Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Out-Irish and Out-Boston Each Other

June 23rd, 2016

Provincialism and parochialism at their best were on display at Boston Police Academy and had nothing to do with cops. They simply let locals use their auditorium for public meetings like the monthly Fairmount Hill Neighborhood Association

The feature last evening was Boston/Milton developer Denis Keohane. We got to hear the Irish born (himself), even-more-(artificially)-Irish Bostonians, and the overlapping nativists. Oh, with a good dose of NIMBY to boot completing the theater.

The gist is that Keohane (originally from Kinsale in Cork for those who care about such) thought he was there as a courtesy to the residents. That’s not how many in the room figured it.

He presented an early-stage plan for eight houses on a large (91K square feet) derelict lot one long block from my house. His plan starts with meeting requirement in square footage per house (8K) and setbacks all around. The road is 40 feet wide and all in Boston, so the city will plow it in winter. One third of one of the houses sits in Milton, so that one has complicated realty taxes but the building authority and regulations are all Boston.

keohanevilleExpectation differences ruled the meeting. It quickly became obvious that Keohane was a wildly successful residential and commercial developer who came to make nice to the locals. He seemed at first quite giddy that this would be his first project as-of-right and without having to file and fight for variances. He thought he was being gracious.

Legally he didn’t have to ask the neighbors for anything or inform them of anything. His plan includes building a road up the middle of the land and plugging a row of four houses on each side. He was getting the permits to do that. So there.

Well now, not so simple to the many who wanted more than intel. They demand obeisance.

The brogues thickened as Denis sweated his hour on the stage. It made me think of Southerners I know who suddenly develop the strongest accents away from home.

Let’s be aware that Keohane is not quite 50 and has been in the U.S. for 28 years. His first 21 were in Ireland, which he left for economic opportunity. He married here, they have three daughters in their 20s, he has completed numerous successful projects mostly in Boston and some in abutting Milton, and has won town-level elections in Milton.

Shame of a key detail…

Two older men whose Irish accents got stronger as the evening progressed found a chink when Keohane freely confessed that he was not aware that there had been a reservoir on and above the property in question.

My attitude is that ignorance is almost always (baring some scientific and very specific subjects) quick and easy to fix. Give the info and get to the important stuff, I say.

In contrast, many parochial types are like puppies with a swock and just can’t put it down. Thus at the meeting, a couple of alter kakers returned repeatedly with oh-so-you-really-didn’t-know-about-the-reservoir!? The theme seemed to be that if Keohane didn’t know that, anything he said relating to ground water was untrustworthy. Pigeon poop on that.

Keohane presented salient info, specifically that he has an engineer drilling 20 holes to find out when they hit water. The 8 basements are to be 10 feet underground. He said if they find water at 2 feet, that’s a likely reason to walk away from the development. Otherwise, they’d work with pros to mitigate the water and get it to the street pipes and drains.

The old guys kept saying if he didn’t now about the reservoir, his other info was suspect. One even repeated that the water had been their for centuries and would always be there. On the other hand, I wonder whether the water guys can mitigate the water in ways that would in fact lower the water table and make basements drier for all us neighbors. (I’ll attend the water-drilling followup to ask about that possibility.)

The usual suspects…

Several area folk at this meeting come to all local hearings and info sessions. Their aim seems to be to show they can make presenters squirm or badger them. From their comments and questions, they likely would say, “I’m only trying to get to the truth.” That’s the way of jerks who enjoy acting out their control-freak nature.

At numerous such meeting and hearings I’ve attended I see:

  • Gotcha questions indicating “I know this and you didn’t.”
  • Efforts to squeeze some minor concession out of the speaker (to show personal power?)
  • Claims they support positive change when in fact they oppose all change
  • Requests or demands for more information, future meetings, and more trips to regulators

Looking for trouble…

Some folk asked where the coyotes and other furry varmints would go. One couple recalled when a large house went up above this parcel, they for the first time got rats, which the developer had to get rid of for them.

Keohane said he had pest control for development and afterward in the specs, which he detailed.

Yet water was the big issue. One resident recalled ice skating in there as a child. Charming for recreation, but not as much for basement owners.

Keohane had lots of water answers, from percolation (perc) testing to having rights to drain water-table and storm runoff into city systems. Not good enough for the toughs.

Several ended up asking him to look for trouble. Specifically even though the area is not listed as environmentally sensitive or protected, why not go out and see if anyone might just reconsider adding it to wetland shields?

Of course, Keohane noted that his folk has checked the lists and found nothing. I ask why would he create problems?

Not from here…

Bostonians at their worst can be no different than provincial types elsewhere. I was comfortable with Keohane’s Boston cred, professional and personal.

Not so some others, three mentioned his, to them, tenuous connections. When one said it was their neighborhood, he reminded her it was his as well. She went on several levels deep, trying to trump him. She alleged to feel strongly because she’d grown up there. He came back with his nearly three decades in the immediate area, a long-term wife and three kids, arriving here to make his way when he was only 21, and so forth.

She played her final trump card. She had not only lived her 50 years, but had been born here, while he had not.

That was too much for Keohane. He said, “We’re done here.” He allowed as that was not fit argument. He was understandably insulted. She muttered a faint, “I apologize.” In fact, he was out of there.

I call an unfair-fighting foul on her.

Civic theater

As petty and annoying as some of these folk were, there are worse ways to spend an evening than attending neighborhood hearings. You can learn more about your local folk than you want to know.

Of fish and tools

February 21st, 2016

codeyeI finally broke down and bought a decent filleting knife. Now I’ll lug home whole fish more regularly.

As the main cook around here, I of course have a thing for knives. I believe in good ones, for example, the large carbon-steel French chef’s one I’ve used for over 40 years. I bought that with the advice of my friend Paula Delancey. She was a student at the CIA in Hyde Park NY and on the way to becoming the first woman to graduate at the head of her class there. She already knew knives. Thus it is amusing that I delayed springing for a good fillet knife, even if I would use it rarely.

Elder buddies

I remember my first fish filleting forays. Apparently some of my local fishing trips around Romney, West Virginia, were mildly amusing to family. In particular, when I would go sit on the bank of the South Branch of the Potomac with Rumsey Oates.

We were related by marriage. He was the father of the man who married my maternal grandmother’s younger sister. Discounting the by-marriage and removed qualifiers, he would have been my great-great uncle. I was a kid and he was in his mid and late seventies.

My mother said some people would try to tease him about his wee fishing buddy. He would tell them I was the best type — I had a lot of patience and didn’t talk much. We could sit by the river for hours. Sometimes we pulled in sunnies or perch. When luck was with us, it was trout and bass.

I enjoyed his quiet company too. The 60 to 70 year age difference seemed unremarkable to me. We got along.

I suppose it was my mother’s doing, along with her parents. She ran Red Cross chapters, which were filled with aged volunteers. Most of them insisted that I call them by their first name and treat them like peers. Likewise, my grandparents had mostly friends who were 50 or more years older than I, who also treated me as an well-mannered equal. I lived the school year with my mother and summers with her parents. I knew more old people than kids my age.

Scaling, gutting, filleting

Many fish aren’t that bad to prepare. Those little ones remained pretty bony though. The fat trout and small-mouth bass were much easier. The spine often lifted out with most of the bones still attached. Then slicing out a decent fillet on each side was something even a kid could do, assuming he had a decent knife.

That past revisited recently as my wife subscribed to Cape Ann fish shares, choosing the whole-fish options. Haddock and pollack were pretty easy to deal with; they were thick and my existing knives were OK. So were the two very large flounders one week. Another share though was seven very thin flounders. They were impossible to cut a real fillet from. I did accept that if I had a serious filleting knife I would have done a little better.

Now I’ve tipped over. I bought the good knife. It arrived a day after I had successfully butchered the two pollack, but I’m ready.

Fish stores and the Haymarket have a good range of whole fish. I’m armed.



Urban critters

August 20th, 2014

We see coyotes, raccoon, opossums and such in our part of Boston. I scouted out a few more today at Forest Hills Cemetery and the in-town Audubon nature center.

In Lake Hibiscus in the middle of the graveyard, I was surprised to see a pretty big snapping turtle (surely undocumented immigrant). It was pretty creepy. It came from maybe 30 feet off-shore and surfaced just below me by the tiny rocky beach. As I moved about 100 feet along the shore, it tracked me. I began to feel like it was viewing me as a two-legged fish…a snack.

The lake has regular turtles, cormorants, and of course the usual ducks and geese.

A short distance down Walk Hill, I trotted the fox trail (el sendero del zorro on the sign). The hen turkeys did the turkey trot faster. They did not want to chat or play.

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Cormorants in the cemetery lake were chowing down on little fish. corm1
corm5 Several cormorants used the boulders as bases to flap and dry off.
The snapping turtle seemed to find me fascinating…maybe edible.

Less spookily, was he used to someone on land tossing bread?

smallerturtle The shiny to-scale turtles like the warming rocks in the cemetery lake.
The wild turkey hens were not happy with my being on their trail. They quickly repaired elsewhere. turkeyleave
snap2 [Jaws theme here] The snapper followed me along the shore and several times stuck its anaconda neck out to get closer.

Maple Sugar Day Sights

March 8th, 2014

Vapors were the order of the at the Maple Sugar Festival today (repeat tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th, 10AM-4PM). Many maples on the DCR’s Brookwood Farm had taps drawing sap. Stops on the trail included one with Native American forms of syrup making —keeping a strong fire going and plunging hot rocks into wooden bowl of sap to do the deed. (Insert big hiss.)

Down the dirt road was the colonial take — with the benefit of metal pots, they hung these over fires and evaporated the sap into syrup and sugar.

Further down was a small evaporator unit in the modern style. Its big sibling at the end of the path was a sugarhouse, with a massive evaporator unit. The evaporators spewed steam as they did their work.

Also along the way was a blacksmith, Michael Bergman. He showed his skills and pitched classes in Waltham at the Prospect Hill Forge.  He worked with an anvil, of course, and instead of a massive heath and forge, he worked off what appeared to be a round Weber grill.  It used coal to generate enough heat to turn the steel rods red hot, and along the way smoke up the place.

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The smith with his hand-cranked fan stoking the coal. bhsmith5
bhsmith3 The red-hot steel bar twisted quickly in a vise.
The colonial version of reducing sap to sugar used metal pots over fires. sappot
sugarhouse1 The sugarhouse is full of steam, sweet-smelling steam, as the big evaporator cooks down the sap. Your reward for walking the history trail was a little cup of fresh syrup.
Count our toes. The 300-year-old barn on the site is under rehab. The crew uses only tools available at the time. To create a beam, the team strips the bark and shapes a log into the right proportions. counttoes
bhspileguy More period drama with tool restrictions occurred at the colonial sugaring area. Here a reenactor makes a spile (a tap for a maple). He hollows a piece of wood into a tube. He then inserts this into a drilled hole in the maple to draw off the sap into an attached bucket.
It had nothing to do with sap or syrup, but Mass Audubon worked with the DCR on the event and showed up with several birds. An impressive one was a red-shouldered hawk.She survived a raccoon attack on her fledgling nest that killed all her siblings. She’s growing back the flight feathers the raccoon bit off her. She doesn’t get a name because they don’t want to treat her as or make her a pet. redshlulder4

There was also a screech owl.
Another of the hawk…just because… redshlulder2

The barn has period relics too. Several ice tongs were on shelves, remnants of when colonists cut blocks of ice from ponds, like nearby Houghton’s, and stored them under straw in cellars for use many months later.



Pope’s Pond Action

January 28th, 2014



In retro, and even rural, play, teen guys were out of Pope’s Pond in Milton this afternoon. With their pucks and sticks, plus a snow shovel to sort of clear the very rough ice (no Zamboni),

I started out at the other end, where Pine Tree Brook was running fast, as in unfrozen water. The lads reported they’d been on the ice for 40 minutes or so and it was very solid. They admitted the surface was quite rough, but they were happy just to be out there. The temp was between 10 to 15, with a wind chill of maybe 0, so no thaw was in the works.

Around the bend, my personal version of the great white whale briefly appeared. It is the great blue heron instead and my obsession is in getting a decent photograph of it, not murdering it for revenge.


I’ve seen him a couple of times previously and I didn’t have a camera at all. Today, I had one…in a jeans pocket…but he still got the better of me. This distant, fuzzy snap was the best I could do in pulling out the camera, pushing the on button, waiting for the lens and pointing. He seemed to have seen me at the same time and less than a second after this rushed, unfocused shot, he was gone between the trees.

He’s a big one and I really want a good shot. This is the third time I saw him there out of maybe 30 hikes.

I’ll be back. He fooled me today; he only has been by the brook fishing in warm weather.  The water can’t have been much above 32F.

From now on, not only will have a camera just in case, but I’ll have it out. Maybe I’ll waste some battery by activating the camera before I start the Pine Tree Brook Trail. If he’s ready, the least I can do is show the same respect.

Mike Bunyon, TV Star

November 19th, 2013

We had a very tall, very sad ash — double base with three trunks — next to and sometimes plunging limbs into our garage. No more.

The uxorial unit got estimates and located what turned out to be a relative celebrity arborist, Specialized Rigging & Tree Care.  They did their acrobatics today, left only stumps and hauled the rest away.

Turned out they were featured as one of four tree slayers in the National Geographic series Big Bad Wood. They were the one of the four services that sent their climbers straight up with tackle and chainsaws. As a bonus, the main climber shared my first name, Mike.

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We started with a lot of ash tree, in three pieces. treetriple
treeready Thick or thin stem seemed to make no difference. Up he went and attacked.
The ground crew was ready to retrieve each trunk piece or limb, pull as necessary and be available on command. treecrew
treecling Mike scampered up each trunk, strapped himself, hooked the part he’d cut, and brought up his chainsaw.
A Timber! moment, one of many. treefall
treeparts Tree parts staged in the drive ready for chipping or trucking.
All but the biggest pieced got the Morbark chipper treatment. treemorbark

Poof. Then it was gone…almost.

Alas, Neponset Giants

July 20th, 2013

Since I last walked the banks of the Neponset from Boston’s Hyde Park into Milton, the parks maintenance folk have visited. Several huge as well as numerous smaller tries, evergreens and deciduous alike, have been removed or had surgery.


Two in particular were striking in their feebleness or injury, as well as size. They are huge in circumference and height. They are old. They looked hale, virtually immortal.

These are effects of aging and illness that leads us (OK, me) to strained metaphors of human life.

The American beech, here left, had clearly been rotting from the inside for a long time, perhaps a century. I have a fondness for these magnificent trees. Our previous house in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood shared the yard with a specimen at least 250 years old. It was coming to the end of its time and with sadness, we had arborists crown perhaps 30 feet off to prolong its life.

These sturdy gems are the stuff of carved lovers’ hearts, climbing, swings and treehouses. The only drawback I know is that when they produce nuts ever few years, those are multitudinous and damned hard on bare feet. They also would take forever to compost.

Here’s the big metaphor. It is often the largest, strongest looking of us who are rotting away inside, by cancer or other disease. Either through obvious symptoms or accidental discovery, the seemingly invulnerable are enfeebled or felled.

We could worry this trope to death with comparisons of dealing with found illness, carrying on, giving up, blah blah. It’s enticing, but let’s not.

Around the corner, a huge evergreen apparently suffered from our huge winds. If you can apply intelligence to a tree, you’d have to wonder what it was doing putting out such a huge limb and so low. The injured limb had to go.


There’s a simpler metaphor for the amputation. Moreover, this obviously was not the first such operation for this tree.


These pine-family plants do not have the longevity or to me the beauty of the beech. Still the metaphors of blood and tears flow with the fluids. The running, hanging sap does in fact look like what a human might produce in such adversity.

No one knows now whether the pine will heal as well from this injury as the previous one. This will be a rough season for it, rife with nasty insects, viruses and bacteria that can invade an open wound much more easily than a sealed bark.

It will take a year or two to see how well the tree’s defenses worked.

It surely is sensible and safe for the park crews to cut and remove damaged limbs and living hazard trees. Yet it’s tough for us ambulatory tourists to take too. We can foresee the decline and demise of these grand lifeforms.

Caught at a weak moment, we can also fall into the poetic and even religious traps of comparing cellulose lifeforms to our own…particularly when they are weeping.

Really Deep Two Inches

March 8th, 2013

We likely shouldn’t complain when the forecasters err on too little snow. They have been wrong — to our relief — almost every time this winter the other way, as in a foot of snow turning out to be 1 inch. Last night though, they said two more inches on top of the two on the ground. It appears to be 12 and still coming hard in a two to three-day storm.

It started out gently, soothingly, with fluff decorating the bushes.
Yesterday, our youngest was off to college in the early morning and back again while we hid inside. Then this morning a neighbor on Highland looked in a snow Sisyphus trying to keep up with the heaps before and around him.ikefeet snowsysiphus
fairmountfeeders Today the birds are finding wee, wet perches in snowy bushes waiting to get to the feeders.
The Neponset always seems to show the best of the snow. neponsetdroop
fairmountsign The commuter rail to town was less inviting…
…even less so at its main entry and walkway.fairmountchute fairmountstop

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Quadruple Arf

February 23rd, 2013

My wife and I went to Stony Brook today to watch the Boston Snow Dog Run. Two or three small teams of four, plus one solitary skijoring guy with his pooch, made the most of the remaining snow near the skating rink.

Two of the mushers apologized to us about the quartets’ seeming lack of focus. Those of us with images of driven Ititarod racers fairly devouring 1,000 miles of ice and snow were obviously amused at the huskies playing with each other and sometimes pulling in different directions. It seems they are largely pets who have a great time. Getting them competitive is not always easy.

They were beautiful in behavior as well as appearance though.

The huskies seemed to live for this stuff. Pets or not, when they got perking, they were enthusiastic.
A single skijoring fellow accompanied the dogs, first in the woods, then in the field. The huskies ignored him and his pulling dog. fieldmush
HPmush Not the typical Hyde Park dog walker.
Make your own dog tail/tale jokes. When the team got working in the open field, they became one. huskytails
dogskindofteam The huskies were frisky sorts and as the mushers said, there was some question about who was really in charge.
Mush, Mom! mushmom

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Snow returns to Boston

February 9th, 2013

Yeah, we had and are having some snow in Boston, over two feet.

I recall in the ’60s when I was on the South Carolina swim team and it snowed in Columbia during practice. We had guys from Florida and even Australia who had never seen the stuff. They ran outside wet and in their tank suits just for a touch and look. Good they did; it was all gone within the hour. That’s not likely happen here and now.

snowdacha Last night, before the real stuff, the deck looked like a scene from Dr. Zhivago’s dacha.
By this morning, we were at two feet and both storm doors were doing their job. They required considerable oomph to force open enough to get out. stormedin
stormsun Our touchstone for snow is the New Mexico pottery sun on the garage. Snow it is.
With the strong winds, much of the snow was horizontal overnight. Most of our windows were more ornamental than useful. snowvoc
Sarahscars View from the side to our neighbor’s. Those are two vehicles and not snow forts.
The warm and cozy backyard cafe is not as inviting this morning. notteatime

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