers and Literary Imagination.” The basic premise of the class was that rivers are an inevitable metaphor for time’s passage, so we often measure our lives against the rivers we encounter. Initially, many of my students were skeptical when I asked them to write what I called a “Watershed Moment” essay, claiming they didn’t have a personal connection with any particular river. But after we’d spent a semester reading, discussing, and brainstorming about rivers, every one of my students was able to point to at least one time when a river or larger watershed served as a backdrop for a moment that, in retrospect, was life-defining, whether that be childhood fishing outings with a grandparent, a high school canoe trip with friends, or four years studying at a college campus with a river running through it.

Two rowers

They say you can’t step into the same river twice, but I’m not sure I completely agree. I suspect that as Leslee enjoyed her NiƧoise salad, she wasn’t recalling every other time she ate the same dish, but for me rivers are different. As I walked along Thursday night’s Charles with the setting sun glinting off passing rowers and runners, I couldn’t help but think of all the other times I’ve walked along the Charles, in spring and other seasons, with friends or alone. The taste of food brings us back to the moment, but the sight of flowing water sweeps us into the flow of recollection and remembrance, this moment flowing into every other like it.

Rows of rowers

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February sunset

Because, perhaps, my Thursday night commutes to Massachusetts happen in the dark, on Monday afternoons I’m eager to arrive back in New Hampshire while it’s still light: a chance to get settled into my workweek apartment before darkness falls.

Sunset clouds

Today, I left Massachusetts later than usual, so I had to chase the sunset all the way back to New Hampshire, the sinking sun and a single sun dog blinding me with their double-barreled glare. Sun dogs, I decided, look like a sliver of rainbow; I wish my car had its own camera so I could have photographed the low-leaning sun with its polychromatic twin. Instead, I shot these photos of twilight clouds after arriving in Keene and stopping at the store for this week’s groceries, for woman cannot live on sunsets alone.

Leaf and sky

Every year, I worry that I’ll miss the so-called “peak” fall foliage season. If you travel to (or even within) New England to leaf-peep in the autumn, you presumably don’t want to waste your time looking at anything but the best colors, so there are handy maps to help you determine which places offer the best leaf-peeping bang for your travel buck.

Leaf and shadow

If you live and don’t travel much within New England, you don’t chart your leaf-peeping by maps. Instead, you see whatever you stumble upon, particularly if October is your busy season and you don’t have time to drive to picturesque spots offering the best autumnal money-shots. Last year I struggled to find a handful of appropriate images for the Photo Friday theme “Autumn,” and this year, I find myself facing the same sort of insecurity. Given the challenge of picking one picture that says “Autumn,” how can any one image live up to the hype?

Driveby

If you think that fall foliage has a “peak,” then you have a problem. What if you stumble upon, breathless, a particularly lovely autumnal scene, only to learn later that this vision of loveliness was merely mediocre? As soon as you think “peak,” you introduce the possibility of disappointment, for anything less than the height of perfection is second-best. Wouldn’t it be better to hold off in your peeping until you were quite sure autumn herself was peaking? And yet by waiting, wouldn’t you run the risk of missing that precise moment of visual perfection you were holding out for?

Green veins

I say to hell with peak foliage: I for one don’t have the time to wait around for it. While others are planning their fall-foliage tours against maps and weather forecasts, every day I just walk the dog. The pictures illustrating today’s post come from a dozen photos I snapped on Wednesday morning’s dog-walk; if you don’t like these, I have others. On any given day, the sights we see might be below average, prime, or merely mediocre, but they are, after all, all we’ve got. Whether or not this moment, this picture, this red-flaming leaf is Peak or not isn’t my matter to decide. Instead of waiting for the One Perfect Moment that captures Autumn 2009 in quintessential perfection, I’ll continue taking and sharing whatever images I can gather.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Autumn 2009.

Flyby

Last weekend, on our way home from seeing the sand sculptures at Revere Beach, J and I took a short stroll at Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston, a place we’d talked about exploring ever since our first outing to Revere Beach last October.

Egrets

Belle Isle is the last remaining salt marsh in Boston, and Belle Isle Marsh Reservation preserves 152 of the marsh’s 241 acres. Although most of the reservation is too marshy to be of much use to humans, these wetlands harbor a diverse population of plants, fish, shellfish, and birds.

More amenable to human visitors are the 28 acres of reservation land that are maintained as a park with landscaping, paths, and benches. Belle Isle Marsh is popular with local dog-walkers, baby strollers, and bird-watchers who don’t have cars, as the marsh is easily accessible via public transportation. Belle Isle is the kind of place you can drop by, briefly explore, and be back on your way, having taken a mini-vacation in less than an hour. While J and I explored the marsh last weekend, we saw several families taking afternoon walks with dogs and children, a chatty throng of middle-aged men on bicycles, and several lone men who seemed content simply to sit on benches in the sun. Belle Isle Marsh isn’t the kind of place tourists travel miles to see; instead, it’s a hidden jewel appreciated mostly by local folks.

Overhead

And then there are the planes. Although J and I went to Belle Isle Marsh intending to watch egrets, gulls, and other marsh birds, the most conspicuous “birds” flying overhead last weekend were of the silver-bellied gas-guzzling variety. Belle Isle Marsh is in East Boston, which means it’s directly in the flight path of Logan Airport. The egrets, gulls, and other marsh birds don’t seem to mind sharing airspace with silver-bellied gas-guzzlers; in fact, by the time we left Belle Isle, it somehow seemed natural to see wading birds fishing for aquatic morsels while a constant stream of planes flew overhead.

Humans, like many birds, are migratory creatures, their comings and goings following airline timetables rather than seasons. From the ground looking up, flybys are always awe-inspiring, regardless of whether the flying creature is feathered or jet-fueled.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Belle Isle Marsh. Enjoy!

Angelic

It’s been more than a single season since J and I went walking at Revere Beach last October, so this past weekend we took the Blue Line to Wonderland, where we walked up to Kelly’s Roast Beef, watched seagulls beg for bits of our lunch, then walked back toward the heart of Revere Beach, where the remnants of the New England Sand Sculpting Festival are slowly deteriorating.

Ouroborus:  Life, rebirth, and stuff

Although I’m familiar with ice sculptures, I’m new to the sand sculpting scene. When I learned from newspaper coverage that this year’s festival had happened over the weekend of July 16 through 18, I figured J and I would have to wait until next year to check out the local sand artistry. Thanks, however, to a glue-based fixative that protects the sculptures from the drying effect of the sun and the erosive power of wind and rain, these sculptures stay on display, slightly the worse for wear, for several weeks after the festival.

I can’t say I’ve ever made much out of beach sand other than a soggy hole or two, so I can’t imagine how sand-sculptors make such elaborate structures with the stuff. From reading about the festival, I know that this particular sand is trucked in from Hudson, NH: apparently Revere Beach sand isn’t the proper consistency for towering sculptures. I know, too, that none of these sculptures contain any internal structures or supports: they are constructed entirely of sand, water, and a huge dollop of creativity. Even when sprayed with a fixative, sand sculptures are an ephemeral medium: like sand mandalas, these works of artistry don’t last long.

Detail from It's a Small World

Because we headed to Revere Beach a full week after these sculptures were created–and because there had been several nights of drenching rain during that time–J and I weren’t expecting much from whatever leftovers might remain. We were surprised, then, to see so much detail had remained on several of the sculptures, our outing feeling a bit like a trip to Egypt, where the grandeur of a ruined Sphinx or pyramid inspires you to wonder what the structure looked like in its heyday.

It’s interesting to contemplate crumbling sand sculptures on a beach visited by working-class folks whose bodies are seldom look very sculpted themselves. Walking along Revere Beach before or after a belly-bursting lunch at Kelly’s Roast Beef, you see folks who for the most part can’t afford gym memberships, Botox, or liposuction. These are folks whose bodies, like my own, have settled and sagged under gravity’s influence; these are folks who are too tired from full work-weeks to spend much time or energy fighting the Battle of the Bulge. Among the lithe youngsters and tattooed muscle men striding the sand at Revere Beach, you’ll see swim-trunked grandpas with pot bellies and heart surgery scars walking beside wide-middled women whose bikinis reveal stretch-marks and cellulite. These are battle-scars borne by full lives, not flaws to be hidden due to insecurity or shame.

Spheres of Influence

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…and like sands through the hourglass, so do human bodies give way to gravity, slipping through the wasp-waisted present to land in a rounded heap called “it happens to all of us, eventually.” Sand can’t afford Botex or plastic surgery; sand doesn’t have the willpower for dieting or Pilates. Even a meticulously sculpted body will eventually sag: there is no fixative all the world over that can reliably and permanently fight the pull of time.

“Life’s a beach,” one bumper sticker warns, “and then you die.” The lesson of crumbling sand sculptures and sagging but sun-kissed beach bodies is to enjoy your days while you can, regardless of the shape you’re in.

Click here for a photo-set of images from this weekend’s trip to Revere Beach, including more photos of crumbling sand sculptures. Enjoy!

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