This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Dog Days

Fionn the Dog's tongue, a foot long, resembles something hideous and unnatural from a demonic movie. The kale in my garden wilts every forenoon, and remains in this limp condition, until the evening, no matter how much I water. The asphalt sidewalks and driveways of Stoneham, many of them shade-free (beside of the locals' seemingly-congenital aversion to trees-- are they afraid the birds will poop on their shiny SUVs, broiling in the sun?) do not exactly inspire St. Francis-like thoughts as we shuffle along on our daily walk-- or, rather, daily pull, as Fionn is most reluctant to walk abroad in this weather. According to the Ayuvedic system of health (fascinating stuff- as young Danny, who works for me, to explain) I'm a Pita-- and Pitas loathe the heat. Accustomed to a five mile day perambulation, I get nasty and antsy and irregular and somewhat sleepless and appetite-less when I am robbed of this panacea. And yet at the same time, it's so tiresome to swell the route of Whiners, isn't it? When we are given the gift of a new day? So what's a guy to do to maintain his happiness, in this kind of weather? Because happiness, as often as not, is a choice I think.

Does anyone remember Fred Ward, the almost-alarmingly friendly weatherman that used to be on Channel 7, before they went all hussy-and-gigolo on us? Bald, dubious teeth, of a certain age, he was sacked (and a lawsuit followed) for not being pretty enough and young enough-- and yet he possessed a doctorate in meteorology and, like many people in the Boston area, we adored him and, as we were all mildly educated and somewhat enlightened, we didn't care a horse's ass what he looked like. At any rate he would always smilingly trumpet, just as a nasty, rotten, putrid, girdle-sticky heat wave was about to break, "HERE COME OUR COOL CANADIAN FRIENDS!" and there would be weather maps with all these wonderful streaming arrows bearing down on New England from the Great Northwest, promising cool starry nights, dry, clear days, and general well being. I miss that. So if the mountain will not come to Mohamed, then etc etc, and we decamped this morning to the Minuteman Bike Trail in Arlington, in search of its shady lanes, its car-free, smog-free, diesel-free, noise-free ambiance. Did you know that the average medium size tree emits 40,000 BTUs of air conditioning per hour? It's true. So of course the bike trail is somewhat cooler, too; additionally, if one walks far enough (we did) one comes to the Great Meadows of Arlington, in Lexington-- which is not to be confused with the Great meadows National Wildlife Sanctuary, in Concord and Sudbury. The former is, according to the Friends of Arlington's Great Meadows Website:

Arlington's Great Meadows is a 183-acre parcel of land located in east Lexington. It is the largest piece of undeveloped land in the Arlington/Lexington area. It is part of the Mystic River watershed. Once a glacial lake, it is now a wet meadow surrounded by uplands created by glacial outwash. Great Meadows was purchased by Arlington in 1871 to serve as a supplementary water storage area, but was only briefly used for that purpose. However, it remains a valuable buffer against flooding in the area.

Arlington's Great Meadows has long served as public open space and is a popular recreational spot, particularly since the opening of the Minuteman Bikeway on its southern border. It also provides a home for local wildlife. To date, 56 species of birds have been found nesting in Great Meadows, 12 species of amphibians and reptiles live there, and 251 species of plants grow in the wet meadow and uplands. Last summer's Biodiversity Days survey of the area recorded nearly 400 species of plants and animals in the Great Meadows area.

Because it is situated between two schools, the Waldorf School of Lexington and Lexington Christian Academy, Arlington's Great Meadows is a valuable resource for teaching children about nature and the environment. The Citizens for Lexington Conservation organizes annual bird watching and geology walks in the Meadows.

There's a bluff in the Meadows off the Minuteman Trail that is one of the more delightful places I know for a picnic, to be followed by some leisurely afternoon summer reading. I seem to be stuck in either bold or italic as I write this, so please bear with me. This bluff always reminds me of Karen Blixen/Isaac Dinsen's bluff in Out of Africa, where she and Denis Fitch Hutton would sit and watch over the African plain. While I haven't seen lions yet from this sylvan perch, I have seen a variety of birds and mammals, and the meadows spread out before me on a summer's day, such as today, seems like nothing less than a benign gesture. Fionn loves walking on the bike trail-- it's more comfortable, and the different smells, no doubt, make the bushes and trees of Arlington and Lexington as exotic as Paris or Hong Kong. We rested on the bluff for a bit, after having walked briskly two miles or so I suppose to get there, and read a bit from our book du jour, Thoreau's Week on the Concord and Merrimack. I really defy anyone with even a soupcon of appreciation for nature to read this book and not want to go rushing off to do likewise, despite the fact that one would be confronted, I suspect, by the ass ends of BJs and Home Depots, upside down shopping carts and Clorox bottles, as opposed to the bittern nests, muskrat lodges, and wooded banks that graced the margins of said rivers in Thoreau's day. Not that Concord, of course, has BJs and Home Depots-- only the CFOs of same, I suppose, in their 6000 sq ft homes that dot today's Concord River. Marvelous to say, Thoreau's trip was NOT preceded by a trip to LL Bean or EMI, for the (nowadays) de rigeur 'gear.' Nowadays, indeed, I believe that Thoreau's work would go unpublished; or, if not, people and their inquiring minds would long to know-- is he hairy-chested? Gay or straight or something in between? Cut, uncut? At any rate, this book is best when Thoreau is dealing with the business at hand. Ever other page has allusions, and lines, from classical poetry which, except for the Homeric quotes, gets old very quickly. I guess it was the thing to do then, transcendental name-dropping as it were. Okay I have to go tot he local Farmer's Market now, which has just opened this year down the street at the mostly-unused Stoneham Common. While Stoneham get funky and artsy, the way Arlington has? Or will it continue as a town of quite limited sympathies and people voting down library and school budgets, while the young people smoke cigarettes and work at the Mobil 'On the Run!' gas station down the street? Stay tuned....God knows I am doing all I can to make it a weird little place full of wonderfully eccentric people...