Archive for the ‘Suburbs’ Category

Winter Fluffer

January 16th, 2011

After a glance, my uxorial unit declared the backyard looks like a field of Marshmallow Fluff®.  That’s how winter should be, and how it is in my childhood recollections.

We’ve been a week with scant new snow. We had a pathetic dusting last night, sky dandruff. Yet, the air has been colder than average and not modulated by that famous ocean effect that Boston gets. Our 18 inches up on this hill stays a solid foot, even after several sunny afternoons.

For much of my childhood, I spent vacations and for a few years lived in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. To my memory, snow that came stayed.

Romney is in the mountains and on a plateau surrounded by them. The huge apple orchards and corn fields overlooking the Potomac were white from the first flakes, on and on, with regular new snows.

Normally fluffin-town snow in Boston, if it deep enough to cross-country ski in, stays that way one to three days. Temperatures above 30F, bright sun, and no new snow quickly reduce the good stuff to intermittent grass decoration and junk that sticks to skis.

I’m quick to grab the skis (sometimes snowshoes instead) and head to one of my Boston ski resorts — the Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park’s golf course or the nearby Blue Hills Reservation in Canton/Milton. Alas, I used to walk to the Forest Hills Cemetery when we still lived in Jamaica Plain, but two years ago, the management there got grumpy, nasty and non-accommodating.

It’s not a huge deal to drive 45 minutes or even a couple of hours to get to a bona fide cross-country course. They have groomed trails, warming houses or huts, places to pee and such. They do charge say $20 a person, but the big thing is that they are OUT THERE. It’s fabulous to ski Boston. I have an odd pride in being able to do so, even hitting someplace twice a day or more than one location.

So, I’ve been grokking the cold weather keeping the deep snow for my amusement and sport. Tomorrow again will be bitterly cold — more obvious in the arboretum or particularly on the Devine golf course, which only means faster skiing and no slogging in the gummy stuff.

If global warming means hotter summers and colder winters, at least the second part keeps my fluff deep and hard enough for play. Bring it on and keep it on the ground, if you please.

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Grocery Theater

January 10th, 2011

megaphone“You better be f***ing gone when I get home, b**ch!”

Such was the very public message screamed into her cellphone by the young woman standing in the produce aisle between the displays of bananas and pinkish tomato-like objects. In her mid-20s, she carried her infant daughter in a thick, pink sweater suit. The tot in one arm had all the protection of the body and none from the hate inches from her wee head.

The woman continued to hold forth at extreme volume. She seemed to address another woman and added, “Pack your sh*t and get out now!”

I wondered as perhaps the other dozen fruit and veggy shoppers must have what inspired the tirade and its timing. How is it that the shouter discovered something while in the supermarket that primed her explosion? Did she simply call her home and hear a rival or disfavored sister’s voice? Did someone call her as she entered the store and dish some serious dirt?

Regardless, this was just one of the many cellphone thespians visiting their petty personal problems or prides upon the disinterested world of you and me. One underlying theme accompanies all those fools who career into people and objects in the streets, stores and hallways of America with cellphone or headset in use, fairly bellowing and blathering. The delusion to some may be cartoonish — that cellphones radiate some magical cone of silence and invisibility. Otherwise, we have to assume that these folk believe that their pathetic little dramas or observations are aural gifts to the rest of us.

Practically, I think of what surely must be billions of dollars spent on cellphone fees, either minutes or flat monthly, to enable such intrusive triviality. There are so many charities, churches, civic groups and more who could put those funds to meaningful application. Otherwise the babblers and boasters would be better off spending the money in ways that would ease or improve their lives or those of their families.

cell.jpgInstead, they are wont to tell their cell counterparts (and those of us within 50 or more feet) what they had to eat or are about to or some such silliness. They do display that nothing worthwhile is going on in their lives or their brains. Their tiny, trivial skits are desperate indeed.

Over a decade ago, I started seeing this regularly. I worked next to the Burlington Mall. Whenever I was there, indolent teens and adults lived the great lie of Microsoft — that we humans are intrinsically multitaskers. The shoppers and food-court gawkers could not walk and talk. They’d bump into each other, their ignored chums, or even store doors. They were jokes without self-awareness of being such.

Remarking nonstop on the unremarkable is the real task of the self-absorbed.


Highway Ice Skating

January 8th, 2011

Bang…bang against the Jersey barrier…

This morning in the worst of the icy snowfall,we got to see a Masshole in prime form. Having learned to drive in the absurdly steep and serpentine mountains of West Virginia’s Eastern panhandle, I’m fine on snowy roads. I can’t say the same for most of our locals. This morning’s bozo was such.

At 30 degrees, 128 had two inches of road nasties, a porridge of snow and ice. The shoulders and onramps got the highway plows’ residue of six or so inches of the perilous muck. That’s where the Masshole’s arrogance met defeat by physics.

His Ford Expedition should rightly be a Ford Exhibitionist. He gunned it over the snow and ice bank and around cars on the ramp. Big man=Big jerk.

We were in the middle of three lanes two vehicles back, in prime viewing position. The fat new SUV immediately spun counterclockwise. Through the grace of coincidence, it slid across three lanes without taking out any smarter drivers.

Somewhere between the third lane and the mini-shoulder and Jersey barriers, the Masshole managed to steer into the skid. It was too late to get back in the traffic flow, but at least he didn’t go headfirst into the concrete.

Instead, the driver’s side rear swung into it. In an impressive discarding of trim and metal, the side and bumper and lenses fairly exploded like a toy blown up with firecrackers.

That was no place to stop. Even at 45 MPH, it was plain the Masshole would not be seriously injured despite his reckless wreck. Sure, he’d have some considerable inconvenience – snaking his Exhibitionist to the breakdown lane, waiting for a wrecker or nervously heading to home or the dealer’s to begin the repair spiral. For him, he likely will escape charges as well as injury. He’ll lose some cash and get an insurance surcharge.

To those of us he put at risk, he won’t get enough punishment. Yet I think I can speak for all of us in self-interest that we were relieved to have been mere spectators.

MacMilton Mansions 1 of 2

September 8th, 2010

Visualize a set of four or five instant mansions at the Hyde Park border on the Milton side, Brush Hill Road. You apparently won’t have to imagine it for long. The same developer who has been plunking down oversized brick-faced thingummies is poised to re-plunk.

We strolled around the burned-out property they’ll use, snapping images of the sad and grand old house on the hill. (Pix follow in 2 of 2.)

I also found the remnants of what appears to be an outdoor teen living room where coyotes pass. It is a wonderful joke on the mansions of Metropolitan Avenue.

Originally, I went onto the well forested path behind a six-foot privacy fence because I’d seen neighborhood coyotes trot there in midday. I hadn’t considered it rec-room territory, but it looks like the local youth have.

macmiltonPix tricks: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. Use your browser’s back button or keys to return.

First, consider the environment. Metropolitan as it heads east from Hyde Park has several old, grand homes. Mostly though, it’s parvenu palaces. We realized eventually what they appear to be — a bunch of suites motels!

Architectural tastelessness is neither a crime nor limited to Boston’s immediate burbs. Wright and Wren know that Wellesley and Dover among many other nouveau riche reserves are splatted with overly large tacky manors. In general, folk can spend as they wish.

Tucked among the outrageous examples here though is that counterpoint to it, quite possibly created and enjoyed by the offspring from that superficial grandeur.

joesentmeThe path entrance is a bit horror-movie-ish. The darkness from the trees compounds the steep descent beyond the fence. It only needs Psycho music to be truly ominous.

However, instead of wild canines, the suburban jungle features junk furniture and graffiti. Just inside is a roofless rec room.

Surely this is the away-from-mom-and-dad preserve of teens. There is a Bud Light can or two, but most beverage residue is the likes of Hawaiian Punch juice boxes and energy-drink cans. There’s no obvious drug leavings, like syringes or rolling-paper packs. There are not latex gloves or condoms. There are none of the discarded nips so common on the length of Brush Hill Road, apparently tossed by driving topers.

Instead, the amusement that leaves traces seems to be tagging the inside of the fence with spray paint. The decors is simple hillbilly or squatter camp. A seriously mismatched grouping of upholstered (surely disgusting in the outdoor weather) , plastic and wood chairs. These are what we’d see on the curb on Fairmount Hill trash day.recoom

Despite the grunge, the rustic den shows a flash of wholesomeness. Again, there’s no drug or sex leavings, as well as no evidence of serious boozing or dangerous fires. Assuming this is the space of pubescent non-delinquents, they retain some decorum and know as the ancient Greeks had it not to kick against the goads.

When I told my wife out this small find and its juxtaposition with the ostentatious abutters, she had just heard a similar distant tale. A friend in a small South Carolina city had recently cleared out her parents’ house and land. She found a rec room like that hidden in the overgrowth there. It makes one wonder how many impromptu clubhouses (minus the house) there are.

Next up, the gutted mansion and its aftermath.

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Cranky Fingers Reach Maine

August 26th, 2010

Yes, I am an admitted crank, coming by it naturally and by my mother’s example. A recent experience at a Copley Square store had me displaying my low-brow high dudgeon yet again. That brought results from Monroe, Maine.frogbowl

I advocate justifiable crankiness. My latest episode worthy of comment had to do with my favorite breakfast bowl.

As a swimmer, nature guy, cartoon fan and more, I have a thing for frogs and Monroe Salt Works has a splendid frog pattern among their pottery offerings. I’ve been using it for years almost every morning, typically with fruit and yogurt topped with cereal.

Over the decades, we’ve given Monroe pottery to others, as well as their amusing jewelry, toys and tchotchkes. We spent a lot of money at the store on Mass Ave in Arlington. That recently closed unit always had parking nearby and seemed to offer a better selection of everything than the one at Copley by the Westin.

It also had clerks who wanted happy customers. For example, when they were out of the frog items I wanted, whoever was on duty would immediately offer to order them for me, hold them and let me know.

The Bad Thud

At home, my office is on the lowest floor, below the kitchen. A recent evening, my suspicion and fear were correct when I heard the deep crash. My last frog bowl, the one I wash after using and place on the drain, at the farthest from the counter edge, was in seven pieces.

Monroe pottery is seriously heavy and sturdy. If dropped from above three feet, it might bounce. If it broke as in this case, it would not shatter, rather nobly separate into substantial chunks.

Lackaday…my sole remaining frog bowl and breakfast prop was fine for controlling garden pot drainage holes, but little else.

Verifying Copley’s hours, I hopped on my bike the next morning to buy a couple of the bowls, including a spare in case someone disrespected my treasure again with dish-drain misplacement.

The Grin Twins

Inside the Copley store, one browsing potential customer was leaving. One young man was leaning across the glass display counter almost nose to nose with a clerk.

She was one of two women behind the counter. Both were maybe 19 or 20. They put a lot of effort into their clothes and makeup. They were both speaking with the whispering young man. They might be filming an ad for some youth fashion company from the tableau.

What they weren’t up to was paying attention to the one customer, your crank.

The woman farthest from the lad was seated on the shelf counter three or four feet back from the glass one. She’d giggle at something the young man said, and alternately look at or text into her phone. She’d swing her legs and was having a great time.

Neither clerk showed the slightest interest in helping, so I toured the store, located the frog-pattern pottery and saw that there were no soup bowls on display. Perhaps they had some stock in the back. At worst, they could get me the bowls from another store or the Maine mothership. I headed over to the social gathering at the counter.

After waiting for two or three minutes, assuming the inane flirting traffic would stop, I stepped up right next to the glass case. Sure enough, that was adequate catalyst for the standing clerk to say goodbye to her chum and turn to me.

She asked if she could help. I said I wanted two of the frog soup bowls but did not see them with the pattern. Perhaps she was still stunned with coursing hormones, but that did not seem plain enough for her.

She corrected me by saying she knew I meant some Japanese bowl in a side display window not facing the inside of the store. She headed toward that wall, as I called out that no, I meant specifically the Monroe Salt Works frog pattern and exactly the soup bowls.

She nonetheless insisted on reaching into a hidden window display to produce things unrelated to my question. I repeated my request and led her to the frog-pattern pottery.

She said they didn’t have those and that I should get the lobster or crab pattern of that bowl instead. That was when I finally realized:

  • She was not well trained
  • She may not have come from an attentive and mannered family
  • She did not understand what pleases or disappoints customers

Part of it may have been her age. Medical and mental scholars claim that human brains aren’t fully wired and perking until the early to mid-20s. She may be short quite a few synapses and the experiences to reason fully.

Then she totally queered it. Even asked if she’d acquire two for me, rather than offer to get the bowls in the store, she dismissively said I should go to the Salt Works site and order them. As reinforcement, she condescendingly told me it was real easy, seeming to imply that even an old man like me could do it.

What was missing from her thought process and knowledge included:

  • Nothing riles customers like out-of-stocks, particularly if they come in for specific items. They’ll accept high prices or rude employees long before not getting what they came to buy
  • Nothing is as easy for a customer in the store as picking up what he wants, paying for it and leaving with it in hand
  • Being told to buy something similar isn’t just as good
  • Picking individual items from a store that advertises that each of its handmade pottery items is unique is a key to satisfaction
  • Buying online is not as easy as walking out with goods; instead it means clicking repeatedly or searching for the items, going through the lengthy shopping-cart process, often with additional registration and verifications of entries, paying the shipping premium, and waiting one to four weeks

I understand why a young woman would rather flirt with a present or potential beau rather than help a middle-aged customer. Then again, it’s Salt Works who pays her to satisfy its customers and in so doing sell its good.

So, there I found two flaky young clerks who don’t seem to understand how customers shop and retail sales should work. That has to fall back on the store manager and the training the company offers. Certainly telling a clearly disappointed customer either to settle for something similar when he specified items or to go away and do it online is sure to crank up a crank.

Stirring the Bowls

Not to spite myself and ruin my accustomed home-dining experiences, I did order two that afternoon.

In addition to angering me, that meant that two bowls at $21 each cost $10 in shipping and would probably leave Maine in two or three weeks. That would be a 23.8% premium for the shipping as well as up to a month to get the bowls. Of course, I could not choose the two bowls I most liked from several available.

After OK’ing the online order, I went to the Contact Us area of the company website. I sent a long email to the impersonal address detailed my experiences at Copley, as well as noting how helpful and savvy the clerks at the Arlington store had been. In fact, I said if they absolutely had to close that store, they should have brought the staff downtown. I wrote that I might make those two bowls my last ever Salt Works purchase after many years of buying from them online, in Arlington, in Maine and in Boston.

They must not get many loonies such as I. Tom (no specified last name), replied by email:

Thank you for your order.  I am going to push your order ahead and see that we ship this out to you today.  I am sorry to hear of your poor experience in our Boston store.  You should have your bowls tomorrow.

Sure enough, I got overnight shipping and faced my emotions. I honestly felt much, much better holding my froggy friends in hand. How easily I can be bought.

Moreover, apparently Tom let the company president, Karen Kayatta Burke, know he had dealt with an irate customer. She sent her own email:

I apologize for your recent shopping experience at our Copley store. For the past 40 years Monroe Salt Works has built a reputation for producing some of the finest salt glazed stoneware in the world. We strive to represent our Artisans wares in our stores with that reputation in mind. It is customers such as yourself that mean so much to us and based on your description your treatment was, is and will always be unacceptable to me. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I have discussed your experience with the store manager, Jennifer, her staff and associates in our other stores.

We hope you will consider Monroe Salt Works in the future for your pottery and other gift needs. We appreciate your order, considering your recent experience.

Regarding employees at the Arlington location, all were offered jobs at the Copley store with an incentive. They all chose to accept unemployment benefits rather than travel to the Copley store.

So there you have it, the conundrum of the crank. Responded to my a nice person, in this case two nice people, was I unnecessarily unpleasant in response to indifference and incompetence, or is this the squeaky-wheel cliché in action?

I confess that I am simple here. I am delighted that the outcome was that the next morning I want my yogurt mess or perhaps groats, I have my preferred pottery. Om.

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Bikepath? Are You Crazy!

August 25th, 2010

THEY want my stuff. THEY want to hurt me. Keep THEM away.

NIMBYism is most obvious and somewhat understandable with the institutionalized — substance abusers, child abusers, convicted criminals, developmentally disabled. Yet many towns put a finer point on it for others.

I’ve been watching the inane hoo-ha for the past 15 years around here about (drum ratta tatta…wait for it) bicycle/walking paths. These perceived threats separate the sophisticated, civilized and sensible from emotional dunderheads.

Cross-post note: As political and non-political, this post appears at Marry in Massachusetts as well.

It was only after 9/11 and the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency’s springing full-blown to dominate our thoughts and feelings that a parallel was obvious. Small towns about the country begged for security funding. To big-city dwellers, that is those at real risk of terrorist actions, such entreaties were absurd. Yet on a granular level, you see the motivation.

If you live in Wee Placidville, Idaho, you likely justify your quiet, hermit-like area with its positives. It seems safe and unchanging and folk around you look and act pretty much like you. You don’t have to accommodate diversity in almost any form. City folk may think of you as a hick, while you are sure you live in a paradise.

Why wouldn’t the terrorists eager to rip the heart out of America attack your ideal example of U.S. virtues? Of course, you need and deserve HSA funding to protect Wee Placidville!

Two-Wheeled Thugs

Closer to Boston, an all too similar dynamic has played out for decades. Think the 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway from Bedford to Cambridge. Proposed in 1974, furiously debated, and dedicated in 1992, it was a demon child to some…but has proven quite the smiling angel.

The asphalt strip runs where trains used to go. The anti-bikeway folk keened portents of certain doom. Noise would be terrible and well into the night. Litter would dot and blot the meadows and woods. Punks from Boston, Somerville and who knows where else would cycle over to rob and harm the gentle folk of Lexington. Property values would plummet while the bucolic life by the path would be no more. Oh, and the bisected towns would go broke paying for additional police, fire and sanitation related to this blight.

Pretty much the opposite occurred. The path is a gem to all the communities. Citizens walk, bike, picnic and otherwise enjoy it. Houses on its length are more desirable and valuable. Literally no one rides five to eleven miles to commit any crime. (Plus, I try to visualize an inner-city teen cycling out to Lexington, breaking into an alarmed house, grabbing a plasma TV or the like and trying to chug it back to a housing project far away.)

Other Times, Places and Loonies

Regardless, the parochial fantasies did not disappear with the Minuteman’s obvious, long-term success. We heard the same craziness in Weston in 1997 and just recently a somewhat muted version in Milton. For the former, consider the Weston Rail Trail Task Force Final Report & Recommendations.

Weston’s pathetic NYMBYism held the way as they refused a trail extension there. It got wide coverage, mostly ridicule, as in the 1997 LA Times piece with the lead, “Imagine: A bicycle trail through the state’s wealthiest suburb. Do you have any idea what kind of people would be pedaling into town? Ruffians, criminals–mountain bikers!”

The Weston task force glued a veneer of reason on their emotions. They rejected the trail because they were “unable to adequately mitigate several serious impacts, thus making the trail unacceptable.” The unproven and certainly unprovable impacts would be an annual $162,000 town-services cost, having to pay tax abatements to abutters whose home values would plunge, and “decreases in ‘quality of life.'”

Forward to this year in Milton. The town borders Boston starting at the Neponset river. Although our African American governor has a home there, it is not racially and culturally very diverse. It has the nation’s highest per capital Irish-American population (38%) and overall is 85% white, 10% black, and about 2% each Asian and Latino. Its median income is roughly twice that of Boston.

There is a short, flat, benign bike/ped trail along the Neponset on the Boston side. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation wants to expand this popular trail just slightly as the parks and paths alone the river develop. Miltonians want none of that, thank you very much.

A full accounting of the opposition appeared in the Bay State Banner recently. For the proposal that the trail include a bridge so Boston and Milton residents could bike or walk over to each other’s tennis courts and such, the lingo was familiar. Despite the clean, quiet, pleasant and safe history of the existing sections, Miltonians at a hearing spoke of lowered property value, litter, and crime. While additional lighting as well as bike and foot traffic in fact create a safer environment that hikes property value, the obvious backed up by statistics can’t sway the parochial.

Not surprisingly, the Milton selectmen just voted to oppose any bridge or trail on their side of the river. Prompted apparently by a reactionary enclave in the Capen Street area, the selectmen urged the state to put a big bump in the preferred route. While their letter to the DCR said nothing of race or inner-city criminals, its scheme would coincidentally keep the trail in the black-densest areas of Boston’s Hyde Park and Mattapan neighborhoods. Hmm.

Town and neighborhood pride has good aspects. Yet as we see in the highly segmented Boston, too much of such identity has other features. You may well distrust and dislike anyone who is not like you and not from where you are. Such is racism, classism, religious intolerance and the like. Not from here too often translates into not good.

There’s a fair chance Milton’s NIMBYs will get their way. In coming decades people may forget and wonder why there’s this odd circuitous crinkle in the popular path.

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Vanishing Cape and Intruding Trees

June 21st, 2010

In a follow-up to the Blue Hills geology perambulating lecture, the same guy, Les Tyrala, took a dozen of us around World’s End in Hingham. As well as seeing, touching and hearing about the rocks, we learned to bid farewell to Cape Cod and about yet other foibles of Frederick Law Olmsted.

The BH version was a DCR property and this was Trustees of Reservations’. Regardless, if you can hike slowly and have any interest in nature, Tyrala’s shows are worth the trips.

He admitted at the Blue Hills that this version was less varied and less dramatic in geological terms. Of course, he was right, but he knows so much beyond and related to rocks.

Bye Bye P’town

I remember in my first college geology course how the professor enjoyed talking about the ice ages. Speaking of the rate of movement of the thick slabs, he said the humanoids at the time were unlikely to think, “Oh, no…here comes the glacier. Run!”

Similarly, Tyrala notes that in geological terms, Cape Cod is gone. As he put it in my anthropomorphic terms, “The Atlantic Ocean doesn’t want it there.”

The relentless erosion is unstoppable. He figures the feature will be underwater to present day Duxbury. However, mirroring the caveman era, that’s nothing you and I have to worry about short-term. He estimates the process will take about 50,000 years or so.basaltdike

As for World’s End, it was mostly volcanic in origin, but relatively low-key. Seeping lava left rounded pillows here and there, but fairly homogeneous formations everywhere. A few shifts over faults moved one section higher and another lower. Weathering filled in air bubbles and cracks with other minerals, which makes for a little visual interest. Fresh seepage of lava produced classic Cape Ann basalt dikes — intrusive pathways of stone between two outcroppings.

Finally, the local glaciers did rough up the surface of the largest formations a bit. However, it had much less effect on striation and relocation than in the Blue Hills.

Pix Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger view. Use your back button to return.

Last Go for Fred

For the non-lithological aspects, Tyrala drew again on the local staff as well as his own broad knowledge. World’s End is a likely subject, as the last of Olmsted’s projects before he turned his landscape architecture business over to his son.

This land was set for exploitation by wealthy Bostonian owner John Brewer. Apparently he had worked through his farmer fantasy and hired Olmsted in 1890 to create a subdivision here. While that project sputtered, it got as far as the remaining web of carriage trails. There are also Olmsted plantings.

olmstedtreesA remarkable one is the seeming pathway of Norway maples in a long, close row. The Trustees guide gave us a tale that sounded apocryphal to me. Workers feared Olmsted’s extreme pickiness and planted these rows not for a pathway but as insurance in case some didn’t survive.

Of course, planting them so close kept them smallish, crowding each other. It would not be logical as backup either, leaving irregularities that surely would have displeased the perfectionist Olmsted. There doesn’t seem any record of the design decision.

However, as the skies and coincidence had it, we got another maybe tale the next day. We headed to Jamaica Pond for a 6 p.m. concert, following that vigorous rain and lightning display. While the band had given up about 5:30, wisely deciding not to have their electronics operating in thundershowers, still standing was Gerry Wright, Olmsted enactor.

As his real self, he felt it kind to hang around and inform the dozens dribbling in with chairs that the reggae/fusion concert would happen on August 1st instead. He also slipped seamlessly into his Olmsted persona.

I asked about the rows of trees. His version was that (he as) Olmsted believed you can never have too many trees. Overplanting and then thinning was his preferred design procedure.

Rogue Scandinavian

Oddly enough in modern terms, Olmsted loved vigorous trees and introducing species to his parks. That included the Norway maple, which has lovers and haters.

For the latter, such as the Nature Conservancy this tree is an overgrown weed, an invasive opportunist that crowds out sugar maples and serves as home to destructive beetles. Others, including my family, love the spreading and gracious early leafing tree, and particularly that it remains in its gorgeous yellow leaves for months, while that premature defoliator, the sugar maple, has gone to bare twigs and limbs.

leaves1In that vein, Yankee published a piece by my wife, on the tree. We had that house whose dining room used stencils of Norway maple leaves made by our artist friend Savannah (Marion Etheredge). The tree would be in full yellow glory outside the windows and images of those leaves would play off the interior walls.

You may fall into the hate or love camps for Norway maples, or you may never have thought about it. In any case, it’s worth checking the park sites, like the Trustees, DCR and Friends of the Blue Hills. These one-time tours for rocks, wildlife, bugs and plants are frequent in nice weather and occasional even in winter.

What you get after an hour or two hiking around is heightened awareness. After two walks with Tyrala, we know a ton more about how the rocks got there, what they’re made of, and how they changed and will change. There’s lots underfoot and overhead if you know what you’re seeing or touching. I suppose you could get that from reading guidebooks and doing it alone, but would you?

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King of the Reclaimed Road

June 20th, 2010

Yes, eight days ago, a hit-and-run driver smashed me and my bike to the asphalt. No, I’m not going to stop cycling, quake at the sight of cars or stay off the road.

Sore as my right knee and left gluteus are, I’ve been on the bike a few times since. Today, I rode that same road…to reclaim it emotionally.

Who’s a Monkey?

Aren’t we humans peculiar that way. Something bad occurs and we reprogram ourselves, forever looking for that negative outcome. That’s very much unlike my cinnamon ringtail monkey Sam of decades ago. I remember her sneaking behind me when I was rewiring a wall light switch. Before I could grab her, she thrust that agile paw into the plateless frame and got the full jolt  through her three and one-half pound body. I thought that might kill her, but she only looked very surprised. Less than two seconds later, I pulled her back as she went for the frame again.

I’m not sure the human reaction is any more sensible. We are wont to  say, “I know from experience that if you x, then y happens.” It makes no difference that y only happened once and did not happen hundreds or thousands of times before.

That seems the basis, the sole basis, of Scientology with its talk of engrams. If something bad happens, you will permanently alter your behavior.  Of course, in that specific case there is the solution of paying many thousands of dollars to hold tin cans or some other galvanometer connection and get cleared by one of theirs.

Long before this iteration though, clichés had it covered. To those who admit defeat, there has been once burned, twice shy. To the gut it out sorts, there has been when you fall off the horse, get right back on.

The distinction goes to one of my regular routines about literalism. Those of us who in fact become so crippled by a single bad experience that we are immobilized or afraid are just too literal. Those think differently. Too bad.

On the other hand, there’s another version of silly behavior by those who eschew analysis and can’t learn the obvious. My monkey was in that class and she has human company.

What Can We Learn?

As my head cleared from the shock and pain of the wreck last weekend, I did wonder if I had done all I could…short of hiding at home…to avoid getting hit. I have to say I did, with bright clothes, flashy colored bike, riding in the shoulder to the right of the fog line, constantly using my side-view mirror, signaling all turns and lane changes, and on and on. Even someone playing by all the conventions of safety can lose at the hands of the inattentive, malicious or drugged driver.

So, those who have not lost skin and blood to a reckless driver might ask, how is it to be back on a cycle on the same road? It’s a little nervous making, particularly in light of my not having any behavior to modify to make me feel I’m doing more to ensure my health and life.

I saw again on Route 138 what I generally see in road biking. Jerk behavior can include:

  • Intentionally coming inches from a cyclist (illegal as well as vicious)
  • Coming right on the rear wheel of a cyclist and blowing the horn (certain to startle, possible even cause a crash)
  • Playing drama queen by veering two or all four wheels over the center line even when the cyclist is in the bike lane or shoulder (very dangerous for both lanes and highly illegal)
  • Swinging past a cyclist and cutting two or four wheels into the shoulder or bike lane (also illegal and danger, as well as seeming to be a mindless overreaction)

I was slightly more aware of the drivers’ crazy behaviors. Those reminded me that unless drivers are also cyclists, they aren’t likely to get it. They are not trained to apply solid geometry and physics to passing, accelerating and sharing. They are also sure to not notice the field of broken glass in the bike lane or shoulder that will require the cyclist to avoid it. They may even behave as though if they blow their horn, the cyclist will disappear off the road so the drivers don’t have to obey the laws about passing safely or slowing as necessary. They don’t seem to understand that horns do no substitute for brakes.

Regardless, I did feel some kinship with drivers in one way. As those who veer into and travel in bike lanes and shoulders, I understand claiming territory. They seem to be marking the lane where the despicable biker will travel with their wheels when they drive there. That really isn’t much different from a cat or dog using scent glands or urine to mark turf.

In my case, I was back on 138. I briefly stopped by where the driver hit me. While I hoped to see a broken mirror I could take to the police, I figured Officer David would have seen that last Saturday. What I really wanted was to ride and walk that same stretch of road, making it mine again.

Back up on the horse, or in this case, on the bike…either way, in the saddle…is a damned sight better than paralyzed by events.

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Left in a Heap in Stoughton

June 18th, 2010

Bloodied, befuddled, bruised, but living, I arrived back home Saturday to cook for a dozen guests. It was after all my 10-month-old grandnephew’s day. This was his dedication — the UU version of a Christening, with a minister but without the trappings of removing demons or reserving a spot in the next world.

I escaped after being flung to the pavement with my bike by a hit-and-run driver in Stoughton.

The ride was an aging Boomer’s wont. I figured if I’d drink and eat well, I should sweat off calories in advance to earn it. The healthier choice might have been to sit on the deck and wash down junk food with beer. I don’t think crazed scofflaws would have driven to the back to get me.

Put me in the bucket of those with little tolerance for rants about how dangerous cyclists are — to pedestrians, cars, trucks, trolleys and themselves. Facts are that inattentive and even malicious drivers maim and kill others by the thousands every year. I’ve had my share and am tired of it.

About 15 years ago, an unlicensed, unregistered and uninsured young woman floored her car turning left and broadsided me. I can still hear the shouts and scream of the bystanders to her. She apparently was looking at and talking to her baby at the moment. The minimum-wage Filene’s clerk got a nominal fine and nothing else. I had broken fingers, a serious concussion and a ruined bike and helmet. The judge wouldn’t punish her and there was nothing to get were I to sue, said a lawyer.

A few years ago, one of those massive pickup trucks jumped a red light and hit me, also broadside. This was a damaged wheel and broken wrist.

Six days ago, I was only 10 or so miles from home when the hit-and-run coward clipped my butt and side mirror, knocking me with great force to Route 138. The cop who showed a few minutes afterward concurred that there was no way he didn’t see me and no way he would not have known he’d hit me.

Pix click trick: Click an image for a larger view.

visibilityFor the obviousness factor, since I was hit by the clerk, I dress for safety. My bike is bright yellow. My helmet is metallic blue. I was wearing a bright orange shirt. I’m nearly 200 pounds and six feet tall. I have gigantic shoulders and chest. At 11:30 a.m. there I was in my colorful glory.

A few schools, including Harvard, have veritas (truth) as their motto. My cycling version could well be visibilitas (visibility). I’m not one of those arrogant loonies who wanders behind cars backing up in the store lot thinking, “Oh, he’ll see me.” I try to make sure drivers see me. In fact, one my cycling guidelines is not riding on a day when I wouldn’t be able to see the face of a truck or bus driver because of sleet or snow or rain, figuring the driver might not see me.

Yet there I was on 138 headed north. The police report says it happened at 217 Washington Street in Stoughton. That’s across from X&O, the restaurant/bar.

Many cars turn in there and my amateur wreck reconstruction would have me in the shoulder/bike lane to the right of the fog line. That’s where I travel whenever I can and  there I can. I did not see the hit, but I sure felt it and the grapefruit-sized bruise on my left haunch as well as the destruction of my mirror at the same height suggest the side view mirror of the car did the damage.

That would put the driver maybe passing a left turner without looking ahead or to the right and coming over into the shoulder to hit me. It’s possible the driver did the damage without passing a turning vehicle, but I’ll stick with Occam’s razor on this one.

Wave the hands. Then magical things happen. Apparently I was either in shock or had a mild concussion. The next I recall is speaking to a nice and sharp and concerned Stoughton cop. 217

The magic was that according to the police report read to me today over the phone, I spoke with the fire department’s EMTs and the officer, whom I found out is Neal David. I refused a trip to the hospital, told them I did not see the car or driver or license number. I also provided my name, phone and other vitals as though I was functioning. I have no recollection of any of that.

I do remember speaking a bit with Officer David when I gained my awareness. He was angry and regretted not seeing the hit so there would have been no running. He’s not much for irresponsible scofflaws.

Perhaps I should have been checked out as a preventative, but really, short of bleeding brains (no helmet damage or other indicators) and the like, there’s not much an ER can do in such cases except consume 4 to 12 hours of your time. I had food to prepare, wine to chill, and clothes to dress myself in to assume the role of godfather

About two hours north on what appears to be a pretty undamaged bike, my head cleared more. I had images of being hit, but still didn’t see the car — I was compelled to the right and down away from the impact.

It was as I defogged that I was aware that I had not been aware. There was a missing block of minutes, while I appeared rational to the authority types. I suppose that’s what training and hormones can do.

I had a pretty ripped up knee, that big butt bruise with a lot of related muscle pain, and scrapes on my right forearm and elbow. william

Calling today to find out the specifics that I did not recall, I had a brief fantasy. Officer David said that sometimes witnesses call in to report details. My thought was that the hit-and-run driver might not have been amoral and devoid of compassion. Perhaps as Polybius wrote, “There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.” and someone came forward to ‘fess up.

…wrong on both counts.

That’s a very busy stretch of road. Apparently I was in a heap beside the road, bleeding and dazed. No one ID’ed the driver and no one stopped to see to me. The timeliness of the police coming by was Stoughton’s humanity.

What could I expect. This was Stoughton, not Samaria.

Glibness aside, I could easily have died from being hit from behind by a one to two ton vehicle. That I was in the right would not have counted for anything. My death certainly would have inconvenienced and upset those gathering for William’s day.

It does little good too to ask what sort of person would drive inattentively? would hit and run? would leave a body in the road? I think we all know about disregard for others, poor upbringing, disdain for laws, and amorality. Such a person is not even worthy of cursing. Yet, part of me does hope that Polybius was right.

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Why Is The Hill Blue?

May 23rd, 2010

The one-word answer to why the Blue Hills are blue is not plastic. It’s riebeckite.

lestWe sweated a little and learned a lot tripping our way up and down the red-dot tail at the reservation. The guide was geologist Les Tyrala. His ceaseless fascination with rocks inspired him to stop suddenly and repeatedly at remarkable specimens, huge and wee.

Fair notice: He’ll do the same thing at Hingham’s World’s End on Saturday, June 19th.

We’ve hiked those trails, including that particular one, many times. We just didn’t know what was there.

silkmothsideBefore we started, actually before Les opened his trunk with samples and maps for the pre-hike lecture, we got a seasonal treat that has nothing to do with geology. Normally the giant silk moths in the area are out for their pre-dying mating flights in early June. One was posing for us on a fence post.

This beauty was the size of my open hand. It was otherworldly in the face. silkmothfaceClick either moth image for a larger view.

To the trail!

This is to recommend heading out with the experts instead of your brilliant, complete recollections from youth or even a guidebook.

We learned some too about rattlesnakes and cooperheads there. The ranger and helper all added to the lore. There aren’t many rattlers, but since the kill-’em-all edict from the commonwealth was withdrawn, they are coming back. They are mostly on the Houghton’s Pond side. They slither about around this time of year as the young males try to find their own turf. The females mate with several males and hold the sperm for years, using it as they need to, although they only give birth (live not eggs) every few years. Black snakes can hardly wait to find and devour the young.

Before we headed up, Les produced a sketch of the hills. It seems a few hundred million years ago, there was maybe a mile thickness of rock and other material covering it. We hike on the leftovers.

We knew there was glacial moving of the boulders and even smaller rocks, as well as volcanic action. Les stopped repeatedly to show how the rocks (bedrock or country rock in his lingo) changed up the hill.

The nasty old glacier simultaneously left striations and overall smoothed the boulders. You can see the direction (mostly southeast) that the glacier moved, taking the lithic baggage with it.

He was most fascinated with the color changes. He showed us where the true blue granite began and how it deepened going up, until it stopped. That showed the layers of sediment. The blue rock contains the relatively uncommon riebeckite.

Les was also great at finding xenoliths. Those are big rocks where a different stone has been pressed, likely by a glacier into the stone itself. Unlike the smooth, small roundness of the composite pieces in pudding stone, these are often sharp edged. We’ve walked over and one many of those for years and had no idea what that were. Largely, we never noticed.

Likewise, another geologic trick was the quartz striping in the granite. I had thought it just formed with the stone, but it isn’t that simple. Striations and cracks left openings many millions of years ago. The commonly occurring silicon dioxide settled into it and under extreme compression became strips of crystallized quartz. Many of these stripes are higher than the larger rock, because they are harder and erode less.

graniteironOur guide is full of such goodies. For example, the granite walls and benches below the observation tower are of stone from the West Quincy quarries. Their iron ties hold them in place because of technique that Old World masons brought to the quarries with them.

Iron by itself would expand perhaps 8% with rust. That would eventually split and destroy even these huge granite slabs. The masons had learned to line the grooves with lead, which does not rust. Then they drove the iron into the space, where it keeps for centuries.

Les is a graybeard and has been in the geology game his whole career. He says he never ceases to be fascinated by what he sees, hypothesizes and proves or disproves. Several of us asked him questions that seemed to pique his interest. When he didn’t know, he said he’d find out.

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