And just like that, November is over. Every year, I vow to catch up with grading over Thanksgiving break, and every year I make only modest progress with my grading piles, catching up with sleep and household tasks instead.

December is the busiest time of the semester: just two weeks of classes before everything is due. J put up our Christmas tree on Thursday, and today, our neighbors put a big red bow on our neighborhood Little Free Library.

Tomorrow night into Monday, we’re expecting snow. Even clouds know that November is over and December is here.

Marathon bombing memorial

This morning on my way to meet friends in Harvard Square, I stopped at Copley Square to visit the Boston Marathon finish line. Yesterday was One Boston Day–the anniversary of the 2013 Marathon bombing–and on Monday, I’ll watch this year’s race here in Newton, cheering the runners before they face Heartbreak Hill. Today, I wanted to visit the two spots on Boylston Street where three people died and hundreds were injured: a chance to pay my respects at a place simultaneously festive and somber.

Four crosses

There is no permanent memorial commemorating the Marathon bombing; instead, impromptu offerings of flowers, handwritten notes, and homemade crosses mark the two spots where pressure cooker bombs turned a festive event into a scene of mayhem. If you didn’t know that lives and limbs were lost in front of Marathon Sports and the former Forum Restaurant, you’d notice nothing remarkable about these two stretches of sidewalk. But if you know the hidden history of these sites, you recognize them as invisible portals between the Here and the Hereafter: two otherwise ordinary places where souls prematurely crossed to the other side.

Remember Martin Richard

Today when I arrived on Boylston Street, a 5K race had just finished, and throngs of people were watching an awards ceremony for the winners. Boylston Street was closed to vehicular traffic, and tourists posed for pictures at the finish line: a festive scene. This is the disconnect that will forever mark the Boston Marathon finish line: a site of both triumph and tragedy, the sidewalk here holds a hidden history of heartbreak.

This semester in review

Today I asked my first year writing students to look back on their first semester of college as a way of brainstorming their final essay. After they’d listed the new relationships they’d made, the things they’d learned, and the triumphs and challenges they’d experienced, I asked them to draw a comic strip illustrating their first semester in college.

Those comics captured the gamut of the first year college experience, with solitary stick figures arriving on campus and soon making friends. One strip captured a gradual increase in the complexity and rigor of college assignments (“No Wikipedia”), while another focused on the cycle of procrastination, with an optimistic stick figure proclaiming “Today I’m going to get a lot done,” only to be sidetracked by distractions. “Oh well,” the stick figure cheerfully proclaims before bedtime. “There’s always tomorrow.”

To show my students that you don’t have to be an artist to draw a comic, I drew my own version of the semester in review: a series of panels showing the tasks I juggle on a typical day, with never enough time for grading papers. “Oh well,” I proclaim every night before bedtime. “There’s always tomorrow.”

Green bee on purple coneflower

Maybe today’s arctic chill makes me particularly fond of this July scene. One of today’s tasks was to wrap (and tomorrow mail) a stack of 2010 photo calendars for my family back in Ohio, and of the 13 shots (12 months plus a cover image) that made this year’s cut, this image of a green bee on pollinating a purple coneflower is my favorite. I’ve always loved purple coneflowers, and it took some trying to get a handful of pictures worth sharing. And on a bitterly cold December day, it’s always good to cherish a memory of a warm and sunny July day.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Best of 2009. Enjoy!

The moral to today’s picture is “She who hesitates is scooped.” Early last Monday morning on my way to Zen practice, I noticed a mischievous Red Sox fan had “corrected” the sign for Varick Road in Waban, MA so it now pays homage to Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek. “That’s clever,” I muttered to myself, knowing that Varitek lives somewhere in Waban. “Someday when I have time, I’ll have to take and blog a picture of that.”

Imagine my chagrin, then, when I discovered on Tuesday morning I’d been doubly scooped, first by a blogger with the Newton TAB, and second by a mention of that post on Universal Hub. Hmmmph. No blogger likes to be second on the scene with a particularly blog-worthy bit. This morning when I stopped on my way to Zen practice to snap my own no-longer-original photo of Varitek Road, I solaced myself with the thought that I’m probably the first New Hampshire blogger to break this bit of Red Sox news.

Sometimes, it’s comforting to know exactly where you stand. In lieu of a “You Are Here” arrow, this sign imbedded in a Boston sidewalk told me exactly where I stood this afternoon as I snapped this shot, a helpful bit of information if I’d known (or cared) who owned the properties on either side.

Today, that girl posted a collection of interesting signs she’s seen in New York City. Not to be outdone by that girl’s globe-trotting junket in the Big Apple, I thought I’d share some signs I spotted during today’s daytrip to and from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

You might be interested to know that some portions of Boston’s Great Outdoors are Smoke Free.

And in case you were wondering about a certain celebrity’s sexual preferences, one Boston sign can clue you in about that, too.

If you’re looking for some cutting-edge advice from Boston’s top medical authorities, pay heed to this sign from the Longwood medical district, home to a handful of Hub hospitals.

And if your bundle of joy is more than you can handle, know there are loving arms in Boston who will accept him or her, no questions asked. Just be careful where you “pahk your cahr” when you make your special delivery.

There’s nothing more relaxing than admiring Keene–or watching the sun go down–from the rocky outcrop atop Beech Hill: exactly one year ago today, in fact, I posted my favorite version of the view from the top of Beech Hill. But if you and your friends are planning to drink a couple brews while lounging on the Beech, please take your empties with you. Nothing ruins someone else’s Relaxation than the reality of litterbug droppings.

    This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Relaxation…although it could also qualify as one of my Top Pet Peeves.

Here’s photographic proof of two things. First, we have indeed had some lovely blue-skied days here in New England over the past week. Second, Keene State is a kinder, greener campus that uses energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs in its various indoor and outdoor fixtures. I’d like to think this latter fact makes Al Gore a happier man.

This week marks the end of Spring Semester classes at Keene State College, and it’s also the last week of the present term for SNHU Online. This means I’m running ragged (and not feeling very energy-efficient) tending to end-of-term details for both schools. The challenge of multi-tasking is one fact of an adjunct instructor’s life: if you want to stay financially solvent during the under-employed summer months, you have to work double- or sometimes triple-time during the academic year. As a result, full-time adjuncts teaching a more-than-fulltime courseload at several institutions–i.e. full-time adjuncts like me–typically reach Spring Semester feeling completely spent: there aren’t enough hours to do what we must, let alone what we’d wish.

This means I’ve been spending a lot of time this past week looking at my favorite failing tree, making the usual end-of-term resolutions to work both harder and smarter next year than it feels I’ve done this time around. It will be another week, at least, before I’m done with Spring Semester grading; it will be another week, at least, before I have the time, energy, and mental bandwidth to relax with a book and a lawn-chair under a sunny tree. In the meantime, I secretly wish someone would change my less-than-efficient mental bulbs, leaving me with a Bright Idea to light my way from Now to Then.

Although lawns and gardens are greening in the finally sunny aftermath of last week’s rainy nor’easter, the woods here in southwestern New Hampshire are still denuded and gray. In a few weeks, the first new beech leaves will unwrap from their scaly buds, but in the meantime, the only leaves that remain on Beech Hill are desiccated skeletons from last year.

Spring in New England is a time of feast or famine, a season for jumping out of the frying pan and into the fryer. Last week, days of incessant rain brought floods threatened and actual; today, my email inbox contains warnings about fire weather. How is it that woods that were as soggy as soaked sponges now pose a fire risk less than a week after the rain stopped? Apparently a drastic drop in humidity has sucked the moisture from last year’s leaves and leaf litter, leaving woods carpeted in kindling even as wood frogs quack from vernal pools and muddy trails make dog-walking particularly problematic.

It would be nice, I think, to enjoy a week or more without the threat of natural disaster: why must we go directly from tales of Noachian deluge to threats of woodland conflagration? To me, the dry leaves that cling to Beech Hill boughs are more than fuel for Mother Nature’s tinderbox; they are a worn and tattered reminder of future hopes. The leaves that were so tender last May are now dead and dried to a crisp; they’re all we have to cling to while we wait for this year’s crop of fresh, furred, and newly chlorophyll-filled greenies to unfurl from dead-looking twigs.

They say that hope springs eternal, and so too does spring. Less than a week since I’d given up hope that the days would lengthen and grow warm, I’m barefoot and in short-sleeves, wearing cropped pants on an 80-degree day. Is this, I try to remember, how past springs have sprung, going almost instantaneously from winter to summer with nary a pause in between? Spring’s a thing, I think, that typically hits me by surprise, arriving right at the point each Spring Semester when I’m the most distracted by work, and the most wanting to be distracted by anything-but.

On Thursday, my afternoon Expository Writing students barely had to beg to convince me to hold class outside. I more than any of them, I think, was loathe to teach inside a windowless basement classroom on a day when everyone else, it seemed, was outside sunning, tossing frisbees, and otherwise lounging on the campus quad. In a region where school is occasionally closed because of inclement weather, why not cancel classes when the weather’s simply too good to stay inside?

I don’t, alas, have the authority to call a campus-wide Sun Day, but I can cling to the hope that the sun and spring are here to stay while the school year’s days are numbered.

On Thursday afternoon, the rain stopped and the sun shone in Keene, NH…and ever since, New England has been basking in the closest thing to spring that happens ’round these parts. During a sunny, sandals-and-capris stroll at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick, MA with Leslee yesterday, we spotted three sunning garter snakes, one of which obligingly posed for photos.

Less outgoing were a dozen or more clumps of skunk cabbage which, although stationary, insisted on facing the opposite direction with their shy, nubbly spadices hooded in purple-streaked spathes. Since skunkies prefer wet, squishy places, I wasn’t game enough to wade off-boardwalk to get a proper close-up, so this zoomed shot will have to suffice.

Before Leslee arrived for our Broadmoor stroll, I sat watching a newly arrived flock of tree swallows checking out a handful of inviting nestboxes. Also shopping for real estate was a bluebird of happiness.

Meanwhile back in Keene, even domestic felines are getting in touch with their Inner Wildcat, like this tiger tabby who was spotted stalking the wild-walking Reggie.

    Check out Leslee’s shot of a pile of painted turtles we spotted at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a jungle out there, people.

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