Snow into sleet

Today brought a day-long mix of snow, sleet, and rain, so J and I took a break from the wintery weather by going to the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College to see their current exhibit, Eaglemania: Collecting Japanese Art in Gilded Age America.

Eagle and clock tower

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a monumental bronze sculpture that was donated to the College in the 1950s by the estate of Larz and Isabel Anderson, who bought it in Japan during their honeymoon. A gilded replica of the statue sits atop a pillar near the main entrance to Boston College, and subsequent conservation of the original suggests it was crafted during the Meiji period, possibly by the celebrated sculptor Suzuki Chōkichi. The McMullen exhibit contextualizes the original bronze alongside Japanese sculptures and scrolls depicting birds of prey as well as other items from the Andersons’ personal collection.

Eagle with necktie

J and I enjoy going to the McMullen regardless of what’s on exhibit there. The Museum is small, so you can take your time examining individual artworks, and the exhibits are well-curated. We always leave the McMullen feeling like we learned something: today I learned, for instance, that samurai warriors practiced falconry, a pastime forbidden to commoners even though hawks and eagles often appear in Japanese art. Even though I’ve seen the BC eagle perched on a pillar by Gasson Hall countless times, today I learned how huge and impressive it is when viewed at eye-level.

Although I didn’t take any photos at the McMullen Museum today, you can view official press images from the exhibit here. Eaglemania: Collecting Japanese Art in Gilded Age America is on view at the McMullen Museum until June 2, 2019.

Many turns

This afternoon on my way home from an errand, I stopped at Boston College to walk the memorial labyrinth there. I’ve blogged about this labyrinth before: as someone who loves both walking and walking meditation, I’m fascinated by labyrinths, which are designed to contain an entire pilgrimage–there and back–in a single constrained space. Of the various labyrinths I’ve walked over the years, the one at BC is probably my favorite with its smooth stones and fringe of green grass. Why go on pilgrimage when the earth underfoot is so clearly holy?

Labyrinth green

When I taught at BC for a semester two years ago, I had high hopes of walking the labyrinth there frequently: how simple would be, I thought, to take a quick pilgrimage every day after class? In reality, though, I walked the labyrinth only once that semester, on September 11. The BC labyrinth is a memorial to alumni who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the anniversary of that tragedy pushed me out of my office and onto the labyrinth’s curvy course. Apart from that one day, however, I repeatedly told myself I didn’t have time to take a detour toward the labyrinth on the way from my office to my car. While teaching at BC three days a week for an entire semester, I repeatedly told myself I was too busy to take even a few extra minutes for a leisurely stroll.

You are here

Now that I’m not teaching at BC, I see each of the times I didn’t walk the labyrinth after class as being a missed opportunity. The fact that I felt I didn’t have time for a contemplative stroll meant I most definitely needed to take one: whenever you’re too busy to meditate, of course, is when you need meditation the most. As soon as I started walking the labyrinth today, I remembered a curious fact: when you’re walking a labyrinth, time seems to stand still. Whereas moments before you were checking your watch and ticking through your to-do list, the moment you start walking a labyrinth, time slows as you carefully attend the step underfoot, trusting the way There will eventually bring you back Here.

Afternoon light

Two teams, one anthem

Later this afternoon, J and I are going to Boston College for a men’s hockey game. J and I used to be in the habit of going to Bruins games on Black Friday, as the Bruins typically have a matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving, when both J and I are off work. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, their ticket prices skyrocketed, so now we go to far fewer professional hockey games.


Fortunately, Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of our house, and BC hasn’t raised ticket prices after winning three national championships in the past five years. Attending a college hockey game is a different, more “family friendly,” experience than attending a professional hockey game. There’s no alcohol served at college games, so you’re far less likely to sit next to drunk and rowdy fans; instead, BC hockey games tend to attract parents shepherding flocks of hockey-crazy kids whose hooligan antics are more likely fueled by sugar and pent-up energy than anything alcoholic.

Opening face-off

On the ice, college hockey games feature far fewer fights than in the pros: although the competition gets just as heated, college players who fight get tossed from the game rather than simply spending five minutes in the penalty box. As much as I appreciate the unwritten rules of professional hockey fights, I also appreciate the calmer, more “focused” energy apparent at college hockey games. At a professional game, you get the sense that a good number of the fans are more interested in drinking and watching fights than they are in following the actual game. At college hockey games, on the other hand, you’ll often encounter hockey parents who use the game as a teachable moment, coaching their kids on how to apply in their own games the techniques they see on the ice.

Baldwin's bunch

BC’s mascot, Baldwin, also apparently sees home hockey games as a good change to mingle with young hockey fans, both on and off the ice. On a day typically devoted to shopping outings that occasionally turn violent, it seems downright wholesome to spend the afternoon watching a fierce but family-friendly competition that ends in handshakes.

Good game!

The photos illustrating today’s post come from a February, 2009 game against the University of Massachusetts. This is my Day 29 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

BC flowers reflected in McGuinn Hall window

Last week, I showed you a sequence of photos I shot from my parking spot at Framingham State over the past few months. At Boston College, I’ve been collecting a similar series of photos of a plot of flowers that spells the letters “BC” in maroon and gold, the college colors.

During the first week of September, these flowers welcomed new and returning students with bright blooms…

Even the landscaping has spirit

…but two weeks later, those flowers had been removed…

Between the acts

…to make way for green chrysanthemums…

New mums / not yet blooming

…that bloomed throughout October…

In bloom

…until they were cleared in November, leaving a clean slate that won’t be re-written until spring.

Bare ground

This is my Day 20 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

As above, so below

Today has been unseasonably warm and humid, a day that seems almost eerily out of step with the natural order of things. Many of the remaining leaves came down in last night’s wind and rain, which means the ground is carpeted with a fresh layer of leaves that are nearly as colorful as those still clinging to the trees: as above, so below.

This is my Day 18 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

BC vs. NC State

Today J and I walked to Boston College, where we attended the last home football game of the season. The last home game is traditionally dedicated to graduating seniors, so there were ceremonies before the game and during halftime to honor graduating members of the football team, marching band, and drill team.

BC vs. NC State

From our seats in the south end zone bleachers, we had an excellent view of the visiting team’s cheerleaders and mascot. The North Carolina State “Wolfpack” has two mascots, Mr. and Mrs. Wuf, and it was Mrs. rather than Mr. who made the trip to Chestnut Hill, sashaying around in a flouncy skirt and generally hamming it up for the crowd.

BC vs. NC State

Even more entertaining than Mrs. Wuf, however, were the Wolfpack cheerleaders, who showed off their impressive tumbling skills during time-outs.

BC vs. NC State

BC vs. NC State

BC vs. NC State

BC vs. NC State

BC vs. NC State

Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, however, football games are decided by the action on rather than off the field. So while the North Carolina State cheerleaders were flipping out, their team fell to the Eagles by a decisive score of 38 – 21.

BC vs. NC State

This is my Day 16 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

St. Ignatius with clown wig

One of the core tenets of Ignatian spirituality–that is, the spiritual practice of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order–is the practice of finding God in all things. I’m not sure a clown wig is one of the “things” Saint Ignatius was thinking of when he established the spiritual exercises practiced by Jesuits around the world, but I’d like to think that even Ignatius would find a bit of humor in whatever prankster decided to decorate his statue with a colorful bit of whimsy.

St. Ignatius with clown wig

Boston College is a Jesuit school, so Ignatian attitudes abound there, as evidenced in this prayer map to campus. Although I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, I like teaching at a school where spiritual practice is actively encouraged.

Gasson bell tower reflected in Fulton Hall

Acknowledging that students are in school to cultivate a spiritual as well as an intellectual life seems much more humane than trying to teach young minds in isolation. In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf suggested that “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” and perhaps we might add “or prayed well.” How can students learn if their entire beings, body and soul, have not been tended?

Love your body week

During the eleven weeks I’ve been teaching at BC, I’ve carried a camera with me, as I do everywhere, and I’d like to think my practice of taking and sharing photos has more than a bit in common with Saint Ignatius’ practice of finding God in all things. What is it, after all, that photographers do but try to find a spark of spirit that might otherwise go overlooked?

In loving memory

This is my Day 15 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Behind Fulton Hall

We’re ten weeks into the semester at both Boston College and Framingham State, and right on schedule I’m feeling the weariness that usually descends this time of the term. Last year, I blogged about this sluggish stretch, which I’ve come to call the Dark Night of the Semester: the point in the term when “teaching” feels like an endless slog through student papers, and both you and your students wonder (either aloud or secretly) why you ever chose to assign so much writing.

Steps near Conte Forum

During the Dark Night of the Semester, I often remember a line from the Bible: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” At those points in a long semester when I’m feeling uninspired and bogged down with paper-grading, it’s easy to feel like I’ve lost my “salt.” Instead of being zesty and full of flavor, I feel bland and insipid, without the energy to overcome my own (much less anyone else’s) inertia.

One thing I’ve learned from twenty years of teaching, though, is that the Dark Night always passes: somehow, the salt becomes salty again. It’s easy to get sidetracked (and deflated) by the seemingly endless logistics of teaching: papers to read, emails to answer, classes to plan. With all the busy-ness that teaching entails, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re teaching to begin with. Did you start teaching because you wanted to spend the rest of your life grading papers, or did you start teaching because you love language, ideas, and the light in students’ eyes when they really “get” something?

Fides and foliage

Sometimes restoring your saltiness is a matter of stepping away from the paper-piles, and sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting what you do in your classes: what activities pique your students’ interest, and what activities leave them listless and disinterested? Sometimes, in other words, restoring your saltiness is a matter of moving away the things that are bland and toward the things that still have flavor. We’ve all heard the advice to “follow your bliss,” and I often tell my students that in their writing, they should follow their curiosity. So, what would it look like if both teacher and students alike followed that suggestion?

For me, restoring my saltiness usually involves some sort of creativity, some sort of movement, and some sort of connection with nature. I don’t find paper-grading particularly exciting, but I find it personally inspiring and energizing to write, take walks, and be outside in the living world. So when I got home from teaching today, instead of immediately tackling my paper-pile, I suggested to J that we walk to lunch through an afternoon full of golden light. If you can’t savor the sweetness of a golden afternoon, where will you find any salt at all?

This is my Day 6 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Wellesley MLP/DPW

This morning on my way to Framingham State, I shot a picture of a sign framed by red ivy leaves on a brick wall. It’s an image I first noticed when the ivy on this particular wall started to turn last month, but this morning was the first time I got stopped at the light at this intersection, giving me a chance to capture the shot.

Stone gate

It might seem strange to compose photographic shots on my morning commute, but many days the time I spend in my car driving to or from that day’s campus is the one time I’m really quiet and relaxed, not thinking about much of anything besides the road right in front of me. When I used to drive from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back, that long commute gave me ample time to meditate: a chance to “be here, now” in my driver’s seat. It’s more than a bit ironic that I could “be here, now” while zooming down the highway, en route between Here and There, but I found if I turned off the radio, a car is a closed environment with few distractions.

Stone steps

These days my commute is much shorter, but I’ve maintained that previous practice of keeping the radio switched off during my drive to campus. Whether I’m driving three miles to Boston College or twelve miles to Framingham State, my morning commute is a kind of daily quiet time, one of the few times during my waking hours when I don’t have to multitask, thinking ahead to X while currently devoting myself to Y. Although there are some mornings when I spend my commute worrying about the day’s to-do list or making last-minute mental edits to the day’s lesson plan, for the most part I simply leave my mind alone, letting it wander from one idle thought to another like a mellow old dog you trust off-leash, knowing it doesn’t have the energy or youthful foolishness to roam far.

Why did the turkeys cross the road

It is at times like these, when I’m not looking for them, that ideas and inspiration arise, even more so than when I’m consciously seeking them. It is at moments like these that an idea to pursue later might arise, or an image might appear that begs to be photographed the next time the traffic light turns red. You never know what you might see on your morning commute, so keep your eyes open.

This is my Day 5 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

I shot all of today’s photos from the driver’s seat of my (stopped) car while commuting to or from Framingham State or Boston College: selected scenes from this past month’s daily commutes.

Boston skyline from Alumni Stadium

Yesterday J and I walked to Boston College for a football game at Alumni Stadium. Our seats were high in the south end-zone bleachers, so we had a bird’s eye view of the Boston skyline towering over the turning trees at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. J and I have been to enough BC football games that we’ve taken some version of this same shot countless times. There’s something about a skyline that just begs to be photographed, especially when the buildings of said skyline seem to be shimmering straight out of the water and trees.

BC vs Virginia Tech

This semester I asked my first-year writing students at BC to write about the history of a specific site on or near campus, and from those essays I’ve learned that the Chestnut Hill Reservoir used to have two basins, with Alumni Stadium now standing on the drained site of one of them. Chestnut Hill Reservoir is a manmade body of water, originally built to supply water to thirsty Boston residents, so I guess it makes sense that it would be re-engineered over time: first to provide water, next to provide extra land to the college campus next door, and now as a place where students from that campus go to jog, walk, or otherwise de-stress.

BC vs Virginia Tech

It seems a bit odd to look at the remaining reservoir from bleachers built on what used to be its other half: when else have I sat or stood on seemingly solid land without realizing the former fluidity of the very ground beneath me? Now that I know Alumni Stadium used to be water, however, that might explain a curious phenomenon I’ve observed at every football game we’ve attended there.

BC vs Virginia Tech

At some point during the game’s second half, one or two gulls quietly appear overhead, soaring from the reservoir next door and gradually being joined by more and more of their fellows. I’ve always assumed these gulls were looking to scavenge the peanuts and popcorn left behind by football fans: over time, I assumed, the reservoir gulls have learned that the sound of cheering crowds means lots of leftover snacks.

BC vs Virginia Tech

But that doesn’t explain the fact that these gulls are always gone by game’s end: just as they spontaneously appear overhead at roughly the same point in the second half, they just as inexplicably float away, back to the reservoir that remains, before the game ends and we football fans vanish, as well.

Maybe these stadium gulls aren’t looking for handouts, and maybe they aren’t even earthly birds at all. Maybe they’re the ghosts of gulls long dead, soaring over the site where they once in a past life dipped their feet and feathers in a reservoir made and then reclaimed by humans, those fickle folks who would build you a home then turn around to take it away. Finding nothing but a stadium, football fans, and the promise of scavenged snacks, these ghosts of gulls float overhead, disappointed, before they soar to find something more enduring to sustain them.

This is my Day 3 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.