Beneath Echo Bridge

Yesterday was a brisk and brilliant October day, so J and I walked from our house to Hemlock Gorge and back.  Nestled along the Charles River near the junction of Routes 9 and 128, Hemlock Gorge is a hidden jewel that offers a pocket of wildness is an otherwise suburban setting.  I drive past Hemlock Gorge five days a week on my way to teach, so it’s a delight to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon walking there, soaking in the golden light of autumn.

Leaf-strewn stairs

Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a Japanese term for the restorative practice of spending time in nature.  We’ve reached the point of the semester where my students are submitting essay drafts faster than I can grade them, so I welcome any excuse to step away from my paper-piles and into the woods, even for a short time.  An afternoon walk along a river fringed with trees is therapeutic, the natural world going about its business in blithe disregard of human tasks and to-do lists.  For the brief time you’re outside, walking, the obligations awaiting you at home don’t exist, and all that matters is the whisper of wind through the trees and the dapple of sunlight on water.

Autumn reflections

Head of the Charles regatta

Several weekends ago, J and I took the T to Harvard Square, where we had lunch then walked to the Charles River to watch the Head of the Charles Regatta, which every year attracts rowing crews from around the world. This is the third year J and I have watched the Regatta: today’s photos, in fact, come from last year’s race. J and I don’t know anything about rowing, but we’ve learned from experience there’s nothing more relaxing than walking along a river in mid-October when the weather’s brisk and the foliage is turning.

Head of the Charles regatta

Annual events like the Head of the Charles are one way we keep time here in New England. If it’s April and the daffodils are blooming, it’s time to watch the Boston Marathon, and if it’s October and there’s a nip of chill in the air, it’s time to watch the Head of the Charles. In either case, it doesn’t really matter if you know much about the competition you’re watching: all you need to do is show up, mingle alongside other spectators, and enjoy the show. With both a marathon and a regatta, you can’t possibly cheer for every participant at every stage of the race, so instead, you cheer for whoever happens to be running or rowing past right now. It’s the epitome of an in-the-moment activity where you show up and enjoy whatever floats past.

Head of the Charles regatta

On our T ride home from Harvard Square, J and I struck up a conversation with a fellow from North Carolina who was visiting Boston with his girlfriend. They’d come for the weekend to see Clemson play (and, unfortunately, beat) Boston College in football, and in the course of their tourist wanderings, they encountered a fellow in a Navy sweatshirt who was on his way to watch his son compete in the Regatta. “Right then, we knew we’d have to check it out,” the fellow from North Carolina said. “Folks come from all over the world to see this race, and we just happened to be in town the same weekend!”

Head of the Charles regatta

The river of life has many twists and turns, and typically it’s helpful to know what’s ahead of you as you navigate those movements. But sometimes, the river of life throws up a surprise, and you just have to roll (and row) with it. J and I are lucky to live in a place where world-renowned athletic events happen to happen within an easy T commute away. Other folks come from afar to row the river that wends through our lives every single day.

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

Sun worshippers

I always vow to get caught up with grading before Thanksgiving, so I can take a proper break over the holiday…and inevitably failing to do that, I always vow to get caught up with grading over Thanksgiving, so I can finish the remaining weeks of the semester in a calm, leisurely fashion.

Warm enough to write outside

Instead, I’m woefully behind with grading, with looming paper-piles from all six (!) of the classes I’m teaching. It felt great to take Thanksgiving day off from grading, teaching prep, and even the thought of teaching and grading: on Thursday it was sunny and mild, so J and I took a long walk in downtown Boston, where we saw people sitting and enjoying the sun on the Charles River Esplanade, albeit in coats. Even when it’s not really summer, it can be fun to pretend it is.

Afternoon stroll

So, after a long holiday weekend of pretending I could take a break from grading, teaching prep, and even the thought of teaching and grading, it’s time to get back to it. I probably won’t have time to blog much over the next week while I’m digging out from my paper-piles; I’m even taking a break from writing my daily hour, having finished the three-month contract I’d made with my writing partner, with plans to resume the practice in December. For now, it’s time to get down to the business of reading rather than writing, those paper-piles not having disappeared despite all my attempts to ignore them out of existence.

Sailing the Charles

Yesterday J and I went to the Charles River Esplanade for the “Massachusetts Remembers 9/11” concert and ceremony at the Hatch Shell.

Blue evokes blue

Sunday was a mild and sunny day–a day reminiscent of that turquoise-skied Tuesday ten years ago–so the Charles River was dotted with sailboats and kayaks while the Esplanade was thronged with cyclists, sun-bathers, and families with strollers. It was a day so lovely, you could almost pretend it was any ordinary Sunday until you came to a colorful patchwork tapestry spread on the grass like an enormous picnic blanket.

School children's flag mural

Half the size of a football field, this American flag consists of 50,000 red, white, and blue squares that contain messages written by Massachusetts school children in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks: a two-dimensional time-capsule to remind us of darker days.

School children's flag mural

J and I arrived at the Hatch Shell early, so we were able to enjoy a pre-concert performance by the Berklee College of Music’s Rhythm of the Universe, a collaborative project consisting of musicians from 90 countries from around the world.

Rhythm of the Universe

It seemed somehow apt that the first melodic line J and I heard as we approached the Hatch Shell was that of a headscarf-wearing woman keening to a Middle Eastern melody. It was a sound that was both moving and mournful, as clear and ethereal as a muezzin’s call to prayer.

Rhythm of the Universe

The two-hour concert and ceremony featured prayers led by the Massachusetts Interfaith Leadership Coalition and musical performances by the Boston Pops Brass Ensemble and the Boston Children’s Chorus.

Boston Pops Brass Ensemble with the Boston Children's Chorus

My thoughts, however, kept going back to the eclectic sounds of the Rhythm of the Universe, who illustrated quite vividly how the cultures of the world can come together to create harmony if they are united by a common melody.

Rhythm of the Universe

Click here for a photo-set of images from the “Massachusetts Remembers 9/11” concert and ceremony.

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 Niçoise 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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