Monday, April 29, 2013

Repairing a Stone Wall

An old stone wall runs along the north edge of some 15 acres of woodland I've inherited. I grew up on this land and played on the wall many times and, as an adult, marveled at it periodically when I would return to the homestead and go walking on the land. When my father passed away and the land came to me last year, I began to see it differently. I began to see it as it could be if tastefully managed, if care was given to piling brush and making walking paths.

And as if seeing it for the first time I saw the wall almost as an organic being, something once completely formed but that has since suffered the ravages of decades. In many places, it had crumbled and the stones that had fallen out were buried under years of decayed plant material. Someone had once put enormous energy and vision into the wall's construction; it occurred to me that I could repair it. So I started.

Four hours completely focused, a joy of Zen mindfulness, doing the real work until my fingers (though gloved) were sore from scratching the forest humus to get at the heavy granite and shale stones, and hefting them back into place. I learned that repairing a stone wall teaches you how to build a stone wall. I peered inside the wall, into openings not peered into for a hundred years or more, I cleared away matted detritus several inches thick and meshed with tiny roots, I pushed away the husks of pine cones long ago eaten by grey squirrels. I smelled the forest, listened to birds, and completely forget that I was there.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Big Spring Ride Through Childhood Places

Squannacook River, mile 19
In the end, it was 43.50 miles, over three hours in the saddle, most of the morning and into the afternoon. En bicyclette. Through time and place. Lemonstar to Shirley, home town, past childhood split level ranch house and on up the road then down the road into West Groton and then to the wildlife management area, the Squannacook River swimming hole where I spent many summer afternoons and evenings with Tom and friends and where I hurled into space on a rope swing and dropped into the cool tea colored waters, and where, in high school years, we partied and called the spot "Silky's", I don't know why, now fly fishermen know the banks well and there isn't a piece of garbage to be seen and the big tree with the rope swing has vanished, the bank eroded away by the river's inevitable hunger.

Pepperell, Mass, mile 22
Onward, into Pepperell and a visit with friend TS who hails from Lowell, the nephew of Jack Kerouac, his aunt Kerouac's third wife, TS met the besotted writer genius tragic Boddhisattva fool a couple of times, TS now archival specialist, learned book man, musician, big-handed Greek, generous, gentle, welcoming. And then onward, back roads in the woods, New Englanders on a sunny April morning raking their yards, burning leaves, waving back if I wave, whiz down Heald St. and into the center of Pepperell aka Pepperville, old town blighted by fast food plastic and scruff streets, a river flows through it though they tore down the big brick mill long ago aside the rushing waters.

There's a rail trail in Pepperell, it goes north into New Hampshire and south toward Ayer, I picked it up and headed south, it's a mostly flat trail with gradual inclines south toward Groton and then a gradual declination after that, I huffed it and tried to keep my cadence firm, tried to maintain around 17 m.p.h., occasionally fatigued I dipped the speed to 15 m.p.h or so and occasionally other rail trailers caused me to slow too and I'd call out "passing on your left!" At one point along the eight or so miles that I was covering of the trail I glanced behind me and saw someone oncoming, someone using me as their rabbit so I "dug into my suitcase of courage" (to borrow an inimitable Paul Sherwenism) and picked up the pace to 20 m.p.h. and kept the predator at bay until I bailed off the trail and headed for the road that crosses behind the old Fort Devens airport, I've always called it River Rd but that's not really what it's named, nevertheless it does follow the Nashua River and I enjoy this stretch, many, many years ago my father trapped muskrats along this river and I would often go with him to check the trap line and  I recalled those days as I pedaled with growing fatigue along the pavement (flat) toward Devens, and the Main Gate, across from which the road ended.

Nashua River, mile 31
Devens used to be Fort Devens of course, the largest army base in New England once-upon-a-time, I spent many, many hours on the base, in fact I was BORN on the base (though the hospital has long since been torn down), I'd buy albums at the PX, enjoy summer swims in the outdoor pools, go to the movies at one of the three theaters ("Destroy All Monsters" 1968 was a favorite, "Taxi Driver" 1974 I was too young to see but saw it anyway, "Slap Shot" 1977 we lived for hockey), today the fort is just the town of Devens though there is a Federal prison hospital and the news just came that the scurrilous wretch Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been transferred there, I rode across Devens anyway (going nowhere near the prison facility) and exited back into Shirley and from there rode on with weary legs past my elementary school (Lura A. White School) and down what we used to call "Tummy Tickle Rd" because of its ups and downs, and then finally atop Rice Hill and Gove Farm from which point you look across one of the very last apple orchards in the city that birthed Johnny Appleseed down into the city of Lemonstar.

Rice Hill and Gove Farm Looking Toward Lemonstar, mile 40
Then three miles or so through the 'hood and back to the home neighborhood and, famished, a focused effort in the kitchen & at the grill and in no time (well, within an hour of getting back), a big grilled ribeye steak from the CSA in Groton, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, roasted cauliflower, two glasses of pinot noir from Oregon, two pints of water, and a cup of Russian Caravan tea ... and the ride was duly finalized.

All That's Left

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

One Runner Who Died

Lawrence Academy Cross Country Team 1972
(Tom is 3rd from the right)
I was never a runner, though my brother was - my brother who died in 1979 of a brain tumor, just 22 years old. My brother who never made it out of the 1970s but who ran with grace and grit and elegance and urgency. Some of those who ran with him on those cross country teams at Lawrence Academy in 1973, 1974, and 1975 remain close friends today.

When someone you love dies young and you outlive them by decades, from time to time you pause to consider all the things that came after their brief sojourn here. The good and the bad. Tom never watched Larry Bird play basketball, never read a book by David Foster Wallace, never got to see the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, never saw the Berlin Wall come down. He also never witnessed the September 11 attacks, never anguished over our country's war crimes in Iraq, never fretted and seethed over the Reagan and Bush presidencies.

Tom (center) running cross country
Lawrence Academy, 1974

And he never felt the anguish and anger that we've just experienced at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. 

For me, there is always a part of him that lives on, that runs with great determined strides, his long black hair flying back, sinewy arms pumping. He would have cried with the rest of us this week. And he probably would have started training for next year's Boston Marathon. He wouldn't abide despair. And neither, I think, will Boston itself.