Category Archives: my neighborhood

Joy where it comes


The Royal Wedding. Sneakers that fit and offer support. Really good homemade gluten free cookies. Lilacs. Lichen. The strength to push a lawnmower. Friends to see movies with. Movies. Social media (yes, even that).

Honeysuckle. Flying overhead: a robin with twigs in her beak (or is it plastic?) landing at the crook of two branches, building her nest. Good books.

A coyote crossing the street at 6:30 in the morning, pausing to look at Finn and me. Disappearing behind Daniella’s place. Finn. Cloth and gifts of cloth (thank you Deb and Ginny!!)

And SoulCollage. Here’s a card made, believe it or not, while constructing the burning infernos and dark fields (actually, I started it months ago and only glued it up this week).

I am the one who adores the wind and the sky and anything that plays with the wind in the sky. I adore red — how it pops and dances. I launch kites — and images and ideas, too. My element is air; my status freewheeling. I am the one who is not afraid to be silly or stand on the edge of a chair.

Driven by for decades

Like that U-Haul van, I’ve driven past this cemetery while heading somewhere else — in my case, for decades. Today, after a jaunt into National Lumber for paint chips and moth traps, the guys and I went in.

It’s much larger than I supposed, with widely spaced rows of markers. There are legible carvings in slate, lichen capped marble stones in various states of blur (having not weathered the years as well), and the usual variety of shapes.

Abigail, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, and Lucinda. Albert, Enoch, James, John and Ezra.

Nineteenth century headstones always get me thinking about history in general and slavery in particular. This person died during the Civil War, say, or this one died two years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

For the entirety of Edward Hartt’s life, slavery was alive and well in America.

There were many headstones for babies and even more for people who died in their twenties. I didn’t do an inventory or anything, but I only saw one older person’s grave — a septuagenarian. It makes you appreciate how brief lives were before antibiotics, vaccinations, surgical interventions and dental care (can you imagine dying of an abscess in a rotted tooth?)

I laughed at Frank’s gravestone. Because no text carved in stone is casual, I wondered who decided to put that period after his name and was there any debate about it?

There was a lot of storm damage. Newton’s community clean up day has designated this as a site, but as someone who’s coordinated a few of these events, I wonder what exactly people will do. Maybe a crew will come in with chainsaws, first.

The textures were gorgeous, including those associated with the neighboring lumberyard.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! It is actually warm enough this afternoon to go outside without a down jacket!

Score and a Heart

After weeks and weeks of missing, I flung the poop bag right into the pot! Blam!

It’s a tough shot — not so much because of the distance (from where picture was taken) or the small target, but because the missile has a tail (we use long, plastic newspaper bags) and the ballast is weighted unevenly. You can’t throw overhand or at least, I don’t, and hence you have very little control. How satisfying to nail it!
Was my aim improved by an hour long walk through sunny, summery, quiet neighborhoods? Three-quarters of the way along a sour knot in my gut disappeared. Just by walking. In the sun. With my dog.

We saw lavender blooming on Ripley Street, two Chinese brothers heading to the T in matching pj’s and yellow caps on Braeland with their dad, people out jogging, cycling and walking their dogs. Closer to home, the lavender has yet to blossom, but on Walter Street we were treated to sun-illumined rust-vermillion Japanese maple leaves and a morning dove perched up on a cable backed by blue sky.

Finn had a Training Victory on our walk, too — a trifecta. Some other time.

Given the TV’s current state, I’m plowing through a memoir called, “They Left Us Everything” — a book recommended by a blog reader a couple of weeks ago. This was Plum Johnson’s debut effort and it came at age 68. Sixty-eight!

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41Yu1yeioDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg


The book won an RBC Taylor prize, an award for literary non-fiction that “best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.”

The memoir is interesting and well-written. Doesn’t hold a candle to “H is for Hawk”, but then, very few memoirs do (that’s like comparing debut historic fiction to “Wolf Hall” by Hillary Mantel — it just isn’t fair — but I think it’s the last memoir I’ve read?)

Johnson crafts nuanced portraits of complicated parents, not just their late, declining years, but their more vibrant youth as well. Both of her parents led interesting lives — informed by tragedy, travel and unusual circumstances. Johnson gets at the essential unknowability of parents by their children, something made plain as she sorts through their belongings.

Her mother was a piece of work and her father over-reliant on military experience as a benchmark for parenting. And yet, whatever wounds linger they scarcely show up on the page. Whether this is a testament to Johnson’s person or her writing style is hard to judge. It does strike me that building a narrative around the objects of her parents’ lives may have kept a certain kind of self-reflection at bay.

I like memoirs that get down and dirty too, but the absence of grudges, whining, or blame is notable.

I don’t know nearly as much about my parents’ courtship or their early work lives as Plum Johnson does about hers.

On our second walk, Finn and I rounded the corner to find a huge heart-shaped cloud, like a blousy kiss from the sky.

Perhaps it was meant to compensate for today’s crossword puzzles? Or the personal torment of the last couple of weeks? KISS!

And now it’s gonna rain again — no wonder I’m ecstatic about puffy white clouds and doves backed by blue sky. Man! Meanwhile, the catalpa blossoms that seemed celebratory days ago now clump in wilting piles of rot, four inches deep in places. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. And grab. Good thing I’m totally into sweeping these days (seriously into sweeping). And good thing this old bod can still squat with ease.

Well

Well, I might have shingles, the country’s gone belly up internationally, I had to order my sister a commode because she’s having trouble walking to the bathroom, and the sound of trucks beeping in reverse is unceasing, but there are iris!

And, unbeknownst to me: four regal and giant lions on a barely traveled industrial cut through behind the Needham Pet Co.


Discovering them was a delight perhaps all out of proportion to the moment — but I won’t argue with delight. Not now. Not ever.


Off to the doctor and then perhaps, the South Shore for a ‘girls’ weekend’.

Why I admire dog people so much

Dog people are stalwart, good communicators, aware of personal and canine boundaries, committed to the task of training. Many of their capabilities are nonverbal and barely register to the human eye, meaning they are sensitive and subtle, too. They tend to be kind. They tend to be patient.

I am not a dog person. Not yet, anyhow.

This post catalogs a few encounters that Finn and I had this morning (plus one remembered incident). If  you don’t have time to read 1,100 words, you might want to skip to the end and at least read about the German Shepherd and his guy. They were kind of amazing.

It’s 98 degrees out now, but even this morning before nine, it was brutally hot. So I decided to take Finn to Crystal Lake where I hoped to exhaust him without inducing heat stroke. To get to the lake, we cut through an off-leash park. We’ve played fetch there on occasion with mixed results. It’s okay as long as the other dogs are far away and their people are paying attention, but it’s always a little bit of a risk.

This morning we happened to get pinned by two incoming dogs, both off leash.

After I alerted the closer woman that Finn was reactive, she immediately abandoned the stroller she was pushing, grabbed her yellow lab by his harness and hooked him up to a leash. She then quietly put some distance between us. A dog person.

The other woman didn’t need a verbal cue because by then Finn was barking his head off. Nevertheless, she sauntered off toward the far side of the field. She sauntered off to the far side of the field while her poodle bounded toward us. This woman sauntered off to the far side of the field, pretend-calling her dog, while I restrained mine using a considerable amount of effort. I’ve done this many times before and have some confidence in my ability to restrain Finn, but she doesn’t know what I can or can’t do. If she bothered to look, she’d see a five foot tall woman working really hard to manage a dog that is hysterical because her dog is bounding toward us.

She kept chirping the dog’s name, as if she was actually calling the animal. But anybody could see that her dog was no more trained to come that I’m trained to do a Simone Biles gymnastics routine.

Most dogs aren’t trained to come, including Finn. It’s a 10,000 calls-kind of thing, with increasing amounts of distraction, so I didn’t judge her on that account. I judged her for acting as though she had trained him. Chirp. Chirp. She knew that dog wasn’t gonna come. La-dee-dah. Did I mention the bounder was a poodle with a pom-pom tail?

Not a dog person.

Needless to say, by the time we got to the Lake, I was a little wiped (that wasn’t the first episode of the walk). The heat was oppressive already and even though I’m practiced at these encounters, they’re still stressful.

The last time Finn and I were at the lake he attacked another dog, so I brought thirty foot leash. The sight lines at our spot are terrible and to make matters worse, I have to keep my back to the pathways to throw the ball. Up until the recent attack, I assumed that Finn’s intense play would keep him engaged. Oops!

He bolted past me that day and went after a dog just past the tree line. In her panic, the owner dropped the leash and backed away, leaving her dog to fend for himself. I got there quickly, of course, and pulled a crazed Finn away. Fortunately, he doesn’t bite in these episodes — just scares the shit out of everyone.

But to drop the leash? Really?

These bursts of ‘reactivity’ are terrifying, don’t get me wrong.  And while I know that his behavior springs from insecurity rather than aggression, no one on the receiving end has any reason to make such a distinction. So while dropping the leash made this woman human, it also revealed her status : not a dog person. I’ve seen a fifty year old woman tackle a golden retriever to interrupt a snarling, teeth-gnashing encounter, for god’s sake. That’s a dog person.

Interceding that day took a few minutes, so there was a delay before I could turn and make an apology. To her it may have felt like an afterthought. I’ll take it as a ‘dog person badge’ that I didn’t care, recognizing as I do now that my primary responsibility in these situations is to Finn.

If I hated the poodle-lady just a little (did I mention it was another god-damned poodle?), it wasn’t because she wasn’t a dog person, it was the way her wilted, victimized response almost seemed like a prelude to a law suit. If you don’t live in Newton, Mass., trust me — this kind of reaction is not out of the realm of possibility. Even absent a bite.

So today things seemed to be working out. The leash let Finn bomb into the water with glee, grab the ball, and come bounding back in that joyful way of his and let me know that I’d be able to restrain him if necessary.

That’s when a beautiful one year old German Shepherd and his guy arrived. Right behind us. As Finn blasted through the water to charge the dog, I had to hustle to gather up the slack. I managed, leash-webbing burns on my hands notwithstanding. It was the usual wild barking, the usual me backing him up, the usual continued wild barking, me being stern and then generally, a semblance of calm. Usually the uproar ends because the other dog gets far enough away and not because of anything I’ve done, but today Finn settled even with the shepherd near.

That guy stood there, calm as a brick wall. Not surprisingly, so did the dog. Not a growl, no hackle peak, no returning volley of barks – nothing.

Then, the man actually asked me, “Do you think they want to meet?”

I was nearly speechless with admiration.

Because I don’t have the confidence to do this yet, never mind the fact that I’d already emptied my adrenals once or twice that morning, I declined. But what happened next was just beautiful.

This guy set up a game of fetch just down the beach a bit, at what, really, was a phenomenally strategic distance. Not so far away as to make the shepherd irrelevant to Finn, but slightly inside his comfort zone. With casual precision, this guy established a session of parallel play that doubled as training. I was so, so impressed.

You might think I’m going overboard, but I’m not. This man probably didn’t have to think overly hard about where to start throwing the tennis ball, but he knew enough about dogs in general and about our situation in particular to respond in an intuitive manner that was both respectful and useful.

Because that’s what dog people do.

Rabbit holes and labyrinths

IMG_2884
Two weeks ago, I was going down various paths on the internet which sometimes feels like going down a rabbit hole. Down and down you go! Poof! There goes the morning.

Some of the search terms: charms, voodoo, voodun, sigils, veves, Celtic knots, hemlock, protection. Remarkably enough, at some point using the query “veve, protection,” I came to a site with information about Yoruban cosmology that included a picture of the walking labyrinth at Boston College. It is particularly remarkable when you consider that by then I was specifically hoping to find a symbol from my own (Irish) tradition.

And there it was: not only my tradition, but my neighborhood, and even, my alma mater (which a friend reminded me means, “nurturing mother”) (BCLS ’89). This labyrinth is less than two miles from my home. So, of course I went.
IMG_2878IMG_2890IMG_2895Based on a pattern found at Chartres Cathedral, it is a unicursal — meaning that there is only one way in and one way out. The labyrinth was built as a memorial, dedicated to the twenty-two Boston College alumni who were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
IMG_2886
The design was an aid to meditation because no choices needed to be made about what direction to pursue. As I walked it, I prayed for my sons, for the descendants of the enslaved, for justice and peace and healing for our country — the usual, urgent things. But braided in and around those other things, was the prayer that I could somehow come to more regularly believe in my own essential goodness. It took about an hour. Afterwards, I felt grounded and renewed.
IMG_2896I went into the library and found more lovely and potent Celtic images — I’ll save those for another time perhaps.

Here is the charm I came up with. It’s a first pass and not original.

I like how the photo on the right crops the door molding into a crucifix.

Before the labyrinth walk, we went to Montreal. After, Schenectady. This weekend we will lay down compost and mulch and I will cook chicken and wilt greens with loads of garlic and we will figure out where to put some of my son’s things.

And: I will finish the Hearts for Charleston quilt (she said, but really meaning it). The front has been done for weeks but the labeling continues. Liz Ackert helped out generously by supplying some very beautifully stitched names. I am writing up the cover letter and ‘legend’ and will photograph the piece as soon as the last labels are on. My goal — by Friday of next week.

The first anniversary of the Emanuel AME murders in Charleston is only five weeks away.