As I head into this upcoming weekend, August 5-6, I plan to take time off from hiking on Saturday to visit the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston.
When the late Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away on August 25, 2009, I was deeply moved by the outpouring of tributes paid in his honor. It was at that time the idea of touring Massachusetts first came to my mind. I wanted to see and experience some of what he loved about the people, towns and culture of the state. So I’m very excited I will get to visit the Kennedy Institute this weekend.
Here’s a collection of some of my random thoughts from last weekend’s hike.
During my walk last Saturday from Douglas to Sutton, Mass. random thoughts were flowing through my mind with each bend of the road. The weather was perfect, with temperatures in low to mid 70s and overcast with partial breaks of sunshine.
From the Book of Ezekiel,
"Mortal, mark out two roads for the sword of the King of Babylon to come; both of them shall issue from the same land. And make a signpost, make it for a fork in the road leading to a city; mark out the road for the sword to come to Rabbah of the Ammonites or to Judah and to Jerusalem the fortified.”
- When I arrived at the proverbial fork in the road last weekend I consulted a stranger for recommendations on which way to go. He advised me to take the road to the left saying it was more scenic. What he didn’t tell me was that it was the longer road to the Purgatory Chasm. Maps that I looked at online beforehand said the walking route was about 8.5 miles. This longer route was about 13 miles and was scenic as the stranger suggested, but it took me longer to reach my destination. While I was grateful for the advice the stranger offered I didn’t plan on walking 20 miles that day.
- The Purgatory Chasm wasn’t the only glacial rocks I observed last weekend. While they are dramatic and a wonder to see, the number of historic stone walls I passed in the Central part of the state was more amazing. Stone walls are a signature landform that reveals our past and present in New England. You see them everywhere. The Stone Wall Initiative is an organization affiliated with the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History. It offers education and other activities for the public interested in learning more.
“Abandoned stone walls found in the woods all over New England have a long and fascinating story. Long before their recent re-discovery in the mid-20th century, the vast majority of stone walls were in the process of falling apart and decomposing within the woodlands of New England. And before that, they were built by early American farm families using stones that heaved up from the subsoil during agricultural activities such as the tillage of crops and the pasturing of livestock. All of this took place long after the stones were buried by natural organic processes, stones that were quarried from rock by the last ice sheet to cover New England and then scattered over the landscape. The ice sheet responsible for this was passing over the hard rocky surface of the heavily fractured continental crust of northeastern North America, which had been created during an earlier episode of mountain building responsible for creating the ancient Appalachian Mountains. In turn, that ancient rock was made of the residues or older rock, which were made from elements gathered during formation of planet Earth and the rest of our solar system. The story of stone walls begins with the Big Bang, and ends with the present moment.” Stone Wall Initiative, University of Connecticut
- Lawn Mowers – As I have journeyed from West to East across the state, I’ve noticed noise pollution has gradually increased as I pass through rural and suburban neighborhoods alike. In rural areas, I would see houses maybe every 1/3 of a mile apart. Now that I have arrived in more densely populated suburban hoods, houses are now only a few dozen feet apart. And with that change the noise created by lawn mowers has become louder as more owners decide to cut their lawns at around the same time on Saturday mornings. They’re mostly men, who are funny beings when it comes to maintaining their lawns. Some like long blades of grass while other cut it short like buzz cuts. But it’s the noise of those riding tractors that drives me crazy. Noise created motorcycles passing is by far worse.
- Being in the Moment – I became upset with myself for not recognizing important moments as I experience them on the trail. Last Saturday while seeking information at the Purgatory Chasm Visitor’s Center, a very nice deaf woman struck up a conversation with me when she pointed at a picture on her IPad of a beautiful butterfly she saw in the park. We started exchanging written messages on paper turn-taking back and forth during our conversation. After leaving the visitor’s center, I suddenly realized that was a moment I should have taken more time to understand what she was doing. I didn't allow myself the time to be in the moment with her because of the miles I still had ahead me. Drats!
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
James Baldwin, A Native Son
- American Flags – I love taking pictures of flags waving gently in the wind, tastefully displayed in handsome, dignified, and respectful manners. So why do I have strong feeling about flags tied to fencing on highway overpasses? Does it have something to do with the flags being zip tied and chained to a fence limiting its freedom of movement? Recently I've noticed a lot of Veteran groups targeting bridges over major highways to display American flags across Eastern Mass. I personally find this trite and I'm tired of seeing them and I wish highway departments would order them taken down. As a New Englander this overt nationalism is not home grown like the phrase "Boston Strong," but a localized import from other parts of the country. Are Veteran group's doing this to raise financial support for their programs? What if patriotic non-profit groups decide they want to advertise their organizations on overpasses? Will highway departments allow these groups equal opportunity?Nationalistic fervor of any kind scares me.
American Flags II
- Are Americans scared of changes occurring around them? That's one of the questions I asked myself as I hiked through Central Mass. where I observed a proliferation of American flags on lawns, front doors, highway bridges, dropped from barns, almost everywhere. The proliferation, interestingly, is occurring in mainly upper middle class neighborhoods where houses cost $500,000 or more. Is it a sub-conscious fear, an outward expression of pride and patriotism, or a subtle way of showing support for conservative political ideologies en vogue? In poorer neighborhoods that I passed through like Northbridge, Mass. I didn't see any overt patriotism on display. I'm not a flag waver and I personally find this type of political shouting from the door step of one’s property distasteful. New Englanders to me have always had a strong sense of independence and do not need to wave flags in front of their homes, or from the back of their truck, to show they are patriots. It’s inherent in our culture.
- From a racial perspective, I believe many of the flags that I observed in conjunction with other lawn signs that proclaimed support for various local town police departments together signaled a white code to neighbors. Or white America's Unshakable Confidence in the Police. This article by the Marshall Project explores the different racial confidence Americans have on supporting police departments.
- Other markers that disturb me include make shift grave sites near accident sites. Over the weekend I saw from the highway an former accident site where someone put up a large grave headstone.
Lastly A Thank You
- After my 20 mile hike on Saturday I drove up to Randolph where I stayed with my friend Phil J. and his wife, Susan. Susan allowed me to use her electric foot massager/bath to soak my tired, achy feet in lavender scented Epsom salt. After about 20 minutes my feet were so relaxed and happy I couldn’t thank Susan enough. Foot care is for real!