Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Mayor for the People

This weekend, Boston is remembering the passing of its longest serving mayor, Thomas Menino. He served for over 20 years, from 1993 to 2014.  He started out in local politics as a City Councilor.  When Major Ray Flynn was offered the post of Ambassador to the Vatican, Tom Menino became Acting Mayor.  Beginning in 1993, he won and unprecedented five elections for mayor.

He was always a low-key guy. It was never "all about him" but more all about the city. He knew it well, the neighborhoods, the people, the diversity.  

When he saw a need, he did something.  He saw young people with nothing to do during the summer.  So, he started a camp for any kid from the city, for the affordable price of $5/week.  When the Morning Star Baptist congregation in Mattapan could not get a loan to build a new church, he stepped in and talked a bank into making the loan.  On Sundays, parishioners triple-park along Blue Hill Avenue to attend the largest church on what some call the "Avenue of God" for its numerous places of worship, small and large.

He also presided over a time of great investment and development in the city.  Here, he did wield the power to be the deciding vote to approve or deny a project.  The city continued to flourish.

While development continued downtown, the demographics of the neighborhoods were changing.  For the first time, the Boston became a majority minority city.  But, he was a major for all the people.  What was most telling was the outpouring of praise for their former major from leaders of the minority communities.  On Thursday Nov. 30th, after the mayor's passing hit the news, the evening service at Morning Star Baptist Church became a memorial service for the major. He truly served all the people.

He was not always the smoothest public speaker.  Nicknamed "Mumbles," sometimes you weren't quite 100% sure what he just said, I recall hearing him speak at the funeral of the late Mayor Kevin White, and having to listen very carefully!

His heart was always with Boston. After the marathon bombing, he left his hospital bed to speak to the city, to give all strength and hope. 

But, all in all, I think his legacy will be that of a mayor of the whole city.  He was a good and faithful public servant. Unfortunately, he had so little time to enjoy life after office. May he rest in peace.

Friday, September 26, 2014


The classiest and hardest playing Yankee is hanging up his cleats.  In his last at-bat at the Stadium ("Yankee Stadium" is redundant), he did what Jeter always seemed to do:  come through in the clutch.  In this case, he got the game-winning hit.

Before I continue, I have to say I've never been a Yankee fan.  Born in New York City, I leaned to hate the Bronx Bums at young age.  Despite my mom being a Bronx-born Yankee fan, my uncle "brainwashed" his daughter and I to be Mets fans, taking us to see the 120-game loosing 1962 team in the Polo Grounds.  Of course, they lost.

But even a 120-game loosing team that wasn't the Yankees was a good thing, so we routed for them year after loosing year.  Later I would move to Boston, where Red Sox fans shared the true hatred of the Yankees that I learned.  While I wanted the Mets in '86 to win in 7 (and they did, following Mookie Wilson's most famous at-bat), I eventually transitioned to being a Sox fan.

I still feel the classic Sox-Yanks rivalry was at its peak in the 2003 and 2004 season.  Both teams had great lineups where anyone from leadoff to 9th could take it out of the park.  Add some great pitching on either side, and there were many memorable games.

What I remember from the 2003 playoffs is the game where Pedro maybe stayed on the mound too long.  Late in the game, with the Sox ahead by a run or two, I recall Jeter coming up to bat.  No one on base.  But there was that gleam in his eye.  The gleam of hope.  The gleam that says "I think I can do something here."

Problem was, we know Jeter was a clutch hitter.  He didn't hit for batting average.  He didn't hit to win the game in one swing (although he could at times).  He just tried to do something.  Something to shift the balance of the game, to shift the momentum just enough.  Just enough to give the pitcher a little something else to think about.  Just enough so he might loose a bit of focus so that he might give the next batter something to hit.  Before you knew it, a run or two would score, and you lead was gone.

He had that inside-out swing the could just barely lift the ball just over the head of the shortstop or second baseman and then drop dead in the outfield just enough so that now you have Jeter on 1st, no one out, and that gleam is still in his eye.

In the 7th game of the 2003 playoffs, Jeter is up in the 8th with the Sox up 5-2.  Mr. Clutch got a double.  It was a 3-run inning and the game went into extra innings.  And you guessed it, the Yanks won.  Jeter and the gleam in his eye shifted the momentum.  And that's all it took.

Although I can never admit liking Jeter, I can say that I respect him.  For his class, for the effort he always showed.  For being more about the clutch hit than average or other stats.

Jeter was our opponent.  But we have learned to respect him for his integrity.  May he enjoy his retirement.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Tinge in the Leaves

The tinge of color can be seen in the trees.  The  first mini-season of Autumn is upon us.  The chilly breezes are beginning to blow. Our love affair with the warmth of summer is ending. It is a sad parting.

The music of Autumn is melancholy.  It is the season of separation, of leaving, of dying.  The lyrics were written by  Joni Mitchell, and sung (in my head) by Tom Rush:

    "I get the urge for going
      When the meadow grass is turning brown
      Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in."

The song speaks to the loss of separation that comes with the season.   The separation of a friend who is leaving, of the changes in nature, with birds and geese migrating, and the grasses in the meadows dying.  

It is not yet officially Autumn, but the signs of the season are upon.  

The leaves are turning brown.  
Summertime is falling down.  
Winter's closing in.
Winter's closing in.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Peninsula near Freeport

Sitting on a peninsula between the rocky shorelines on Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River, about 3 miles from downtown Freeport, Maine is a 200-acre park of varied ecosystems, including climax white pine and hemlock forests, a salt marsh estuary, and craggy beaches.  Contrasting with commercial bustle of the outlets and restaurants is the quiet and relative seclusion within the park.  Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith in 1969.

Following our hikes earlier in July at Crawford Notch and Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, our July 26th hike was well within the category of "easy."  Our hike started along the shoreline of Casco Bay, which featured sedimentary rock outcroppings, gravely beaches, and an osprey sanctuary on a near-shore island.  The second half was the cross-peninsula Harraseeket Trail, which skirted above the banks of the Harraseeket River.

The Casco Bay Trail
Skirting the shoreline, the trail connects to the rocky beaches on the bay.
The gravely beach along Casco Bay.
The rock outcroppings on the beach, with Googins Island in the background.
Marine growth on the outcrops in the intertidal zone.
Closeup of the layers of the sedimentary outcropping.

The Harraseeket Trail
The cross-peninsula Harraseeket Trail traverses a relatively flat terrain mostly in a mixed canopy.  After crossing Wolf Neck Road, the trail approaches the river, staying 20 to 30 feet above the shoreline.

Hiking through the woods of Wolfe's Neck.
Fern groundcover in a sunny break in the forest canopy.
Glimpses of the Harraseeket River 
The Harraseeket River as seen from the namesake trail

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Return to the Mountaintop!

Mt. Monadnock, on the clear day of
our previous climb, July 5, 2009.
One of my goals for this summer was a return to the mountaintop.  We had a little warm-up the week before climbing the Frankenstein Cliffs trail at Crawford Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  But I really wanted to return to Mt. Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire.  So, 5 years and 6 days after our last climb, my son and I returned on July 13, 2014.

Quoting my previous post:  "With a height of 3,165 feet (965 meters), Mount Monadnock is said to be the second most frequently climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan. Located in southwestern New Hampshire (USA), on a clear day, one can see 100 miles (160 km) from the mountaintop. What makes the views so spectacular is the bare rock summit above the treeline and in the midst of unique alpine vegetation."

Here I am in the wind and the fog at
the summit.  
Well, the views on July 13, 2014 were not as spectacular.   In fact, a storm front was moving in and the summit was enshrouded in clouds, with 60 mph gusts and visibility of, maybe 500 feet.  The summit was closed shortly after I began my descent.

Oh, well.  Missed the views but it was still great to be up there with the wind and fog and moisture hanging in the air!

I had to include the following photo from our 2009 climb, to demonstrate how spectacular the view can be.  The rest of the photos were from this year's climb.
View from the mountaintop, July 5, 2009

The White Dot trail starts out so deceptively flat.  But not for long!
Rocks, roots, uneven ground:  always need good footwear!
The first view from a small rocky ledge about halfway up the trail.
Hazy view a little further along the climb.

Ferns form a understory in the thinner forest part way up.
View from the tree line

The craggy mountain above the tree line.  A good bit of climbing from here up is on the sloping rock face.

After over an hour of climbing, the first view of the summit comes tells you there's still a long way to go!
Above the tree line, the strong winds keep the vegetation stunted

Little ecosystems in the pools that form with the rocks near the summit.

Views just below the summit.

Hikers on the foggy summit
Trail map:   Both times, we too the White Dot trail for the climb and the White Cross for the descent.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Hike in the White Mountains

Rachel in the mountains
After Tropical Storm Arthur washed out most of the 4th of July celebrations in Boston (moving an abbreviated Pops concert and early fireworks to the 3rd).  

After sitting around the house on a wet 4th, our cabin fever propelled us to take a little hike.  Rosie came up with this suggestion for a hike in the White Mountains at Crawford Notch.

It would only be 5 miles.  Maybe 3 hours at a "normal" pace or 5 hours at a "relaxed" pace.  It featured climbing up to the top of the Frankenstein Cliff (named after a German artist who lived in the area, not the famous monster) and then passing the Arethusa Falls, the tallest non-seasonal waterfalls in New Hampshire.  Sounded good.

Hike to the Frankenstein Cliffs and Arethusa Falls
Google Earth view of the hike.  The photo of me is at that bald spot at the top center of the map above.

Crawford Notch station
So off we went. After a couple of near-rear end collisions with the tourist drivers on I-93, we made it to Twin Mountain for lunch. From there it was a short drive past Crawford Notch station, one of my favorites. It is maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club and served in summer and fall by a single round-trip train from North Conway.

From the parking lot we set out.  Of course, son #2 took off at his own pace, not to be seen for hours where he was waiting for our return.  Rosie and I set out on the climb.  In short the trail was up.  And up.  And up.  And, for variety, some steeper up.

The trail went up.  And up.  And some
 more up!
Rosie says, will it ever descend?

From time to time, you could get a good view of the mountains all around.
Frankenstein Trestle
After hiking north for a half mile or so, the trail turns west and passes under the Frankenstein Trestle which soars over 80 above the trail.  The trestle was built in 1893 by the Portland (Maine) & Ogdensburg Railroad as part of its route through the White Mountains.  Later it became the Mountain Division of the Maine Central Railroad, with freight trains traversing the line into the early 1980s.  Since 1895 the Conway Scenic Railroad runs a daily passenger in summer and fall.

Frankenstein Trestle soars over the trail
The Frankenstein Trestle many years ago, before the forest grew up around it.

The Frankenstein Trestle from Google Earth.

Historic Marker

After passing the trestle, we passed this long waterfalls cascading down the face of a portion of the Frankenstein Cliffs.  There are two ways to reach the vantage point of this photo.  One can climb the rock pile between the trestle and falls, or follow the zig-zagging trail.  We took the trail.

Frankenstein Cliffs Overlook
After the waterfalls, we had about another 100 feet up before we were treated to the magnificent views from the overlook.  The view looks to the south through Bartlett Notch in the general direction of Conway.

The view
Looking down on Route 302
The mountains beyond

Rosie and I, atop of overlook.

At the overlook, we chatted with a family group who stopped for lunch to rest and enjoy the view.  One of them, who had taken the trail maybe 20 years ago, said the trail would easily descend from here and we didn't want to go back the way we came up.  So on we went.

But there was no "down" just more up.  And some more up after that.  Then there was a little bit of down, followed by up and then steeper up.  Seems we still had another 80 feet to rise before we reached the peak of the trail.

Waterfalls and Streams
Well eventually, we dis start descending, which went on for miles.  Along the way, the trail crossed many streams and there were a number of waterfalls where the streams cascaded down the face of the cliffs.

Mountain streams cascading over rocks crossed the trail as several points in the descent

Rosie checking her phone for another way across the stream, perhaps.

Arethusa Falls: the destination of the 2nd half of the hike.  Its 140 foot drop is the tallest non-seasonal waterfalls in New Hampshire.  (The Dryad Falls is taller but the stream is intermittent.)
After the falls, it was still over a mile and a half back to the parking lot.  While it was mostly down, it still was a bit of an effort at the end of the hike.  About a half mile before the end, by left hiking boot "blew out" with the soul falling off.  I had to shuffle back to the car.

All in all, we did the trail with stops in about 3 and half hours, which is not bad for not having hiked last year while recovering from a procedure.   It always feels great at the end of the hike.

We stopped at the rest area overlooking Mount Washington and its namesake hotel just to take in the view.  (Turned out, there were folks who were tailgating at this rest area, too!)

Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range, with the Mt. Washington Hotel.