They never covered THIS in Driver's Ed

Be careful what you pray for: you just might get it. If you’ve ever been tempted to ask God to give you a sign, be aware that the Deity might take you literally. Does God have a sense of humor? Only if you think having a snowplow-pushed road sign land on some hapless stranger’s car is funny. Or perhaps you have to see the other side of this sign to see the humor:

Is this a sign...

Toppled street signs

Maybe parking in front of the Waban Post Office, even on a Saturday when the one-hour parking restriction isn’t in effect, is never a good idea. During snowplow season, no sign anywhere is safe, so let drivers beware.

After the fire

Normally, what would catch my eye in this photo is the lovely example of a shade tree: a tree’s shadow standing on the end of an otherwise quiet home in the otherwise quiet neighborhood of Waban, Massachusetts. Instead, I notice the boarded-up windows and patched roof: all that remains of a three-alarm fire that gutted this otherwise ordinary home on New Year’s morning. What once was a quiet, orderly home is now an empty shell.

After the fire

Reggie and I pass this house nearly every morning we’re in Newton, and J and I pass it whenever we walk to Starbucks, the Post Office, or the T. There’s something unsettling in seeing a house you pass on an almost daily basis suddenly lifeless and abandoned. The fire apparently started around 9:30am on New Year’s morning, and that’s exactly when Reggie and I typically set out for our morning walk: it was brutally cold on New Year’s Day, so Reggie and I took a shortened walk that didn’t take us down Woodward Street. But before we turned toward home, I heard the sound of sirens and saw a police car blocking the intersection of Woodward and Chestnut Streets: a clear sign that something was awry.

After the crash

On Friday afternoon, the day after the New Year’s fire, a car crashed into the Waban Salon on Beacon Street, a stone’s throw from the now-gutted house on Woodward. The owner of the salon was sitting inside his shop, as hairdressers do, when a car pulling into an angled parking space smashed straight through the window, the driver’s foot having slipped from brake to gas pedal. It was brutally cold on New Year’s Day and icy underfoot the day after: in winter, shoes and brake pedals naturally get slippery. The salon owner, news reports say, was “shaken but not injured,” and who can blame him? Perhaps after years of listening to clients pour out their troubles over haircuts and root touch-ups, he’s grown accustomed to disorder?

Newton is a particularly quiet suburb of Boston, and Waban is a particularly quiet section of Newton, but accidents happen everywhere. We imagine our lives to be orderly: we take care to pay our mortgages, tend our trees, and keep our hair neatly trimmed and coiffed. But disorder threatens always, even at the turn of a New Year, when our resolute wills determine to keep our lives under control once and for all, this time. Left untended, order automatically slips into chaos…but even careful tending is itself no guarantee, the inexorable tug of entropy being far stronger than our best intentions.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Disorder. With a topic like that, I simply had to procrastinate posting.

Alien eyes

It’s the most unusual set of alien eyes I’ve ever seen, spotted yesterday morning on the side of the post office in Waban, MA. It makes sense that I’d see such an usual example of glowing window reflections now, though, given that end of October is when the oddest aliens appear.

Between the cracks

I’m going to guess this broken-backed bench, located at the heart of Waban Square, hasn’t seen much sitting this summer. A rolling stone gathers no moss, they say, and a broken bench with an unidentified weed sprouting between the cracks probably hasn’t been gathering many tired passersby.

I’m leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow to drive (with Reggie) to Ohio, where I’ll spend the weekend visiting my family. Although I’m taking my laptop to stay in touch with my online classes via painfully slow dial-up from my parents’ house and wondrously fast and free wifi at the local Panera, I don’t imagine I’ll spend much time blogging from Ohio.

While I’m out of the online loop, I’d encourage you to click over to the Cassandra Pages, where Beth has inspired a lively discussion on the current state of blogging. Beth is my un-official blog-mom since her Cassandra Pages (along with Fred’s Fragments from Floyd) was one of the sites that inspired me to venture into the blogosphere back in December, 2003. All these years later, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve learned about blogs and blogging…but I think Beth is asking all the right questions and providing a warm and welcoming forum (as she always does) for readers to formulate insightful answers. Enjoy, and I’ll see you when I return to New England next week.

Got glasses?

Here’s the latest in my ongoing series of lost and found objects: this time, a pair glasses dropped and then recovered along Beacon Street. Unless, of course, the fences have eyes just as the walls have ears.

Say what?

Due to last month’s defeat of a proposed tax increase here in Newton, all branch libraries are set to close this Friday. This morning outside the Waban branch library, a homemade sign urged passersby to “Save our Waban branch library & our librarians.” Unfortunately, yesterday’s rain muted the water-soluble message, leaving one indelible moral: some colors do run.

All the news that's fit to film?

When Keene flooded in October, 2005, one Boston news station sent a crew that parked its truck right in front of my apartment, a moment of fame I duly blogged. (Footage filmed on my street showing “Teri Adler live in the city of Keene” is still posted in the WBZ-TV video archive.)

Waban T stop

Today I experienced a feeling of deja vu all over again when J and I discovered not one but three Boston news trucks parked at the Waban T stop, presumably there to film the earth-shattering news that D line trains have resumed service today after Wednesday’s fatal crash and that investigators have determined the rear train was going 30mph faster than it should have been at the time of the collision.

I appreciate news crews’ apparent solicitude in following up on this important story…but why exactly is it necessary to have three different networks shooting live footage of an otherwise empty MTBA stop? (On weekends when there isn’t a home Red Sox, Celtics, or Bruins game, the D line is pretty quiet, offering plenty of parking lot space for news trucks but not much news.) Is there really that big a dearth of breaking news in the greater Boston area this weekend?

Prayer flags

“I don’t get it,” a passerby outside Timoleon’s Restaurant in downtown Keene remarked upon seeing me shooting pictures in a sunny alley intersecting Main Street. “What do you see up there?” I was in Keene for a meeting on campus yesterday, and the man caught me on my way to the bank and other errands afterward. “Up there,” I pointed. “The fire escape is casting slanted shadows on the brick, and above that, there are prayer flags.” The man looked where I’d pointed, looked back at me, and shrugged. “Okay,” he said in a nonchalant tone, then walked away.

Fire escape shadows

Apparently he’d expected something more newsworthy: who in their right mind, after all, stops on their way to the bank to photograph shadows? As much as the anonymous passerby was unimpressed by the sight of sun on brick, I was equally undaunted by his dismissal. As many times as I’ve passed this particular alley, I don’t ever recall these fire-escape shadows looking precisely this crisp and neatly demarcated, and I’ve certainly never noticed the prayer flags. Could it be the sight of thin-sliced shadows slanting just so was all it took to make me look up?

The purpose of prayer flags, of course, it to harness the wind so it will pray without ceasing. For Christians, ceaseless prayer is something encouraged in the Pauline epistles: a meditative act that requires both concentration and devotion. For Tibetan Buddhists, praying without ceasing is as simple as stringing a clothesline. The Himalayas are pummeled by wind, so flags printed with prayers will flap their petitions incessantly, prayer-wheels that spin without need for human hands.

Fire escape shadows

Still, ceaseless prayer, like sun-slanted shadows, is hardly a newsworthy event: that nonplussed passerby was right about that. After I’d finished my errands in Keene and drove back to Newton last night, I’d find something much more in line with what I think he was looking for. After I’d settled in with Reggie, my laptop, and an online quiz I was preparing, J came into the room with a concerned look. “Do you hear that?” he asked, and at first I thought he was referring to a Carolina wren singing loudly in the front yard. “The helicopters are circling: there’s been a crash on the green line.”

Checking online, I saw what the commotion was about: soon, we heard sirens along with the roar of news helicopters. Two MBTA two-car trolleys had collided on the green “D” line not far from the stop J and I take whenever we take the T into town. Soon we both were planted in front of the TV watching live coverage from the helicopters buzzing overhead. Although the trolleys hadn’t collided in our own backyard, the accident was close enough that we could recognize the precise spot of the collision, down the tracks from a local landmark we call Varitek Bridge.

Fire escape shadows

Although J and I don’t take the T on a daily basis, we take it every time we go into Boston to explore or attend sporting events. On our way home from San Francisco on Monday, for instance, we’d taken the T from the airport, thanking our conductor when he let us off at “our” stop: a common courtesy. Had we had tickets to last night’s Celtics game, J and I would have been waiting for an inbound train right around the time the two outbound trolleys collided. From our stop, would we have heard the metallic screech of an impending collision down the line, would we have felt the seismic tremor of impact reverberating through the rails, or would we have stood there, wondering at the delay, while T workers hurriedly arranged shuttle-buses for re-routed traffic?

J and I spent much of last night checking live coverage while going about our other tasks, the normal evening routine of getting the dogs settled, preparing and eating dinner, and switching between the Celtics and Red Sox games on TV being accompanied by the incessant sound of helicopters. Initial reports said one of the trolley conductors was seriously injured and trapped in the wreckage; whenever we switched to the news, we watched firefighters trying to pry and cut their way into the crushed and mangled trolley. Around 10:30, after the major networks had returned to their normally scheduled programs, we could still hear helicopters circling. “If that conductor is seriously injured and it’s taking them this long to get her out,” I started to say, and J completed the thought for me. “It doesn’t look good.”

Fire escape shadows

A few months ago, a green line conductor had yelled at J and me for darting in front of her inbound train on our way to board. “Never run in front of the train,” she scolded as if we were rambunctious teenagers. “If either one of you had slipped, I can’t stop the train quickly.” Duly chastened even though, from our perspective, we’d crossed well before the approaching train, we apologized: she was right. It’s never wise to cross in front of a moving train, and ever since we’ve made a conscious point of stopping before oncoming trolleys, making eye contact with the conductor, and gesturing if we want her or him to hold the train while we cross either in front or behind.

“Do you think it was the woman who yelled at us,” I asked J when we learned that the trapped conductor was female. There was no way, then, of knowing, but that statement “I can’t stop the train quickly” seemed particularly ominous. This morning, we learned that MBTA operator Terrese Edmonds, age 24, was not the 40-something woman who’d scolded us; we also learned that Edmonds was probably already dead by the time J and I had remarked last night that things didn’t look good. Still, this morning both J and I looked at pictures of Edmonds and tried to remember if we’d ever ridden with her–do we remember ever thanking her–on the countless times we’ve relied upon the T to get us from here to there.

Fire escape shadows

Past midnight, after both we and the circling helicopters had turned in for the night, I stated the obvious to J: “We could have been on that train.” Although the accident occurred past our stop, it could have occurred anywhere, and although we don’t recall ever riding with the conductor who was killed, it could have been anyone. Last night, presumably inspired by those ceaselessly circling helicopters, I dreamed J and I saw paramedics running down our street with bandaged bodies on stretchers even though most of the crash victims left both trains under their own power, some even walking themselves to a nearby hospital.

Life is short, and even your next moment isn’t guaranteed. Last night as we switched between the Celtics and Red Sox games on TV, the sound of helicopters buzzing incessantly overhead reminded me again and again to pray for everyone on those trains, for the firefighters trying to help them, and for all the fragile, imminently mortal passersby with whom I share this planet. Life is short, and even your next moment isn’t guaranteed. Never cross in front of trains, always thank your conductor, and never pass up an opportunity to pray.

Cardinal in maple

Now that the maples of Newton are bursting into leaf and flower, the cardinals here are still sitting pretty, just as they were back in February when the trees were bare.

Even trees get thirsty sometimes

With all the spring sun we’ve been getting in New England these days, even the trees are thirsty, sneaking surreptitious sips of high fructose corn syrup in the form of McDonald’s sodas. Either that, or “leaf litter” isn’t the only kind of dry detritus you can find in the woods in springtime.


Last week in Keene, we had our first fire warning of the season: a reminder that low humidity and dry leaf litter make for dangerously flammable forests. This weekend in Waban, the “fire” outside is metaphoric, with forsythia blooming like a yellow-hot blaze in suburban yards and gardens.

Although I mentioned Earth Day earlier this week, yesterday I was remiss in remembering Arbor Day. Steve was similarly remiss, mentioning today that he’d forgotten both Earth and Arbor Days, presumably because he was “not watching the calendar closely enough!” For good or ill, neither Earth nor Arbor Day is on my calendar, but I’d like to think that doesn’t matter: wouldn’t it better for us (and the health of the planet) if we spent less time watching our calendars and more time listening to trees?

In New England at least, the trees right now will tell you it’s spring, their “words” being unfolding leaves, blooming flowers, and (in the case of pines) a yellow dusting of pollen. Before he died, Thoreau had intended to construct a local “Kalendar” that, according to Bradley Dean, would provide a biological time-line of the natural year, with the blooming and breeding of plant and animal species serving as temporal markers:

Apparently he intended to write a comprehensive history of the natural phenomena that took place in his hometown each year. Although he planned to base his natural history of Concord upon field observations recorded in his journal over a period of several years, he would synthesize those observations so that he could construct a single “archetypal” year, a technique he had used to wonderful effect in Walden.

Maple blossoms

In my neck of the woods, I’ve learned, trout lilies bloom at the end of April, and forsythias flame not long after. I don’t need a calendar to remind me of that fact, just my blog (the 21st-century, high-tech equivalent of Thoreau’s journal) and photo archives. Next week, I’m hoping the wake-robin (Trillium erectum, also known as purple or red trillium) will be blooming since I have an unofficial ritual of blogging them on May 1st, whether at Goose Pond or Beech Hill. After May 1st, I’ve learned from years of New Hampshire living, the black flies will emerge, and my days in the woods around Keene will be numbered, at least until blood-sucking insects die off.

It might be true that the trees of the greater Boston area are fond of McDonald’s soda, but I’d prefer that instead of “loving it,” they simply leaf it. Steve rightfully notes that every day should be both Earth and Arbor day, for “When should we not be thinking about trees, about the health of the planet?” Between you and me, I think the trees in New England and elsewhere would be healthier if they just said no to soda.

This post is a roundabout excuse to mention two tree-related things. First, the Nature Conservancy is spearheading an effort called Plant a Billion Trees which is attempting to re-forest a richly bio-diverse (and unfortunately endangered) area in Brazil. If you, like Steve, can’t plant a tree in your urban backyard, you might consider donating to the cause of “One dollar – One tree – One planet.”


Second, don’t forget to submit your tree-related links and pictures to next month’s Festival of the Trees. You can send permalinks to mike (at) 10000birds (dot) com, submit them via the Contact page at 10,000 Bird’s, or use the Festival’s online submission form. The deadline is April 29, so get moving!