The warm woods

The December weather was astonishingly temperate
The December weather was astonishingly temperate

The weather this winter has been exceedingly unwinterlike. It’s barely dropped below freezing since the thaw finally came last winter. The powerful El Nino that holds us in its thrall is bringing late September temperatures to a December-dark world. So much so that our activities last weekend were a hike and a bike ride. I had thought we’d put the bikes away for the year, but I was wrong!

The hike was more adventurous than anticipated. We started at about 2 pm, with about two hours of good daylight, with an unambitious course. I wanted to visit Doleful Pond, mostly because it’s named Doleful Pond. I also wanted to see the remnants of the old trolly line decaying above Doleful Pond. That section of the Fells is criss-crossed by unmarked trails. It’s easily the most-lostest section of the Fells. But I had not one but two maps! We would prevail! Grey stopped and sketched an interesting section of trees.

The artist at work
The artist at work

As we course corrected (despite my preparations, we had managed to be on the wrong trail. Sigh.) I saw a woman being held up by a man and limping badly. I called out to them and we booked it down the hill to see if they needed help. They did. She had badly broken ankle. We were 3/4s of a mile from any road access. I called 911 and then took off with Grey to guide the emergency responders to her location. Adam kept the backpack and got her foot elevated and worked to keep her from going into shock while we got help. Grey and I made excellent time to the trail head – but it served to make it clear to me that there was no way we were getting her out that way. (I actually slipped on some of the trail and have a livid bruise to show for it now). We met the fire crew and paramedics at the Bear Hill entrance. We drove partway up something that was generously marked as a road but that quickly became impassible to even to their manly 4 wheel drive. (Even under the circumstances I thought it was pretty cool to ride in a fire pickup through the Fells!)

A strange procession
A strange procession

We didn’t get nearly far enough. I led the crew the rest of the way to her on foot. I hadn’t realized just how much of first responding was improvising. As the paramedics stabilized her ankle, my maps became invaluable as we tried to find a better way to carry her out. That was my biggest lesson: maps can be the most critical first aid tool you have. They finally got her on a backboard and carried her out of the woods, and our stories diverged again.

Watching nervously
Watching nervously

The boys did an amazing job. They were both upset by her injury. But Thane was excellent in the role of comforter and care-taker. Grey’s feet had wings as he went with me to find help. I was really grateful, in a strange way, for this chance to show them how it is we should respond when need arises for helpers to help. I also felt really, really glad for the comprehensiveness of our first aid kit and hiking gear. It was a great reminder why we never go into the woods without it.

We walked out – never having seen Doleful Pond – just as the sun was setting.

She’s been in my prayers since. I hope that maybe the bone wasn’t broken at all? I hope her healing is fast, and that we run into her again on some trail in the Fells.

Stoneham History

The murder of Jacob Gould
The murder of Jacob Gould

The weekend before Thanksgiving, the Stoneham Historical Commission held their annual two-hour opening of the Old Burying Ground. For years I’ve wanted to go, but that was usually the time I’d hold Thane’s birthday party. It also coincides with the town Trick-or-Treating. This year, Grey and Thane decided that they were too big/cool/old to do that. I have mixed feelings about that, but grabbed the chance to go visit the cemetery I’ve long wanted to see. It’s usually closed since it’s not quite safe for wandering. There are leaning tombstone and depressions (marked off with yellow caution tape on this day). While this makes for good daydreams about the haunted cemetery, it’s less good for someone who really would like to wander it.

One of the first gravestones I checked out was one of the most dramatic. It stood higher than my head, and had outrage practically dripping off the chiseled headstone. It detailed the 1819 murder of Jacob Gould “who was barbarously murdered by some ruffians in his own dwelling”. There were deaths heads and warning epitaphs and poignant poems (all the things I love best of old graveyards), but this was one of the most intriguing headstones I’d seen.

When I got home, I looked it up on Google. You see, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I decided to do it this year. (Because I’m crazy. That’s why.) So I was on the prowl for a good novel premise. Murder by ruffians seemed like as good a place to start as any. So I had a reason for my investigation.

My very first search on “Jacob Gould murder” hit the biggest paydirt imaginable; namely “A Brief History of Stoneham, Mass, From Its First Settlement to the Year 1843: with an Account of the Murder of Jacob Gould, on the Evening of November 25, 1819” by Silas Dean. Silas (I feel like he and I are on a first-name basis now) wrote an absolutely hilarious and riveting account of Stoneham. It includes ancient ruins, naked dudes, wolf attacks, haunted houses, Indian raids, aggressive bugle players, people who died of stupidity, mysterious springs, ne’er-do-well pranks of the first water… I could hardly tear myself away from reading in order to start writing. It’s possibly the most entertaining primary source I’ve ever read.

Ruins in the Fells in Stoneham - this might well be the house where Jacob Gould was barbarously murdered.
Ruins in the Fells in Stoneham – this might well be the house where Jacob Gould was barbarously murdered.

I felt like I won the novel-writing primary source lottery. And I started to get really into the research of the early history of the town (before the boring shoe-making bits). Once I started pulling at the thread of local history, I pretty easily uncovered more fascinating details.

For example…

Wright's Tower
Wright’s Tower

Boston commuters pass Wright’s Tower every day. I’m standing next to it in this picture. Well, Elizur Wright for whom the tower named was kind of amazing. He:

  1. Was an abolitionist, who was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act for
  2. Basically invented actuarial tables, which make life insurance possible for all of us. He read life insurance literature for fun.
  3. Invented and manufactured two new kinds of faucet fitting type things
  4. Ran a newspaper, which got sued for calling out liquor manufacturers
  5. Translated La Fontaine’s Fables and wrote a foreward to a book of poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier
  6. In his copious free time, also pushed for the eventually successful passage of the Massachusetts Forestry Act, which is why we get to hike in the Fells and why they erected a tower in his honor

I mean, I’m impressed with myself when I get my blog post out on time. I didn’t make major contributions in four or five totally different spheres. And yes, he did find the time to marry and beget children too. I’ll admit – I’m kind of a fangirl now.

Anyway, I have these wild and crazy thoughts about how to get this really awesome information about this town out there. Who, living in a town founded in 1725, wouldn’t like to hear about some of the hijinks that happened nearly 300 years ago where they currently stand? I’m going to contemplate that question while I see how many other really cool things I can uncover in my research.

I’d also like to beg your indulgence. I’m attempting to turn all these cool facts I’ve uncovered into a novel. NaNoWriMo requires about 1668 words a day if you’re going to write a 50k novel in the month of November. I’m already well behind. But it’s going to be extra hard to write a thousand word blog post on top of the 1600 words I need to write every day to have a hope at completing this thing. So I might be… terser than usual this month (and/or obsessed with Stoneham town history).

Mysterious constructions in the Fells
Mysterious constructions in the Fells

The archtype of the holiday

As my eldest son enters into the age of memory, I often wonder what he will recall in his adulthood, and what parts of our life will slip into the background of memory. Periodically, I hope he won’t remember some things — the times I lose my temper or fail to listen. But oh, I hope he remembers this Halloween. More, I hope that forever after, when he thinks of Halloween the imprint on his imagination will be from this Halloween. It was perfect. I can’t imagine a better one.

This is joy
This is joy

Halloween morning started wonderfully. It was an unusually warm and seasonable day, with fast-moving clouds and downright balmy temperatures. While his father and brother slept, Grey and I wandered around our neighborhood, chasing a wind-driven balloon through crunching autumn leaves and chatting with neighbors.
Eating to keep up their strength
Eating to keep up their strength

Once the eldest and youngest boys were up, we went to the Middlesex Fells Reservation to go on a hike. We hiked through the autumnal forest, stopping for a snack to reward our efforts, and finally (just past the Doleful Pond) found the playground. The boys laughed with joy on the swings, chased each other through the grass and showed great bravery at the slides.
Swings!
Swings!

Slide!
Slide!

We went home for lunch and I got a massage. Ok, maybe that wasn’t part of THEIR great day but it was part of MINE.

I made cookies in the kitchen, and when the time came, we woke both boys up from their naps, poured them into their costumes, put a bowl of candy on the front stoop, and headed to our neighbor’s house. We’re completely lucky to have really neat neighbors, with kids that all line up. There’s three boys in the older generation, and then three babies — Thane is the oldest of the babies. The older boys played with sounds that made it seem like at least two of them were in the processes of being killed, Thane bopped between groups, and the littler babies focussed their energies on looking adorable. The grownups had conversation and shared tips and discussed the goings-on of our neighborhood and our busy schedules. Candy was doled out.

The kids miraculously all together
The kids miraculously all together

Fast clouds crossed the full moon in the warm autumn night air when the boys headed out for their trick-or-treating. The swirl of leaves flickered across the warm glow of jack-o-lanterns and porch lights. As a group, they braved doorbells and held out bags and buckets to receive their chocolatey loot. They returned triumphant from their quests, and generous in their plenty — sharing the fine fruits of their labors with hungry parents. The littlest boy went to bed, and all the babies, and then those grownups of us left got together and played Rock Band while our older sons (can you believe it?) entertained themselves without injury in another room.

When we finally put our chocolate-smudged eldest child into his bed, he was happy to find sleep beneath his nightlights.

What joy, my friends. What joy.