Placid pond

On Saturday afternoon, I took a short walk from Hammond Pond in Chestnut Hill to Houghton Garden, which sits on the other side of the MBTA trolley tracks from the Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Conservation Area. On many occasions when J and I have taken the T into Boston, I’ve noticed people walking wooded paths near the D line, across the tracks from a marshy plot of conservation land. From my vantage point inside the speeding trolley car, I always wondered how those hikers got to where they were: where in suburban Newton are there wooded trails and wetlands right alongside the train tracks, and how do you get there from here? This weekend, I finally took the time to find out, parking my car near the Chestnut Hill Mall and walking through woods studded with outcroppings of Roxbury puddingstone to the park on the other side of the tracks.

Gnarly

Houghton Garden must be amazing in the spring because it’s brimming with rhododendron shrubs. Rhododendrons have evergreen leaves, so even now that most of the deciduous trees are bare, Houghton Garden is still a lush and leafy place, and it must be positively gorgeous when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. Houghton Garden was designed by landscape architect Warren Manning, a disciple of Frederick Law Olmsted who believed gardens should reflect the natural landscapes and native species of their location. Because Houghton Garden’s shrubs and other plantings follow the shape and contour of the surrounding terrain, I never realized from a passing trolley that the landscape I saw was a garden, not a patch of wild woods crisscrossed with trails. As a intentionally-designed “wild garden,” Houghton Garden blends into the larger landscape, looking like a natural outcropping of rhododendrons and other rock-loving plants rather than an artificially planted place.

Remnant

Houghton Garden isn’t large, but it’s designed in such a way that you can meander the trails there without constantly realizing you’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood, with trolley tracks on one side and suburban backyards on the other. The trails at Houghton Garden skirt the banks of Houghton’s Pond, which is a narrow and meandering body of water fed by Woodman and Hammond Brooks: a human-engineered widening of two streams. The trails at Houghton Garden remind me of a maze, where sometimes you have to take a long, winding way to get from Point A to Point B. While I was exploring the trails at Houghton Garden, I encountered a couple and a family who were also enjoying the mild weather, and the park never felt crowded even though there was nothing but a thin veil of rhododendron leaves between them on their trail and me on mine.

At one point when I was circling back to the well-marked train-track crossing, a D-line train went rattling by, and I wondered whether anyone sitting inside the trolley car looking out was wondering where I was, exactly, and how they might get here from there.

Lily pads

I didn’t find any frogs basking on the lily pads at Hammond Pond this afternoon, but I had fun looking.

Partly cloudy

Hammond Pond is a scenic pond in Chestnut Hills, right behind the mall where I regularly go grocery shopping. Hammond Pond, in other words, is one of those hidden jewels that isn’t wild enough to attract tourists from far away, but a close-to-home respite for local residents: a place where you can take a brief break between errands to take a short, shady walk through woods studded with outcrops of Roxbury puddingstone to a peat bog and back, then get back in your car and be on your way.

You slay me

It’s been some fifteen years since I finished my Master’s degree at Boston College, so it’s been some fifteen years since I’ve set foot in Gasson Hall with its life-size marble sculpture of the Archangel Michael overpowering Lucifer. Some fifteen years ago, I was a backsliding Catholic, so the iconography of an angel slaying Satan didn’t seem hugely relevant to me: newly arrived in Boston, I was young, hungry, and struggling to balance the demands of graduate studies with the unanticipated rigors of college teaching. Looking at Michael and Lucifer, it was difficult to decide which was more personally relevant to me: was I the angel who slew, or the demon who was slain?

Archangel Michael overcoming Lucifer

As a graduate Teaching Fellow at Boston College, I occasionally brought my freshman composition students to Gasson Hall so they could sit in the rotunda and write in Michael’s shadow. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was trying to accomplish; I guess I thought my students would be awed and inspired by an epic struggle cast in stone, even if they (like me) didn’t entirely believe the mythological details. Having been stunned into silence the first time I’d stumbled into Gasson Hall, I guess I wanted my students to experience something similar, with pen in hand. In retrospect, some fifteen years later, I have no idea what (if anything) resonated with my students at all.

That’s how teaching is. You try to take your students to places they’ve never been, and you hope they’ll share the awe and inspiration you’ve felt. And yet, sharing is a tenuous experience: you can lead a student to water, but you cannot make him think. If I was undecided, some fifteen years ago, how or whether the Archangel Michael was relevant in my marginally Catholic life, why did I think a sculpted stone would speak better to my students?

Paternal

In Buddhist iconography, the bodhisattva Manjushri is typically shown wielding a sword, just as the Archangel Michael does inside Gasson Hall. Michael’s sword is a weapon of divine judgment, and Manjushri’s sword is the blade of perfect wisdom cutting through illusion. In the fifteen-some years I’ve been teaching college writing and literature, I sometimes wonder whether I carry Manjushri’s sword or a wet noodle: having led so many students to water, what exactly have I accomplished? Have I landed any body-blows on the demon of ignorance, or have I been unarmed by his master maneuvers?

Loyal

With age (and with the retrospective wisdom of fifteen-some years of climbing the same mountain semester after semester), I’ve come to believe that Time holds the sharpest sword of them all. When I was a young, hungry, and struggling Masters student at Boston College just beginning to teach, there was no magical sword of wisdom anyone could have handed me. I had to learn how to teach by teaching, just as my students had (and still have) to learn how to write by writing. The collective teachings of the ages–the example all the the world’s Michaels and Manjushris–are there to inspire and guide us, but ultimately we have to take up our own sword, handling it awkwardly at first but eventually–after some fifteen years, perhaps–perfecting our grip and learning how to manage its heft in our hand. There is no better teacher than Time, who wields a scythe that slashes constantly and repeatedly, slicing back and forth with each passing moment and month. In time, even our most obdurate illusions will fall away, sliced, like stone under a sculptor’s chisel.

Congratulations to Dr. Tim Lindgren, who defended his doctoral dissertation last week in the basement of Boston College’s Gasson Hall. You can click here to read his dissertation, “Place Blogging: Local Economies of Attention.”

Eagle wings

It took me a while to get the symbolism. “Why are the band and cheerleaders trying to distract our free-throw shooters,” I wondered every time a member of the Boston College men’s or women’s basketball team went to the foul line and members of both the BC band and cheerleading squad crossed their hands and flapped their fingers.

Baldwin the Eagle

It’s a venerable tradition for basketball fans to do anything in their power to distract members of the opposing team as they’re taking foul shots, and BC fans are no different. At professional basketball games, fans will often wave distracting signs, balloons, or other props while the opposing team takes their foul shots. At last night’s Boston College men’s and women’s basketball double-header, the band was particularly vocal, offering catcalls whenever either opposing team–Central Connecticut in the men’s game and Saint Francis in the women’s–took free-throws. But why would the Boston College band and cheerleaders try to put a hex on their own team?

It finally dawned on me that the crossed hands and flapping fingers aren’t a distracting gesture: they’re eagle wings, intended as a sign of good luck to members of the BC Eagles as they take their foul-shots. “May the ball in your hands take flight like an eagle and fly right into the basket,” the flapping fingers seemed to say. Athletes and their fans are a superstitious lot, so any sign of good luck that seems to work must be a good thing. Last night, those flapping fingers apparently sent a lot of good luck the Eagles’ way as the men’s team beat Central Connecticut 80-65 and the women’s team beat Saint Francis University 99-68. Let’s keep those fingers flapping, Eagles fans!

Too Many Men

I’m going to guess a man was working the Kelly Rink scoreboard in Boston College’s Conte Forum on Friday night, when the BC men’s hockey team lost in overtime to Northeastern University. Only a man would think having “too many men” is a bad thing!

Starting lineup

After having gone to two Boston Bruins games this year, J and I decided to give college hockey a try. Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of J’s house, so we figured a day-after-Thankgiving stroll to and from BC would be a good way to celebrate Black Friday on foot. Whereas NHL games are memorable for their drunken fans and on-ice fights, college hockey is much more staid. Not only are college referees more strict when it comes to controlling player roughhousing, the announcer at Friday night’s game reminded fans that they should uphold BC’s reputation by exhibiting proper sportsmanship. That and the absence of beer–Conte Forum is a dry arena–meant that a sober time was had by all.

BC rafters

Whereas J and I enthusiastically root for the Bruins, on Friday night my loyalties were divided. I have hanging on my office wall diplomas from both Boston College and Northeastern University: BC is where I got my Masters degree, and NU is where I got my PhD. So although J and I agreed to cheer for BC since its Chestnut Hill campus is closer to home than NU’s downtown Boston one, I found myself watching Friday night’s game without any rabid attachment to either team. When you watch a sober game with an attitude of “may the best team win,” you can enjoy good plays regardless of which team executes them.

Shot on goal

Because college hockey games are less rowdy–and significantly cheaper–than professional games, they attract a good number of families. Sitting next to me was a man shepherding a handful of boys; next to J was a man with his son. As much as I enjoy the pomp and festivity of professional sporting events, I realize that many fans can’t afford their high-class prices. Part of the appeal of a BC hockey game was the fact we could walk to and from the arena, but another big draw was the fact that on eBay, J bought tickets for our mid-level seats for what we would have spent on hotdogs alone at a Bruins game. We might be super-fans, but that doesn’t mean we’re super-rich.

Baldwin Eagle works the crowd

One great irony of Friday night’s game was the fact it was the first BC or Northeastern game of any kind I’d ever attended. Yes, I went to and graduated from both schools…but as a grad student at each, I didn’t have time to watch sporting events. And so as J and I approached the Boston College campus and tried to find Conte Forum, I had to admit the only time I’d been inside was when I’d lined up in cap and gown before marching at graduation. Extracurricular activities are a fun part of any undergraduate experience, but one of the shocks you experience when you enter grad school–and especially when you start teaching–is the realization that grown up grad students don’t typically have time for undergraduate games.

Dropping the puck

So perhaps Friday night was my chance to reclaim some of the grad school glory I missed the first time around. When I was a grad student and teaching fellow at Boston College, I had too many books and papers, not too many men, to occupy me; there wasn’t world enough nor time to play or watch games. And when I was a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University, I lived too far from campus–at times, a full state away–to take a leisurely Friday night stroll there and back.

Now that my student days are over and I’ll forever be an eagle/husky hybrid-alumna, I can enjoy rooting for either or both of my alma maters. Having too many men might be a bad thing, but you can never have too many allegiances.