Archive for the ‘Woodbourne’ Category

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.

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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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Boston Firefighters Smother Wee Blaze

July 10th, 2009

How many firefighters does it take to douse a small triple-decker fire? You can choose eight trucks full or just enough today.

fire localeAround 1 p.m. on the tiny Carlford Road at the JP/Roslindale line on Hyde Park Avenue, response to a 911 call brought eight trucks, three police cars, and two fire commander SUVs. They were ready for anything and apparently didn’t mind coming for very little.

Amusingly enough, with the firefighters missing their overtime pay under Mayor Menino cutting back (brownouts, as they have it) on subs for those calling in sick, there were no shortage of jakes and supervisors.  It was somehow comforting, as had it been a real fire, the cheek-to-jowl wooden houses there and on the avenue could literally have been toast.

fighter watching

outfitted firefighters

I sweat in long-sleeves on sunny warm days like this. These guys seemed plenty jolly enough in their boots, super gloves, heavy suits and oxygen tanks.

Pix Trix: Click an image for larger view or go here for the Flickr stream, including the house in question at 6 Carlford.

The operation was a little over an hour, with more time devoted to repacking unneeded hoses than setting up. These guys are very efficient at getting to the task at hand.

Amusingly enough, on the corner of HP and Carlford is one of those huge Flaherty for mayor signs. The firefighters didn’t seem to notice.

Southbound traffic on HP Ave. diverted through Woodbourne, a twisty little neighborhood whose non-rectilinear layout seemed to befuddle local drivers. (Where next? How the hell can I get out of here?)

The elderly residents across the street at the Woodbourne Apartments, as well as the passing teens on their trick bikes all seemed to enjoy the show. No one seemed overly disappointed at the lack of flames and smoke.  We saw what skillful drivers the jakes were to make U-turns on HP Ave. or to back up a ladder truck a block past parked cars and other red trucks.

Things Left

June 30th, 2009

One pilose and one squamous animal companion will not make the trip. Rather, whatever remains of their bodies will linger as we move from one Boston neighborhood to another shortly.

They are both real an symbolic. They are less substantial than the friends and acquaintances. They are less obvious than the flowers planted, the herb garden, and the children’s growth lines on the door jamb. Yet in the unwritten book of place memories, Tang and Igor have their pages.

I also ritualized my grandfather in the backyard. He had served as my father figure and being two generations older died far too soon, without being available to play with my children as he had with my older sister’s. For me, he was no longer available for to question and to bring disappointments and joys to his altar of wisdom. Yet it came to me as a variation of the Asian ancester shrines that I could place a locus for him within a few step.

He and my grandmother were buried in a small town along the Potomac, in the hills between West Virginia and Maryland. The Odd Fellows Cemetery is far less accessible. Instead, I placed a photo and a few artifacts in a tin, which I buried deep in the garden. He was gifted in his ability with both flowers and vegetables; I spent many summer days with him planting, weeding and harvesting.

In that sense, he has always been available for a chat.

For the animals, there is a clear bifurcation. Our first son had an iguana, a rather attractive critter, if not too cuddly. Igor died of the common arthritis as a juvenile. His corpse went deep under the roots of the gigantic beech.

Tang on the other hand was a delight for 15 years. A Maine coon cat that never reached the stereotypical gigantic proportions (altered early by contract with the breeder, so probably short on hormones), Tang had the delightful personality and even temperament of the breed. Three kids chased and handled  him, with no complaints. He was affectionate and seemingly ever grateful. He never broke anything nor leapt on tables.

Alas, as most of us will, he wore out. In his case, the vet was after us for some time to have him euthanized. His joints hurt and did not respond long to any medicine. He lost interest in both food and movement. Eventually, we let the vet do the kind and evil deed and buried Tang with his cat bed and blanket far down where we planted a cherry tree as a living marker.

Our small house, which I love and my wife long ago tired of, has the predictable memories. Each wall, sometimes literally, is awash with invisible residue of events and words and thoughts of the five of us and our visitors. I would suppose the new owner should exorcise us.

Yet, the animals and ancestor in the backyard will remain known to me. Leave taking will require yet another ritual.

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My Personal Horror Flick

June 23rd, 2009

crutchesThe Day of Black Ice doesn’t quite sound like a horror movie, but to me it’s close enough. From reports of surgeons and nurses, I have come to believe my broken leg was just one twist on a karmic joke affecting Boston.

The tales from the orthopedic types have amassed from the apocryphal to the empirical.

When I was still stupefied by morphine following my surgery, one of the grinning bone manglers at the bottom of my bed noted that they had done five of my particular operation within 36 hours, a high for Brigham & Women’s Hospital. That would be opening up my knee from behind the patella, reaming out the marrow from the tibia and inserting a titanium pin (Expert Nail) the length of it to keep me together.

In a followup session with a resident and the head of Partners’ orthopedic trauma, I heard that February 9th was the heaviest load the ER and hospital had ever experienced. Moreover, I subsequently heard from an ER nurse at Beth Israel Hospital that she almost turned around and headed home that morning. She got to the entrance and saw a couple of dozen ambulances lined up like so many taxis at an airport. Most as it turns out where carrying orthopedically injured sufferers.

We had had freezing, thawing and refreezing roads and sidewalks for over a week. I had labored on our side of the hill where live every day. I got new bags of salt and brought up the metal snow shovels I rarely use from the basement. It wasn’t easy to keep our sidewalks safe, but it was safety, courtesy, common sense and city ordinance.

Were I fell though was on the other side of the hill across the street. It seems the women there made no effort to eliminate the black ice. Afterward when I was cut up and drugged up, my wife spoke with a lawyer. He quickly dissuaded her of trying to recover anything for what courts view as acts of nature or some jokester god.

Even our immediate neighbor felt the day of black ice. She fell on her own steps leaving her house, breaking a bone in her foot.  It was the worst orthopedic day in Boston, it seems, and we were part of it

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Ogled by Google

June 4th, 2009

Google maps meI’m not sure how I feel about the inclusion. Google’s van has been around my neighborhood and made street-level pix of my house. Is that intrusive, flattering or just inevitable?

This morning, I got directions to the Mass Mutual convention center in Springfield. I’m headed to the state Dem Party convention Saturday. I’m  not a delegate, rather leading a workshop on blogging for the real delegates.

I often find Yahoo maps to give better directions, but I started with today. Suddenly there was the house across the street, for the first time. Sure enough, clicking the directional arrows, I was looking at my wife’s not so old van and my old car in front of our house.

Zooming in was fuzzy quickly, but the locale and accessories were unmistakable. From the looks, the image was pretty recent.

Previously, views of our neighborhood near the bottom of Boston  were overhead and not too definite. Now it’s personal. We live in what we locals would identify as the Woodbourne section of the Forest Hills area of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. We don’t have points of interest like government buildings or even restaurants. We were understandably low on Google’s image-acquisition itinerary.

I think I liked that, being under the Borg’s radar. Now you can cruise up and down all the streets in Boston with the string bourne in them.  We’re there and you and tout le monde can peek at us.

I suppose the antarctic camps will be the last mapped.

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Many Trees, One Warden

May 1st, 2009

The large and aged maple on our sidewalk gave it up in a huge wind gust today. It dropped a substantial limb on the street and our van.

Last year, the arborist who directed the major pruning of the American beech in our backyard — heck, that is our backyard — said the maple was not long for the world. He may be right about that, but he figured it was the large dead limb to the east that would go first. Then, he predicted, the two large forks on the west side would begin cracking under the imbalance.

Instead, a 7-inch-thick limb from the right side fell today. Spouting a profusion of fresh leaves, it looked healthy enough. Yet the point where it broke off shows the nasty darkness of vascular disease.

maple logsCost center three and I set about using the wee chainsaw on the biggest parts and a bow saw on the medium ones. We snapped or stomped the kindling-sized remainders. We ended up with a few fires’ worth.

Before we started, we moved the limb from the roof of the van and the sidewalk so we could work. The van has only a few scratches. Fortunately, it appears as though the limb hit the sidewalk first or simultaneously. My wife heard the gust and a big noise but was not alarmed enough to look out. I was in the upstairs and back and didn’t hear anything. I just saw the van covered in foilage when I opened the front door.van with limb

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I called the tree warden. Apparently Boston has one for thousands of public trees. The arborist said the warden has volunteer helpers. Clearly though, he must be hopelessly behind in work, being so outnumbered by the Ents of Beantown.

The city doesn’t make it easy to find the warden, not it its directory or a site search. A document said all public trees fall under the Parks Department. I called the main number there and the woman who answered switched me.

By the bye, in my quick research I ran across the tree-hearing procedure.  Apparently if you want them to murder some healthy tree for an aesthetic or whatever reason, you need to apply, get a hearing and if approved, pay $250 a diameter inch for them to do the foul deed.

Their trees that are sick or dangerous get free pruning or removal…eventually.

The fellow on the phone, whom I assume was a volunteer, took lots of information. He wanted to be sure it was a city tree and not on my property. He also wanted to know: 1) the size of the limb, 2) the general condition of the tree, 3) what the arborist said, 4) whether I thought pruning it would be sufficient, and of course my location and contact information. When he heard that the arborist figured there was a good chance that the big part of the trunk would eventually fall on the house across the street, he said, “I’ll put you in the system.”

I’ll track how long it will take this overworked one-man sub-department to suss the old maple. Than I’ll note what they do.

It’s a glorious tree, albeit old and worn. It has been immortalized, at least for us, in our dining room by our artist friend Savannah (a.k.a. Marion Etheredge).  It would grand if the warden and his worker bees can trim it and give it another decade or so.

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Not Too Late Bloomer

April 28th, 2009

I could drag this floral metaphor around the house repeatedly. The damned amaryllis became the blessed spring beauty. After muttering disparagement at it for months, I smile at its garish beauty and no longer resent its tardiness.

We picked it up cheap at some home center and did right by it while it ignored our expectations. Potted, watered and in a sunny Southern window, the bulb sat inert for many months, looking for the world like a remnant of elephant garlic in the dirt.

The winter and even spring holidays passed slowly and without the flower. Stubbornly, I kept it moist through Christmas, New Year and Easter. Suddenly and inexplicably, it rewarded my not tossing it with the earlier seasons’ trappings by thrusting a thick stem up and smacking our eyes with three deep red blooms.amaryllis on table

Let’s not get into living up to your potential or comparisons with ourselves or our children. How many teachers and parents have been impatient with how many of us? Lackaday, we have been inadequate, at least on their schedules.

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So now, we have had crocuses and violets. Our forsythia bushes fairly scream, “Yellow!” The parrot tulips are in high contrast to the brown and black earth around them. Yet, they are all outside.

amaryllis stamen

Our reluctant red chum brings new life right before us indoors. I have instantly forgiven it for its delay. It was not a late bloomer, rather a right-time-for-it bloomer.

In fact, I can easily see buying several next year and staggering when I start forcing them to life. For sure, such color power can be welcome at the rate of one a month. We have lots of varied lights, ornaments, package wrappings and even silly sweaters to brighten our Christmas and winter.

Smoked by My Ghost

April 9th, 2009

ghost riderGetting my butt kicked by my own ghost may be the future. It was today.

Healing from my broken leg and still over a week away from a possible referral to a physical therapist, I’m pushing in the way a broken old man can. It was last Thursday that I crawled onto the saddle of an upright bike-like object for the first time since the early February shattering slide.

My Y uses machines from Expresso Fitness, which have heads-up displays in front of the handlebars. They also connect to a server for login and, if you buy any level of membership, lots of record keeping and optional rides.

For all of us regular members though, the long list of basic rides maliciously includes ghost riders. These reflect your best time for a given route. (They are also supposed to whet your competitive appetite for paid membership, where you can get a ghost for any level of membership.)

The malicious part is that you can be tooling along feel fine when the blue blob appears. That icon indicates you have a ghost rider for that route. In the opposite top corner, an outline of the whole route appears, with a yellow circle for the pacer rider, a red one for you, and a blue one for the ghost. Your relative position to the pacer and ghost appear at all times as in how many seconds or minutes you are ahead or behind each.

So, you’re inspired to beat your best time. However, it is humbling when you just can’t do it.

I haven’t been seeing ghost riders for a long time. I haven’t been using the basic routes. However, as a bike gimp, I am sticking with the shorter and flatter routes. Hence, I see ghosts.

Today on one route, I was skunking the pacer, which is set slow (12 MPH, I think). However, to my dread, I kept seeing the blue blob creeping ahead of me on the route map. I’d see that the ghost was ahead by 12 seconds, then 37, and when it finished, a full 1:47.

I might have been able to catch up to my previous best time, but who knows what I might have done to my muscles, ligaments and tendons, all in “severely deconditioned” states as another machine there puts it.

The ghost in the image above (click for larger view) is a portion of a capture from the machine’s manual. It was particularly disheartening to see my wisp self muscle past, knowing that was only the beginning of the humiliation. Somedays, the other guy is better, but then again, I was the other guy.

Assuming I don’t hurt myself, I’ll be back, ghost. I’ll be on the road bike before the surgeons say (September). I’ll be in the gym and on this machine on bad weather days. I’ll be sure to drop down to some basic routes. I’ll show that ghost rider who’s who.

Living Traces

April 8th, 2009

Pat is gone, but not gone. Our neighbor to the East died a couple of years ago, but her plantings linger. forsythia

While our border forsythia are thinking about blooming, but not quite committed, the crocuses are figuratively and literally in their element. They are also mocking the slumbering day lilies. Those flaming, towering bullies will soon crowd the short and delicately colored crocuses out of their shared bed. Meanwhile, we can see who staked claim first.lily bed

Pat and her brother John lived next door and had long before we arrived. Their mother shared the house at the end of her life and was known for daily washing hung on a pulley line out her window. Among the three of them, Pat was the fit one and surprised us with her sudden death. She was short and chubby but active. She also bowled several nights a week and moved agilely. She went the right way, quickly and apparently painlessly, just dropping dead.

She has not been gone long, but shortly before she went, she planted many dozens, I guess hundreds, of crocuses in her and her brother’s yard and around the forsythia on the border between us. Each bush is awash in spring color before the yellow buds open. If only they made sound instead of color, this would be the brass fanfare.

volunteer crocusesThe area adjacent to the bushes was Pat’s in another way. She planted herself as well, sitting and sunning almost every possible afternoon in a webbed lawn chair in the driveway. She’d read, greet passersby, and commune with Woodbourne’s outside.

My wife and I agreed that we often expect to walk or drive up the street and see her there. In some ways, she is.

Boston and Fargo Snow Tricks

March 30th, 2009

shovels and crocuses

It’s scant surprise that we humans anthropomorphize Nature. Winter weather alone this season was plenty tricksy.

Here in Boston, our well snowed season (see chart below) fooled us repeatedly. We had some 60-degree, sunny days in a row, and would move the snow shovels to the basement. Zap — a white-out with another 10 inches.

We haven’t been particularly good crocus custodians in recent years, but some naturalized pioneers return as annuals. A couple of days ago, a few yellow and a blue ones seemed to urge us to call it a winter done for the shovels.

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2008-9 Boston snow

Meanwhile, as much of the nation, I’ve followed the arbitrary display of power of the flooding Red River, running North/South between North Dakota and Minnesota. Even today as my volunteer flowers peek up around the lawn, the folks around the Red River may get up to 14 inches of snow.

As the weather news has it:

Just as the Red River began retreating from Fargo’s hastily fortified sandbag levees, the city’s tired residents stared down a winter storm Monday expected to bring a half-foot of snow, powerful gusts and wind-whipped waves.

The snowfall itself was not expected to worsen the flooding, but engineers were worried waves could crash against the levees, further weakening them. The snow is more of a concern in the southern part of the state, where some towns could receive up to 14 inches.

“We are looking at a full-blown blizzard,” National Weather Service meteorologist John Paul Martin said.

Our stereotypes would make it easy to ascribe the difference to the extreme snow and harsh winters of Fargo, but they aren’t right. Actually, Boston and Fargo have similar annual snowfalls, but we come out slightly deeper.

We average nearly 41 inches a season and got understandably excited in 1993-4 with nearly 84 inches. Fargo averages around 36 inches, but has a wide range, as in just over 9 inches several years, but over 117 inches in 1996-7.

We with typical small Boston houses and cars on the street are less excited than resigned. I do love my cross-country skiing, but our city’s system of plowing in cars instead of removing the snow means shoveling several times that five-feet plus we got this year, and often shoveling the icy, salty gunk the plows scavenged from down the block. It’s the cars, sidewalks and then repeatedly the heaping gifts from the city to clear.

Still the sneaky, snaking Charles River is scant threat to our house and not even our basement. We laughingly note that we tower above much of Jamaica Plain at the top of our little hill, soaring to 64-feet above sea level. While it looks like global warming could end up giving us beachfront property at some point. Snow runoff is no cause for local panic.

Given the inconvenience and muscle aches from snow shoveling, the North Dakota version makes us relatively grateful. I’ll try to remember that the next time I have to head to the basement to retrieve the shovels when I thought Old Man Winter had returned to the Great Plains to leave us alone.