Capt. William Smith's house

This time last year, I took myself to an author talk with Elizabeth Gilbert in Harvard Square. This year, all author talks are virtual, and I can’t remember the last time I was in Harvard Square. When will it feel safe to go into a crowd again–to mingle with strangers? The rush of community–the thrill you feel walking down a crowded street or congregating with other readers, sports fans, or theater-goers–is something the virus has stolen from us, at least for now.

Today J and I went walking at Minute Man National Historic Park. J had never walked down the Battle Road there, and it has been a long time since I’ve been walking there: a year or so, or more? This time, I was mindful of the space between us and other walkers, joggers, and cyclists, and I carefully noted whether each passerby was or wasn’t wearing a mask. Strangers in the time of COVID-19 have become something dangerous or at least suspect: a new form of stranger danger.

On our way back to our car, J and I saw a large family posing for a group photo, one of the family members taking a photo of all the rest. In the Before Time, we might have stopped and offered to take a picture of all of them, together: the kind of thing Friendly Strangers used to do. Instead, I quickly calculated the potential risk in my head: the risk of stopping, the risk of drawing near enough to offer help, and the risk of touching and taking a photo with someone else’s phone.

The risk was too great, so we walked on. It will be a while, I think, before being a friendly stranger feels safe again.


There is something magical about the hour before sunset, when the sun sinks deep toward the horizon: a time photographers call the golden hour. Vertical surfaces glow as if gilded, and every grassy head is highlighted and haloed. The very ground seems hallowed, illumined with a metallic sheen. There is no magic, no shenanigans, behind such shows: it’s simply the sun casting everything into its best light.


Last night Leslee and I walked at the Minute Man National Historic Park, saying farewell to August by walking into the sunset then back to our cars. Classes start next week, and already the days are growing shorter. A month ago, it was too humid for walking, and once winter descends, the evenings will be too dark. Yesterday, though, the weather was perfect: clear but cool, with the sun playing peekaboo behind intermittent clouds.


They say you should make hay when the sun shines; instead of making hay, Leslee and I walked alongside stonewalls, over a cattail swamp, and past an old hayfield, stopping by Hartwell Tavern to admire a small flock of pygmy goats and sheep. A woman in colonial garb tended the animals, pulling out an iPhone to see whether her shift was done: time to head back to the 21st century. During the golden hour, it’s easy to think time stands still as the sun lingers low, but everywhere, eventually, life becomes history, casting a long shadow on shortening days.


Last night Leslee and I met after work to go walking at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington. We picked the spot because it’s convenient and good for walking, with a big parking lot and long, shady trail—the so-called Battle Road—that wends its way through sun-dappled woods and stonewall-circled pastures.

Queen Anne's lace

If Leslee and I had met at the Minute Man on the weekend, we would have seen busloads of tourists visiting the sites of the American Revolution; instead, on a weeknight, we saw dog-walkers, joggers, and pairs of women, talking. The last time I walked at the Minute Man, I lent my cell phone to out-of-towners who were trying to locate relatives who had been patiently waiting at the North Bridge in Concord: right war, wrong parking lot. After those out-of-towners located their kin and I was leaving, I saw two Revolutionary re-enactors with muskets and tri-cornered hats chatting with a Lycra-clad fellow on a bicycle, a temporal mash-up the founding fathers could have never envisioned.

Queen Anne's lace

If you’re a visitor to New England, places like the Minute Man are hallowed sites where Something Important Happened; if you live in the greater Boston area, however, Minute Man is just another place to walk the dog. When you visit a museum, you hush and grow reverent, trying to imagine what things were like back then when history happened; when you live in a museum, on the other hand, you’re more concerned with the happenstance of today, like what you’re going to have for dinner.

Poison ivy

Years ago when I visited Gettysburg on a foggy summer morning, I remember seeing joggers, a fellow reading a newspaper in his car, and a family waiting for the Visitors’ Center to open. That particular assortment of people summed up that place for me. For the family, Gettysburg was an educational destination, a place where history lessons come alive. For the joggers and the man with the newspaper, Gettysburg is a quiet, calm place to get some exercise or take a break before heading to work.

Pretty pink flower

I suppose you could see these two mindsets as being at war with one another, the battle between tourists and locals being as deeply entrenched as that between redcoats and rebels. But the difference between those who see Minute Man as being a historical site and those who see it as a recreational one is temporal, not ideological. If you visit Minute Man to see the sites of the American Revolution, you revere the place because history happened here; if you visit Minute Man because it’s a lovely place to take a stroll, you value the place because history still happens here.

Lost shoe

What is history, after all, but the happenstance of yesterday viewed through the prism of days: surely those redcoats and rebels had dogs to walk, dinners to eat, and friends to catch up with. It’s an error, in other words, to think that past lives were somehow more pristine or pure than our own, enacted with hushed and reverent tones. Instead, history never stops happening, the stories of today simply layering-over the stories that happened before.

Click here for more photos from last night’s walk at the Minute Man National Park: enjoy!

Two views

On Saturday, A (not her real initial) and I went walking at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lincoln, MA, sketchbooks in hand. Although both A and I were looking at the same pastoral landscape, our views are slightly different: A drew in pen and captured the architectural nuances of the Captain William Smith house, and I used a mechanical pencil to capture the larger landscape with its stone wall, fringe of forest, and scrubby burdock.

Neither sketch captures the afternoon’s brisk temperature, the smattering of raindrops that pelted the page as we began to draw, the red-tailed hawk that zoomed past as we stood motionless, or the steady parade of families with toddlers, baby strollers, and inquisitive dogs that passed us. Regardless of which drawing you prefer, either one offers more warmth and personality than a pixel-perfect photograph of the same scene.

Captain William Smith House