Saturday, April 29, 2006

Gentle Souls

OK. I surrender. I've just about totally given in to the tyranny of the eyeglasses. I can still remember the very first time it dawned on me that I was having difficulty seeing something up close. First there is denial. (I just couldn't get my head back far enough to read the tape measure in that tight spot.) Then compensation and excuses. (I'm tired. The light is bad.) Then the first pair of drugstore glasses. (Just for evening reading.) Then the constant search for reading glasses. (Honey, did you take my glasses, AGAIN?) Then the purchase of multiple cheater glasses so there is always a pair close at hand. Then always making sure glasses are among those things in the pockets when departing home. (Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.) What's next? Bifocals?

God, getting old sucks! My first wake-up call was when I hurt my back about 15 years ago. One of my mottos has always been, "A strong back is a terrible thing to waste." Like drinking after that first time you get really sick from over-indulgence, you don't take your back for granted after spending four days on the livingroom floor because you can stand up. Now, to back-awareness and weakening eyes (We won't even mention my prostate!), I can add obituary-reading to signs that I'm getting old.

When I was a kid, every night after dinner, my father would sit at the table reading Newsday. He would always read the obituaries and would very often comment on the death of someone he knew, either personally or because of their notoriety. I could never understand why he was so interested in dead people. These days, I am finding myself scanning the Globe obits for people I've heard of or just stories about those who have lead interesting or inspirational lives. I am starting to lose people I've known personally, even, sadly, some contemporaries, but I don't expect to stumble on those stories in the paper.

This week, there was an obituary in the Boston Globe for artist Norma Shaw wonderfully written by Bryan Marquard. Shaw, 56, as far as I can tell was not a well-known artist, but with her talent, integrity and kind spirit she was able to touch the souls of those who knew her.

An artist whose bones were at times as fragile as the birds she loved to watch, Ms. Shaw lived a deliberate life. Eschewing driving, she walked, rode a bicycle, or took a train. In a notebook she listed the thousands of books she had read. She would always step over ants and look out for birds. Ms. Shaw loved being alone in nature and traveled with binoculars in her bicycle baskets. She was ahead of her time in terms of thinking about the environment. She was a strict vegetarian from when she was young, before it was fashionable.

I wonder what this world could be like if we all would strive to walk as gently and peacefully as Norma Shaw.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Flying Tuxedos

There's a beautiful old field near the top of Moose Hill Street that is part of the Audubon sanctuary. There are about a dozen bird nesting boxes on posts scattered around the field.

Now, when I see bird boxes like these, I think of bluebirds. I've set up several boxes over the years, hoping to provide a home for bluebirds. I grew up on Long Island in New York, and while the bluebird is the state bird, I never saw one in my youth. I can still remember when I was a small child my mother reminiscing about the beautiful bluebirds of her childhood on her family farm in Hempstead, New York, and there has always been a special place in my heart for these birds. Bluebirds were not common in those days, especially on Long Island with it intensifying development, but I always hoped I would see one. I was in my twenties before I saw my first, and that was upstate. They seem more common these days, and here in eastern Massachusetts, I see several every year. I like to think that the efforts of those who set up nesting boxes have helped.

So, when I stopped by this field this morning, I was hoping to spot a bluebird, but it appears that every one of the boxes is occupied by tree swallows. These swallows are no great dissapointment. Now, house sparrows or starlings would promote some anger or sadness, but tree swallows are fun to watch. I do wonder, however, if swallows and bluebirds compete agressively for nesting sites. In any case, I've always thought these were sharp-looking creatures with thier trim tails, pure white bellies and sparkling iridescent purple-blue backs; a sharp contrast that always makes me think of flying dancers in little tuxedos.

And how they fly! Some birds - like the lumbering great blue heron I saw slowly flapping overhead - make flying look like a chore to be done to get from one place to another. But if birds can feel joy, these tree swallows are full of it. I watched as swallows (The males?) would launch from their perches on top of their boxes, circling the field as they climbed. In the air above the field they would swoop and zoom, at one moment chasing each other, and flying with each other the next. They seem to revel in the sheer fun their avian superpowers provide.

This exuberant display under a bright blue Spring sky offered a lift of spirits at the end of what was otherwise a difficult week.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


As I go about my business, I can often find an excuse to drive over Moose Hill as a shortcut even though I doubt it saves any time. I enjoy the drive through the quiet forest as I take in the sights and dream of those times when I get to visit on bike or on foot. This morning was one of those drives.

Soon after I turned up Moose Hill Parkway, I saw a big tom turkey strutting across the road. His body was a rich brown, his head bright red and he was sporting a long beard. He didn't seem in a hurry to cross the road, and even though he was moving deliberately he may have been lucky that this particular vehicle was in no rush. It occurred to me that, this being Spring and turkey mating season was probably under way, there should be females around if this allegedly reclusive bird was so casually strolling through traffic in broad daylight. Sure enough, after scanning the roadside woods for a minute or so, I spotted a duller brown, well-camouflaged hen busily pecking away in the leaves.

We see lots of turkeys in eastern Massachusetts these days. In some places, they are even becoming bold and aggressive around people. I can still remember when living in Syracuse, NY in the late 70's and early 80's that restocking programs began to pay off and there were turkey hunting seasons for the first time in many years. I fear that the development pendulum is now swinging rapidly in the other direction and all the new robust wildlife populations that have been restored through changing land use patterns and conservation efforts will be squeezed into ever-smaller patches of wild land.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Peace Vigil

I try to go for a jog on Wednesday evenings. A favorite route is up Moose Hill Parkway to the top of the road. It's a good choice because, even though it might be rush hour with all the commuters returning home from Boston and the 128/495 tech corridor, car traffic is light on the Hill. Also, it provides a good quick workout because it offers about 20 minutes of climbing to get to the top.

As I return home, I pass through the town center, partly just to see what's going on. Just about every time, I see a man or couple standing on the busy corner holding signs and candles. I started stopping to say hello and to see what they were up to and how things were going. It turns out these are possibly the only Quakers in town and they have been holding a vigil nearly every Wednesday night for over three years since the war in Iraq started. For an hour every week they stand there in the cold, wind, rain, snow, or heat in an attempt to get people to think about what our government is doing in Iraq. As far as I can tell, few people seem to notice.

Back in November, I wrote a letter for our local weekly newspaper. At the time, a new IKEA store opened in a neighboring town and the place was so mobbed, they had to close major streets. I was struck by the contrast between our acute desire to buy more stuff and the lack of concern about the mayhem associated with Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.). I never mailed the letter because there were concerns that it might not be prudent to express such personal views so publicly in a small town where we are know by quite a few people. Here, I can post it, I am sure, with impunity.

To the Editor:

I was passing through the center of Sharon tonight on a cold, rainy November Wednesday evening at about 7:30. I noticed a couple of people standing on the corner. They seemed to be holding some kind of cardboard signs. It occurred to me that I've been noticing small groups of people standing there for some time now. I haven't seen anything in the Advocate about them. Who are these people? What do they want? Why do we have to look at them huddled against the cold as we drive our big cars to our warm homes? Are they trying to tell us something? Is this something we should be concerned about?

Last week, a few people gathered in Stoughton. Some even camped out for days. The gathering grew and grew until finally this morning, a mob of thousands crowded the streets to converge on the town in such numbers that the police were concerned about public safety. Could this happen in Sharon?

In one case, the throngs were carrying off cheap, disposable, imported Scandanavian furniture and chochkis. In the other, a handful of lonely souls brave the dark and damp to carry a message of truth and peace. Which should we be seeking?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"The Moose"

One of the anchor points for my week is the Sunday morning bike ride. We have an informal group that meets every Sunday at 7:30 (8:30 in winter) in the town center. We ride road bikes and try to go fast. Since most of us are in our 40's and 50's, 'fast' is a relative term, but we do OK. We typically ride about 25-35 miles and the group ranges in size from just a few when the weather is bad to nearly 20 in the summertime. We had 14 today, which is great for early April.

I like bicycles and bike riding of all kinds. I have a shed full of bikes. One aspect of riding that gives me the biggest kick is a spirited group ride. I won't try to describe how much fun a group ride can be. Like many things in life, you just have to be there to understand. It is simply exhilerating to be with a bunch of strong, fit, like-minded riders working as a team to go fast. Over about 20 mph, aerodynamics begins to play a big role in a ride. At high speeds, it's much easier to ride behind another cyclist, so we take turns 'pulling' and 'drafting.' When all the stars align, we might have a pace line where a long string of riders goes single file, each taking a short turn at the front, then pulling off to the left and drifting to the back of the line as everyone else slides forward. On a flat, smooth road it's possible for us to cruise along at 25 or so mph. The speed and endorphines provide a real rush. Needless to say, this has its risks. Should one cyclist fall, everyone behind might go down too. Luckily, we haven't had any such pile-ups. It's important to ride with experienced bikers you can trust.

Most of our rides finish by going over Moose Hill. It's one of the biggest hills we have around here, and the light car traffic and forested setting make for great riding. In this context, Moose Hill is more about gravity than nature. By the time we start the climb after a long, hard ride, the legs are rubbery and the lungs raspy. There is usually a mad dash for the top. Since I carry too much weight to be a good climber, I usually get to watch the race from a few spots back. But, I always try hard and give an honest effort as we scale "The Moose."

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Breakfast On The Hill

Every once in a while, I actually follow through on an inspiration.

I thought it would be cool to get up early, pack a breakfast and thermos of coffee, take the touring bike and pedal up to Moose Hill for a few moments of solitude in the country. Well, this morning, I actually did it. What's doubly amazing, is that it worked out pretty much as I had hoped. I happened to wake early today (About 5:15, out of bed by 5:45.) and the forecast rain seemed like it would hold off for a couple of hours. So, I dug out the old Stanley thermos bottle and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. A few slabs from a fresh loaf of whole wheat bread and natural peanut butter with an orange would be breakfast. I found my binoculars, stuffed everything in a backpack, pulled the bike out of the shed, and was on my way.

It's a short ride from home to the top of Moose Hill, just over two miles of mostly climbing. To the top of the road, that is, the actual summit itself is a hike on the trails somewhat higher up. At the top of the paved road, I pedaled a bit further on a dirt woods road to a spot that probably sparked this idea in the first place. The road passes through a forest for a short while before opening up to a series of old stone-lined pastures. Several bird nesting boxes are mounted on trees and poles, and on a jog last week, I watched as a beautiful male bluebird scoped things out. I found a sunny spot to sit near a nice new but old-style pine carriage shed that offered views over a meadow.

I didn't stay long, but long enough to do some normal daydreaming about the way things were supposed to be and the way things have become. In my dreaming, I thought it might be nice to make these visits a regular thing and keep a journal of observations. Things like birds and trees that provide a connection to my past life. Later in the day, it dawned on me that - this being the 21st century - the way to record my thoughts and observations would be in a blog. So, here I am.

I'm realistic enough to know that this effort is not likely to succeed in any serious way, but I'll give it a shot. I'm thinking it might be fun to try for an average of about one post per week. I'd like to visit Moose Hill in different seasons and different times of the day. I can explore its many habitats. I can go for different reasons. I can go on nature excursions, like today, or - probably more often - go up there for exercise. Other times, I'll just drive through, as I often do, taking the 'scenic route.'

My posts might be inspired by the place and what I encounter up there. Or, they could simply be something on my mind at the time. We'll see how it goes.

We'll enough for now. If this works, I'll have lots of chances to expand on things. Let's just start by saying that this morning among the birds I saw were a phoebe, a goldfinch and a group of tree swallows twittering overhead. There's not much of any green yet, but things are just about ready to pop. The frogs and peepers were going at it in the swamps.

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