Tag Archives: Boston

The Commonwealth Mall

A few weeks ago, I ended up somewhat accidentally walking down the Commonwealth Mall. While I’d crossed or walked down short segments of it in the past, I’d never gone from one end to the other. That day, I realized what a treasure I had been neglecting.

Yesterday, I reprised the walk, camera in tow and a little more time on my hands. (view photo set)

The Mall is the link between the Public Garden and Frederick Law Olmsted’s “Emerald Necklace,” weaving a tapestry of of greenery through the heart of the city. On a day like yesterday, with the trees sporting spring’s first green and the weather bright and seasonable, it truly felt magical. Removed from the commercial hubbub of Boylston and Newbury Streets, lined by elegant brownstones and stately apartment buildings, and just a couple blocks removed from the shores of the Charles that once overtook this very space, the Commonwealth Mall is a special place.

While arboreal splendor is a highlight of a stroll down the Mall, the real treasures are the various statues and memorials the inhabit the space. From a regal depiction of prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (complete with an affirming quote) to a memorial for trailblazing Boston women such as Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Stone, the Mall offers a history lesson and a museum visit all in one. There are also statues for legends whose name you may not find in your history textbook, like naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, whose monument carries the inscription, “Dream dreams, then write them, aye, but live them first.” One of the more striking memorials is to the nine firefighters who lost their lives in the 1972 fire at the Hotel Vendome. My favorites, though, were the ones for ordinary people, like the homeless man who was devoted to the neighborhood’s dogs, or Thomas Walker, whose plaque underneath a young tree simply reads, “Special.” Beneath the boughs of trees flush with the renewal of spring, these lives and moments intermingle for posterity.

I took note of the two statues that bookend the Mall: George Washington at the western edge of the Public Garden, and Leif Erikson where the Mall begins its transition to the Fens. On both ends, you have discovery — discovery of a land, and discovery of a country, or what a country could one day be. I like to think that in the space between those two figures, with all the lives immortalized in stone and bronze therein, that sense of discovery lives on in the history we learn and re-learn, in a city that knows that remembering the past gets you halfway toward forging the future.

Immersion Learning

The only thing I knew about yesterday is where I would begin. I had no idea where I would end up.

IMG00461-20091022-1254Lately, I’ve had a bit of wanderlust combined with an urge to drive. I’ve been missing the open road, which I gained a fine appreciation for while road-tripping around the South with my brother this summer. So I took a day off of work, booked a Zipcar, and set out from Somerville with only a loose set of destinations in mind.

After breakfast with a friend in Peabody, I hit Brooksby Farm to get some cider donuts. I had been told that my New England citizenship was in danger of being revoked since I had never had one, and sure enough, they are good enough that it is a crime I hadn’t had one earlier. From there, I found my way onto 127, headed toward Gloucester and Rockport. I’ve been to those towns before, so I wasn’t particularly interested in getting out of my car and exploring the towns. I was more interested in seeing what would happen behind the wheel.

At several points, I lost track of where I was. But I didn’t really care. As long as I was on a main road (or something resembling a main road), even if I hadn’t seen a 127 sign in miles, I was OK.

DSCN6707I pulled into a random park at one point that had a stunning harbor view. Turns out it was Stage Fort Park, where Tablet Rock designates the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at that spot in 1623.  I drove past Good Harbor Beach, taking in dazzling views of the beach, the ocean and the rocky shoreline — at one point, I pulled into the Elks parking lot just to sit back and take it in. I drove past the Fisherman’s Monument, downtown Gloucester and all the little shops and homes.

IMG00464-20091022-1424I continued through Rockport, stumbling into the kitschy, narrow lanes of Bearskin Neck. I continued down 127, hooking back west until I reconnected with 128. By this time, I had my fill of quiet scenery and was ready for some acceleration. I proceeded to cut over onto 133 to hit Woodman’s in Essex for the last crab roll (my weakness) of the season. So tasty — and relatively empty. I can’t imagine that place in July.

With nothing else on my agenda, I decided that a couple of hours of driving and singing sounded pretty good. So I got on 93-North and decided to drive to Derry, New Hampshire, with the iPod tuned to my Favorites playlist. In truth, I just wanted to cross state lines — it sounds like a silly wish, but for someone who doesn’t have a car, it is kind of a rare treat. Luckily, in New England, if you have a car (or, heck, even a commuter rail ticket) it’s easy enough to do. I had a loose goal of finding Robert Frost’s farm, but with no clear directions and time running out on my Zipcar reservation, I didn’t look too hard.

After I made it back to Somerville and dropped off my car, I headed downtown for Boston Blogtoberfest. I’m trying to hit more of these events (call it a fall resolution). I saw Brad, finally met Steve Garfield and the Whalehead King and chatted with some new folks like Jaclyn the Bar Warrior.  It was a good time, though I haven’t checked my credit card yet to see how much that gin and tonic cost me. Around 8PM, though, I got the itch. Not that the company and conversation wasn’t good, but I realized that it was unseasonably warm outside, and I had nothing but time and a city at my disposal.

IMG00471-20091022-2050I proceeded to take a rambling walk up Berkeley Street to Marlborough Street, walking up to the Common, past Cheers, around Beacon Hill, past Louisburg Square (and John Kerry’s brownstone) and ultimately, to the street I lived on when I was a baby. That’s right, the first two years of my life were spent in one of Boston’s toniest neighborhoods. Eventually, I reached 36 So. Russell Street, at which point I called my mom to chat. It was weird, but pretty awesome. I then headed to Charles/MGH, where I boarded a train for Davis Square and headed home.

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I hated to turn away from the balmy night air, but the need to rest overruled my urge to explore. It had been a day spent immersed in the poles of the New England experience, from Bearskin Neck to Beacon Hill, from sitting behind the wheel to hitting the pavement. Notably, while I loved driving around Massachusetts, taking in the foliage and the ocean views, the landmark sites and the interesting roadside scenes, my favorite moment of the day was when I was walking to Blogtoberfest, on Tremont Street where it crosses over the Mass Pike. The sun had set, but there was still a splash of light on the western horizon. The Pru and the Hancock tower were lit up against a deep blue dusk, and the rush of traffic below soundtracked the scene perfectly. The day had given me an appreciation for New England, affirming it as the place where I belong. But right then, between the highway, the sunset, the city lights and the tens of thousands of people around me, I felt the most at home.