Not All Abandoned Structures Need a New Purpose

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As I write my newest work-in- progress, I find myself unintentionally working in details of structural collapse and revival. The story revolves around one woman’s journey while she revives her family’s resort in northern Maine. She returns unexpectedly to find it showing the tell-tale signs of neglect. While she works to repair what has been neglected at the resort, she begins to repair what is neglected inside of her. As the theme has unfolded in the story, I’ve thought back to the sights I’ve seen during our travels cross-country as an Army family—particularly the abandoned structures of the plains of mid and western Nebraska.

We were stationed in Omaha for nearly two years when my husband was assigned to the MEPS. Omaha turned out to be a jewel of a city. We fell in love with it. However, we knew there was more to Nebraska than just Omaha and some outlying corn fields. Coincidentally, after getting settled in military housing outside of the city, we discovered friends of ours from Maine moved to a farm in Bladen, Nebraska. Bladen was in the middle of nowhere, literally. They invited us to spend a few days on the farm. As we drove on I80, leaving the buildings of suburban Omaha behind, the landscape grew bleak. The shopping plazas faded. The housing developments dissipated. The sky opened and nothingness came into view. Once we left the interstate, pavement ceased to exist. The dust kicked up, coated our truck, and completely obscured the rear-view. The occasional crossroad came into view. Then another, and another, broken only by a farmhouse, windmill, or fence.

I’m normally one for appreciating the natural elements of such surroundings. I collect driftwood, shells, and sea glass from our beach adventures in Maine and Massachusetts. I have pinecones and rocks from our time in Pennsylvania. I have a buffalo skull from Kentucky and a tumbleweed from Colorado. Despite the immersion of the natural world as we bummed around Bladen and the surrounding land, it wasn’t the natural elements that drew my eye or my camera lens. It was the interspersed man-made structures. A church left empty with a faded white sign with black lettering, abandoned homes, and the barns that looked as if they had melted all captured my imagination.

I stood in front of an abandoned house—a home. There wasn’t one window left intact. The porch would’ve collapsed had I dared approach closer. Half a curtain swung side to side in what must’ve been someone’s bedroom. A chimney which worked to warm a family decades ago barely clung to the side of the house. A chair, tilted and beaten, remained where someone had placed it, perhaps to watch the sunset. The wind roared through the entire structure, blowing away decades, or more, of memories and stories that house must’ve held. I wanted to wrap my arms around it, hold the memories in, repair the holes.

As much as an abandoned house still whispered if you stopped to listen, it was a church that yelled to me. It was empty, yet it stood strong. While faded and clearly untouched for many years, it could’ve welcomed a new congregation with open arms and without warning. The steps were flat, not tilted or sunken. Chipped paint speckled the boards, but they were straight. The windows were intact. It stood at the corner of crossroads. Nothing else in sight. I stood in the center of the road and looked in all directions. Silence filled the space, all except that church. It had to have been the site of weddings, baptisms, Sunday services, community meetings, and funerals. People must’ve come from all four corners to worship, celebrate, mourn, maybe shake their fist in the air and question some tragic event they couldn’t understand. Now, for reasons my friends who were new in town and their friends who had been there for generations didn’t know, it stood empty. At first, I thought this was a waste of purpose. Surely someone could open the doors, dust off the pews, open the windows, and once again say a prayer or two. It would still be a perfect spot for a community meeting or a wedding. It would be perfect for something, anything, I thought. My mind raced with purposes for the desolate church. Then, as I stood letting its image, its quiet presence pierce through the bleak landscape in every direction, I realized it was fulfilling its purpose perfectly as is.

So, as I work on how my main character, Molly, will be transformed as she transforms the space once neglected, I find myself trying to keep in mind not all structures need refurbished. Not all structures at the fictional resort, as in the plains of Nebraska, need a redefined or renewed purpose. Abandonment or neglect, of a structure or by those we love, can be left to stare us in the face. It can fulfill its purpose by being left as is.

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Bourbon, Like Life, Can Burn if You Don’t Learn How to Savor It

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By Karri L. Moser

As I procrastinate finishing the first book in a series about an unwilling Maine resort owner/unwilling divorcee/35-year-old woman who’s struggling to find her way, I started to think about bourbon. The scene I’m currently in the midst of writing involves the above character drowning her sorrows in a glass of that barrel-aged delight. She drops two ice cubes in and they gravitate to the sides of the thick glass. The scent is unleashed and weaves its way to her nose as she closes her eyes. I wouldn’t have attempted a scene so reliant on bourbon had I not gained an appreciation for it during our time stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Kentucky is bourbon country. It’s where more than 95% of the world’s bourbon is made. The limestone along the streams is what makes bourbon possible in this part of the country. Until I moved there and toured a few distilleries, I had no idea about the history, importance, and distinct properties of bourbon. All I knew was that a shot of Jim Beam burned and not engulfing it all in one tip of a shot glass made you a wimp. Much like anything else in life, that burn can be eased with an understanding and a willingness to learn how to savor it.

My first trip to a bourbon distillery was to Jim Beam. The buildings and history were fascinating, as was the family tree and the fact that the Beam family still owns so much of the market. We saw bourbon being created in its various stages. We got to smell the char from the inside of the oak barrels, which gives bourbon it’s brown color. We were able to touch and taste the liquid at its purest and most potent form. The enthusiasm, artistry, and intensity with which it’s created by generations of one American family was inspiring. The tour guides and those who work at the distillery told the Beam story with pride and enthusiasm about sharing the craft. The warehouses that dot the Kentucky hills around each distillery are filled with thousands and thousands of oak barrels, each stamped and awaiting its turn to unleash its contents. The barrels are stacked more than ten stories high and aged for years. There are more barrels of bourbon warehoused in Kentucky than there are people. The longer it’s aged, the better it tastes and more expensive it will be.

After the tours and history lesson came the tasting. Tasting Jim Beam while at the Jim Beam distillery, and Maker’s Mark at their distillery, Heaven Hill at theirs, and Barton’s 1792 (my personal favorite) at their distillery, was an experience you can’t replicate in your own kitchen or bar. We were taught to savor the smell, color, and age of bourbon. The way of tasting it for the first time, much like wine tasting, involved letting it sit in your mouth, chewing it, letting it flow from one side of your mouth to the other to unleash the hidden nuances. There were lingering sparks of spices, woodiness, and the hardiness of a formula for making a truly great American drink. The added flavors of some, including honey and maple, were satisfying and made it easier to enjoy mixed with ginger ale or ice. But, straight and slow was the best way to judge each kind. When enjoyed straight and slow, each type and swallow was like a hug. It was warmth followed by a sense of comfort and individual attention. The bourbon left its mark on your tongue and cheeks as the feeling spread throughout your body. Several tastings, like hugs, left you feeling light, airy, protected, and simply happier than before you embraced its goodness.

Before Kentucky showed me, taught me, and warmed me to bourbon, I enjoyed wine and beer, mainly. Now, I understand the enjoyment and excitement seen in the eyes of bourbon lovers when the ice swirls around the glass or a long-treasured bottle is opened for the first time. It is the drink of the dignified, the down-trodden, the adventurer, the loner, and the lonely. It is a drink for everyman, rich or poor, created by generations of everyman. It’s best enjoyed after a hard day at work, an exceptional victory or epic failure, with friends on special occasions, or if the occasion is simply stumbling across a great bottle. It can be handed down, handed out, and shared. It can be a closely guarded remedy for a cold or a broken heart, comfort on a brutally bitter cold night, or after a brutally bitter fight. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, and you get out of it what you put into it. The good stuff is worth the price and the satisfaction makes it worth the time to learn how to enjoy properly. So, before throwing back a shot of the cheap stuff, dabble in something deeper, richer, slower, and so much more fulfilling, something that makes life burn a little less—a good bourbon.

I’m hoping after a glass or two, my main character feels the same way.

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We are all Sea Glass

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We all have salt water in our veins. The sea is part of us. It can control our entire journey. The ocean envelops us and beckons us home. It will pull us in farther and hold on to us longer than we want. Then, it will spit us out on a whim, tossing us ashore with tortuous force, as if we never mattered at all.

Beauty, destruction, chaos, and art all result from those salty waves. Finding sea glass in Maine gives us tangible proof of what the tides can create, if given enough time. The ocean takes sharp, discarded slivers and tosses them, buries them, and at times, forgets them. The fickle tides will throw those slivers ashore, yank them back from the edge of freedom, and toss them some more. Over the course of decades, those waves rarely relent. They never forget for too long. As the sea glass is battered, caressed, and beautifully tortured, the edges soften. It becomes smooth and hazy. It gives up the jagged exterior to become something much different, something almost unrecognizable.

Over a lifetime, that sea glass might have the same chemical make-up, but it is most certainly changed. That unpredictable change is beautiful because it creates uniqueness. There can never be two pieces exactly alike. No two pieces share the same journey or live the same torture. No two pieces are buried at the same times or in the same places.

The salt water in our veins and the chaos of our own journey smooths our edges and make us less jagged. It changes and tortures us. It makes us different than how we started and how we thought we’d end up. Regardless of how hazy, smooth, buried, or lost we become, someone somewhere will appreciate our uniqueness. Someone somewhere will pluck us from the grips of that chaos and admire our beauty. Someone somewhere will appreciate the journey that made us what we’ve become—a work of art. We are all sea glass, weathered by the salt water, the journey, and time.

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From Plymouth Rock to the Gateway to the West—how Omaha, Nebraska Wooed Us With Steak

By Karri L. Moser

Our family spent 12 years completely immersed in New England and everything colonial. We explored and learned everything about the Revolutionary War, colonial settlements, light houses, sea captains and their homes that dotted the shores, and we walked the paths of the pilgrims. We ate lobster, made blueberry pies, and picked apples at orchards in Massachusetts and Maine. Then, the Army decided it was time to move us again, just when our taste buds couldn’t get any more New England-ized. This time, we would be uprooted from near the rocky shores we had come to love and be transported westward. In the spirit of those early explorers and pioneers, we were to pick up and trek to the heartland. We were getting stationed in Omaha, Nebraska.

I soon discovered that I and everyone else around me knew nothing about Nebraska in general, much less the city of Omaha. Sean would be assigned to the MEPS there and we would live in military housing for Offut Air Force Base in Bellevue, 10 miles south of the city. I cried at the thought. I assumed corn fields as far as the eye could see. I assumed boredom and blandness. I assumed years of a bleak existence in Tornado Alley. I was so wrong and it didn’t take me or my family long to realize it. There’s a reason those pioneers who left New England to venture to the plains never came back, why they put down roots and created what is now one of my favorite places. Omaha is a hidden gem that no one expects until they are in the midst of it and only those who have set foot there can fully appreciate. It is an under-appreciated culinary gem thanks in large part to steak.

Lewis and Clark passed by the site of the future city in 1804 and the actual town was founded in 1854. It quickly grew to be an essential part of the transcontinental railroad and became the mid-point between the east and west. The railroads and breweries made it a quirky hodge-podge town, while the thriving stockyards made it a success and source of beef for the whole country. At one point, the Omaha Stockyards were the largest in the world.

It’s easy to see that they take this beef heritage seriously in Omaha once you notice the vast amount of steakhouses. These are not your ordinary chain steakhouses you see in every town in America. The steakhouses in Omaha are hypnotizing, addictive really. Paragraphs on the menus describe the cuts of meat, the marble of tissue, depth of color and age, and the history and lineage of the cattle the exact cut comes from. As someone who really didn’t have a love of steak, I learned to appreciate the details, tastes, style it was cooked, and what to pair certain types of steak with. Like fine wine, cigars, or bourbon, you learn to savor each piece and justify the price. You learn to relish the heritage and pride in which these steakhouses present a cut of meat as if they are presenting works of art. Since leaving, I haven’t tasted steak or any cut of beef that is quite the same.

When you mention Omaha and steak, my husband and I both light up and immediately think of Brother Sebastian’s, our personal favorite of the ones we tried in the city. It was set up like an old monastery with towering stones, wooden beams, and echoes of chants playing as cloaked waiters showed you around. There were several rooms to choose from when it came to ambiance. My favorite was the library. There was a wine room, brewery room, and other spaces all intimate and inviting. Candles and wall torches lit the passage ways and each small room. Fireplaces flickered in each, also. You felt part of a secret society from hundreds of years ago when sitting by the firelight choosing wine and listening to the descriptions of the marbling and age of the meat. We always ordered a meal for two that came out on one giant pewter-type platter. The steak was enormous and a deep rich red seared to the point of perfection. Vegetables overflowed on all sides with crisp browned potato chunks interspersed around the edges. Wine and more wine would arrive as the monk-waiter would cut through the steak and put half on my plate and half on Sean’s. Just like with wine, the waiter would wait until you tasted a cut and approved of the piece before leaving the table.

I had never been much of a steak eater, certainly not if any red or pink was to be found. But, after learning the depth of character in each piece, how the cattle’s past and environment affect hidden flavors, and how the cooking process unleashes a different texture, I became one, just as I became a seafood lover while living in Massachusetts and Maine. That was the beauty of being transported out west. We adapted. We learned. We experienced. We appreciated what was different rather than mourning what we could no longer have, like fresh lobster. We found so much more that made Omaha great and Nebraska fascinating in general, more that made it clear why so many settlers stopped and made it their home. It was our home for almost two years, but we could have easily stayed forever for so many reasons. Our taste buds would have certainly thanked us if we had.

Downtown Omaha. Old Market District

Downtown Omaha. Old Market District

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Concord Massachusetts–The Changes of Fall in a Town That Rightfully Fights to Stay the Same

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Knowing fall and feeling fall are two vastly different things. I never thought much about fall until my first one in New England. We had been in Massachusetts for a few months and the season came roaring into focus and engulfed all of our senses in a blink.

In order to experience a real fall day complete with the brilliance of the foliage, I took the kids down the road to Concord. It was both a learning experience and an overstimulation of the senses. In that part of the country, fall isn’t just a simple transition from summer to winter that is marked by the slow tilt of the Earth, chilled nights, and shorter days. It is an event.

To begin with, the leaves are brighter. The yellows jump from the landscape, exploding from the black towering trunks of trees as old as the fore fathers themselves. The reds and oranges dance over top each other as cool breezes make them flicker like flames. The intermingled massive quilt of foliage simply makes the earth look and feel more alive.

In Concord and the surrounding suburban Boston towns, fall is known as leaf peeping season. Every weekend that time of year, there are throngs of tour buses lining the streets. The buses in Concord line the few blocks of the town and sputter exhaust fumes while weary tourist descend onto the sidewalks. They swell onto the streets to take pictures and move away from the roar of the buses as they search for a place to pull off the road out of sight. Once there with my toddlers for the first time, I fully understood why anyone would take a six hour bus ride north just to breathe in the fall air and let their eyes soak up the colors, once the exhaust cleared that is.

As we crossed the busy streets and turned down corners that have outlined this town long before any descendant of mine thought about coming to this country, the smells became pleasantly overwhelming. There is a whiff of something different at every turn. The smell of apple cider teased us, not the processed simply heat-and-serve stuff out of a plastic gallon jug, but real apple cider. This was the kind of cider that mulled in a kettle for hours, with crispness and sharp clove and cinnamon embroiled in a mix that would warm the soul of any visitor. It was authentic and deep like a fine wine, but with steam swirling from every cup. There was also the smell of earth in the air, not like grass or the faded summer flowers, but of clean and pure dirt. Cool dirt that epitomized the word “earthy”. It was rich in smell and blackness all around, only enhancing the notion of harvest time.

Even though I had lived most of my life declaring summer to be my favorite season, that fall changed all of that, particularly that visit. It was as if all of New England, the world really, had awoken from a sleepy nap and was alive in ways that forced every sense to embrace it. This was the origin of the American harvest, the very land on which the pilgrims had survived and made fruitful with a perseverance and dedication modern generations may never be able to fully grasp. It was where they prepared for what may come when winter would surely roar through the tiny towns. There was still that sense of urgency, to get out there and take it all in before the last leaf fell and the last feast was prepared. There were smiles, burst of laughs and hurried conversations before the great hunkering down that was undoubtedly approaching. The lively streets and smells of Concord on any given fall Saturday captured it all in just a few short blocks.

I loved walking those streets with the kids in part to take in the architecture and history. The grand old colonial homes had been built and loved by the very forefathers we all learn about in school. Two of my absolute favorite homes were the childhood home Louisa May Alcott and the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both were a stone’s throw from the center of town. Emerson’s home was white and steadfastly outlined in black with a small and dignified fence all around. To me, it served as an anchor between the old world and the new. Cars would whizz past the front door as they left town to drive to the Alewife subway station to Boston. Yet, next to the back door was a large wooden umbrella stand that contained hand-carved walking sticks. Emerson would stop by the stand, pick out a stick and head out the back door to make his way down a trail and spend afternoons with his dear friend Henry David Thoreau. He would check on his friend who was conducting an experiment in living simply by the pond outside of town, Walden Pond. Even then, Emerson was facing a bustling town bubbling with ideas and change while escaping out back to get back to nature. The Alcott house, named Orchard House, was just as alluring to a history buff with an English degree. The house was brown and kind of plain at first, until you walked in and saw the elaborate furnishings, artwork by Louisa’s sister Abigail May, and the massive barn that gave birth to the modern public school system. Louisa’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott was a deep thinker and educator who, along with Emerson and Thoreau, brought the ideas of transcendentalism to light in the early to mid 1800’s. Amos Alcott used his barn to create the Concord Summer School of Philosophy. He was credited with instilling art, music, study of nature, and even recess into the modern school system in this country.

Those revolutionary ideals and the astounding amount of significant literature that sprang from this town and from the grand homes dotted along the town center was unprecedented anywhere else in America. In fact, just up the hill from the town center is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery with Authors Ridge looking down below. That is where you will find the graves of those great minds and others who left their mark on Concord, and America in general.

Just as seasons change, so do ideals and the populace in general. But, Concord somehow exudes a unique blend of the past and future as the town bustles with newness each fall and appreciates and preserves the origins of our country on every corner and at the end of every road. The large lead windows thick with ripples, the wood planks painted the original color to preserve the historical authenticity of the home, and the towering trees that will always change each fall all made me appreciate the effort it takes to change and the energy it takes to preserve the past for generations to come. The enticing smell of warm cider was just an added bonus.

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Plum Island—My Sandy Church

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Fishing was one of our favorite pastimes when we lived in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t necessarily ever about catching anything worth eating, but it was just nice to sit along the water with family, no rush, no expectations, just talking and watching the water. Once we moved to New England, the ocean was our source for sitting along the water. By our second summer there, we found the perfect place to sit along the shore and fish—Plum Island.

Plum Island was found by just stumbling around driving up the coast. This was how we found most beautiful and peaceful places that became our favorite spots. It was literally tucked away from the rest of the world. After driving a long, narrow road flanked by marshes and sea grass, you simply would come to a spot where you couldn’t drive anymore. There was just a parking lot overlooking the water. Before the stretch of road that ended at the parking lot, there was a little intersection with a restaurant, some other establishments and homes, and a small bait shop.

We could only go on the occasional Sunday as that was the only day Sean had off work. We would head up the coast in the morning with the poles and some snacks. Then, buy bait at the shop. We learned by our second trip that bug spray was a requirement. Our first trip was spent dodging the largest and meanest looking green-headed flies I had ever seen. They bit and they bit hard and fast without any provocation, leaving large welts on our arms and legs. The spray at the bait shop put an end to the attacks from the little devils.

Plum Island wasn’t like other beaches and spots along the Massachusetts coast in the summer. There were hardly any people. It was mainly a fishing spot, although a walk up the beach led to an inlet where no one ever was. We would carry our gear, chairs, blankets, food, and drinks down through the parking lot and out into the sand, past drift wood, and the occasional group of fellow fishermen. We would set up a little village area of our own. Time would stop once we got settled. Sean would get the kids’ poles rigged and I would get comfortable with a book, a journal, or just myself. The entire day would drift by as the water lapped up towards our spot. The kids never got bored, whiny, or ever asked when we could leave. There was silence, sea gulls, the sun, and a breeze. There were no devices at that time (2002), no longing to be in front of a screen of any kind, and no rush to get anywhere else ever. If fishing wore out its welcome with Alyssa, she and I would walk around the bend in the shore where no one fished. We would go in the salty water or hunt for shells and rocks. There were always plenty of shells to gather. They were little gifts from God sprinkled for us to find and treasure. I made sure to bring a bag with me on every walk because we never knew what we would come across. The waves were gentle there, almost embracing us. This was nice when the kids were toddlers and didn’t want to get slammed around like we all loved to do at the beach as they grew older. The weather was always perfect, breezy but not chilly, sunny but not sweltering. The silence was what I remember most, except for laughs and shrieks when someone caught a fish. It was Heaven.

The days would wear on and we would eventually need to pack up and leave, but it never seemed like anyone really wanted to go. I would look over at the houses in the distance, the ones on stilts safe from storms, and wonder if they feel that way every day, if they just lingered around and never realized an entire day had passed in silence and peace? While I’m sure they must’ve had day jobs and some were just summer escapes for people in the city, there was never a rush. It never looked as if anyone ever had anywhere they needed to be. It was as if we were in another world until we drove past the bait shop, further down the long narrow road, past endless salt marshes, over the bridge and back to the highway. Then the world would start again, on full-speed, with cars buzzing, noises blaring, and we would be back to our neighborhood in the middle of an urban area. Yet an hour before, we had been suspended in time, in silence, with soft sand, and clean shells and sea glass.

While I loved our life in the middle of so much chaos and the entire things-to-do-places-to-be lifestyle that came with our location, age, kids, jobs, and daily life at the time, there was something magical, almost holy about spending a Sunday sitting in the sand, watching the sun move from one end of the earth to the other. There was something mystical about watching my little family before me, safe, sound, and healthy, enjoying a small, beautiful corner of the earth with no interruptions or discontent. It was church-like in its simplicity, reverence, and importance to my soul. It was a true spiritual sanctuary and inspired as much reflection and introspect as sitting in any pew at any church on a Sunday morning would. While other beaches and family adventures have filled my heart and soul with joy and anticipation of returning to certain spots someday, Plum Island is where peace and solitude rest with me. It is where that inner voice and spiritual simplicity can guide and help settle the mind. It is where God can be found in the glint of sea glass. It is where the devil can be found in the form of monstrous green-headed flies whose bite can make anyone swear and take the lord’s name in vain. If you ever stumble upon Plum Island, remember to take a minute to reflect on your blessings and the beauty of the earth given to us all. Also remember to protect your body and soul with the bug spray sold at the bait shop.

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The Swan Boats of Boston—1877 Fun Still at an 1877 Price

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There aren’t too many places in this country where something from 1877 is still operational and nearly still at the same price. If you wander through the Public Garden in Boston, this is exactly what you will find. The Swan Boats are as iconic to Boston as Coney Island is to New York City. They are fittingly located in the oldest park in the country, right in the middle of the city.
The boats, shaped like giant swans, are peddle-operated by college kids who know they will have massive calves by the end of the summer. The boats have a few rows of seats and they meander around a giant pond flanked by old, towering willow trees that make you completely forget you are in the middle of the city. If it weren’t for the peaks of a few buildings poking out from above, you would think you were miles away from civilization. The trees sway as families of real swans saunter around, along with countless ducks bobbing about. The sounds of the city fade and all you hear is the peddling and birds floating by. The greenery is broken up only flowers all around. The Swan Boats pass underneath a small bridge with bulb street lights lining the walkway that connects the gardens above. The boats circle around an island that is home to the most famous birds in Boston. The bridge leads to the flower gardens and statues that make the park the most peaceful and bright spot in the city. With onion flowers the size of your head and blooms that fill the city air with sweetness, there really is no better place to wander around and enjoy Italian ice after a day of hitting the pavement and dodging honking cars while touring around the city.
My first trip to these boats was while chaperoning a first grade field trip. The trip re-traced the path of the duck family in Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings award-winning children’s book. My daughter’s class studied the book and we all embarked on the same journey as the duck family. We strolled through Beacon Hill, the historic neighborhood with crisp brownstones and wrought iron gates to gardens and pathways. Beacon Hill is flowing with history as the homes still have boot scrapers near the steps and gas lanterns for street lights. Cobblestone streets lead the way through a maze of pristine homes that are priced in the millions, even for basement apartments in this strip of old Boston. The neighborhood is home to designer boutiques and the homes of the most famous and wealthy families in the country, including John Kerry’s home. We did this tour as he was running for president, which made seeing his home from just a few feet away quite a historic moment for the kids and adults too. Secret Service personnel were stationed in front of the house also.
From Beacon Hill, we followed the path into the garden and came upon the Make Way for Ducklings statues along the sidewalk. It is tradition for the kids to sit on one, then move up to the next, then on to the next until they get a chance to sit on the mother duck. The bronze ducks mimic the exact ones in the book. I took my daughter’s picture on the mother duck and we re-created this scene years later when we last visited Boston, the summer before her freshmen year of high school.
Then, as you make your way under the willows and around trees that have seen much history, you come to the small ‘boat launch’ building where the Swan Boats are lined up awaiting passengers. The boats cost $2.50 for adults and under that for children. The lines are never really long, yet everyone who visits the city takes a ride. They sway slightly and there is always a breeze in Boston. This makes the boats a nice way to cool off as well as escape the noise and traffic of the city. The swaying of the willow branches and isolation of the island as the boat rounds it and heads back to the start can all be hypnotic. You can literally forget you are in the city.
Anytime we rode the boats, it was always at the end of our journey in the city. We would spend our days touring Boston in a wave of excitement taking the subway, blending in on the sidewalks following the red bricks of the freedom trail, eating with the masses at the always packed, always loud, Quincy Market. Then, we would trudge back up to Beacon Street with bags of souvenirs, sweat, and a few tears when the kids were very young and were at the brink of exhaustion. Somehow, we would find ourselves in the Public Garden, in the quiet, the peace, the serenity of it all. Then, on the water, off our feet, with bags of cheap treasures squished between us, we would breathe. We would relax. To ride in to the city in the hot, metal tube filled with the smell of strangers sitting close in the summer and to end the day trying to pinpoint which flower was filling the air and in amazement at how melodic the splashing could be was what made a day in Boston complete. The history of the boats and the fact that these peddle powered floating pieces of heaven were tucked away from the rest of the city made it a true gem to experience. The fact that it still cost so little also makes a true find for anyone looking to get off their feet and take in some nature before stuffing themselves back into the hot subway stations. I’m sure with the success, the calmness, and the endless supply of college kids who want to work those calf muscles, the boats will be there when we move back to New England. I’m equally sure my daughter will once again want to take her picture on the mother duck statue before we take a ride around the pond.

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