Category Archives: New Bedford, Mass.

Ark for sale in Acton, Mass.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island were hit by heavy rainstorms in March. Bristol County, where we were living last year, has been declared a federal disaster area; Middlesex County, where we lived seven years ago, is also a disaster area, as are Essex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester counties.

The photographs of flooding on the Boston Globe Web site show places that we know well: water pouring over the dam at Moody Street in Waltham, broken culvert at Route 119 in Littleton, Cambridge Turnpike in Concord closed due to flooding, Route 140 in Freetown closed due to flooding, duck boats helping people get to their houses in Wayland, flooding in Peabody, and on and on. My favorite photo was from Acton, the town where my sister lives — someone took a piece of plywood and some red spray paint to make a big sign: “ARK FOR SALE.”

If you’re in Massachusetts, I’d love to hear from you. Are you flooded out? Has it stopped raining yet?

Summer Sunday school

This summer, here in the Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist church, the theme for Sunday school has been “UU World Travelers.” People from the congregation who have been to another country, or lived in another country, come into the Sunday school and share something about that country with the children. The person who was scheduled to lead the UU World Travelers program this Sunday had a last-minute crisis and couldn’t come, so I said I’d lead the program. But what country could I talk about? I haven’t been overseas in thirty years, and the last time I was in Canada was quite a few years ago. But I realized I had lots of photographs and information about New Bedford, so that’s what I did in Sunday school today — told the children about New Bedford.

The best part was teaching the kids how to say “New Bedford” with a New Bedford accent. “Say it like this,” I said to the children, “Nu Befit.”

“New Bedfod,” they replied, raggedly.

“No, more like this,” I said, “Nu befit.”

“Nu Befit,” they said in chorus.

“And these,” I said pointing to a photograph of marine crustaceans with claws, Homerus americanus, “are lobstihs.”

“Lobstihs,” they said, grinning at me.

A little more practice, and I think I could teach them how to speak in Nu Befitese.

Fireworks and egotism

The city of New Bedford didn’t have money for fireworks on Independence Day this year. Which they only announced a week before July 4. Within a week, mayor Scott Lang announced that some local people and businesses had donated money for a fireworks display, He put the money into a fund he named the Lang Community Fund, thus proving that politicians, like preachers, are prone to egotism.

By the time the Lang Community Fund had been established, July 4th had come and gone. So the city decided to have the fireworks tonight. Having no need to witness a display of egotism, I decided not to walk down to the waterfront so I could watch the fireworks display. I stayed in the apartment, doing some final cleaning.

But I couldn’t escape. With the first boom of the fireworks, the car alarm on the fancy-schmancy car parked right outside our apartment went off. The car alarm said, “Hear me, I’m important, this car is expensive!”. It continued to go off periodically during the forty minute fireworks display, a sort of egotistical echo.

Late July

With all the rain we’ve been having, with constant puddles in all the low-lying places, it almost feels like spring rather than summer. But in spite of the weather, I know

On our walk this evening, we saw Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) growing in a number of places in cracks in the piers and wharves along the waterfront, and the plants were in full bloom: umbels of pure white, gently rounded, looking like intricate lacework.

Other midsummer flowers are also blooming. One of the chrysanthemums that we planted two years ago in our tiny little garden has deep burgundy blossoms. Near the bridge to Fairhaven, I saw some Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) plants about four feet high, each with a couple dozen pale blue flowers.

First-year Herring Gulls are everywhere. They fight each other for food. They call piteously to adult Herring Gulls, hoping to be fed (the adult gulls mostly just ignore them). There is always an injured first-year gull wandering around looking forlorn — today, Carol pointed out one with a broken wing walking up the street. Within a year, 80% of them will be killed off, but right now they are everywhere.

I’m just starting to notice that the days seem a little shorter, the sun is setting a little bit earlier.

The Red Sox have slipped out of first place. They always slip out of first place in late July or early August, and then struggle for the rest of the summer to catch up to the Yankees. They are as reliable as Queen Anne’s Lace.

Summer rain

Our PODS moving container arrived at seven this morning. As I stood outside our building waiting for the truck to show up, the rain came and went — light rain, a quick heavy shower, drizzle, then no rain for a while. The National Weather Service tells us that a low pressure system is moving up the coast of New England. We’ve only had a quarter of an inch of rain so far today, but it has felt like a wet day.

Carol and I walked down to the Waterfront Grill tonight to have a good-bye dinner with Ann and Leo. While we were walking, we admired the lush gardens tucked between the road and State Pier, and the gardens in Coast Guard Park. The hostas were especially remarkable, with huge leaves and big, tall clusters of purple flowers.

“Look at those gardens,” I said to Carol. “They look much better than they did last year.”

“It’s all that rain,” she said. “All the plants are growing like crazy.”

More rain is forecast for Thursday night. The hostas will be happy.


For a while in the mid-afternoon, it looked like we might have a thunderstorm: tall cumulus clouds loomed ominously in the west. But then the clouds dissipated, the wind shifted idly towards the northeast, and the temperature dropped. As I walked along Route 6 across Pope’s Island, limpid sunlight fell on the boats moored at the marina south of me. It seemed as though I could see every detail of every boat, and each blade of grass, and each bit of dirty flotsam bobbing in the harbor waters. Yet I could not see with complete clarity; the moisture in the air softened edges and slightly blurred the details into a more harmonious whole. The light along the New England coast in June is like no other light I’ve ever seen: the angle of the sun, the moisture in the air, the changes in the weather all combine to make the light soft and always changing.

What I’ll miss

As we get ready to move to California, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll miss. Of course I’ll miss my dad and sister, although they live just far enough away from here that I only see them about once every two months. Of course I’ll miss eastern Massachusetts culture and accents (that’s plural on purpose), since I’m used to cold undemonstrative people who speak God’s own English.

While I was taking a long walk today, I realized that I will also miss eastern Massachusetts birds. I’m used to the eastern Massachusetts ecosystems. I’m used to watching Common Grackles come back each year (no grackles in California). I’m used to hearing the song of Northern Cardinals (no cardinals in California, except a few feral escapees). It’s a whole different ecosystem out there, with completely different birds. It will be fun learning a whole new ecosystem, but I’ll still miss this ecosystem.

Changing neighborhood

T— told Carol that he’s going to sell his condo and move out of our neighborhood. It’s getting too noisy, he said.

There have always been bars and nightspots in the neighborhood, but in the past few months several new bars have opened. Fortunately for us, we’re three or four blocks away from the really noisy bars, but at closing time on Saturday night, even we can hear the hooping and hollering and revving of engines. We all wanted our neighborhood to have a little more life, but I don’t think any of us were hoping for a little more drunken noisy life after midnight.

One of the new bars that recently opened up is called Rose Alley, and at permitting time the owners implied it would be a place that would emphasize eating over drinking. Carol and I happened to walk past Rose Alley in the afternoon a few days ago, and Carol pointed out that they have already had to put a sign on the building: “This Is A Residential Neighborhood. Please Respect Our Neighbors.” The sign was placed right where the neighbors will see it when they walk past the building, but not where the clientele would notice it as they leave, drunk and noisy, at two in the morning.

You can’t blame the bar owners for wanting to attract lots of people to their bars. But it does seem hard on people like T—, who also have a financial investment at stake — and who actually have to live here, unlike the bar owners who probably live out in the suburbs where it’s quiet.

William Jackson and the Fugitive Slave Law

Yeah, I know I’m posting too much about Rev. William Jackson, and some of you will be bored with this post. But there’s a few of us who think Jackson is one of the most interesting people who intersected with mid-19th C. Unitarianism, so I’m going to rick one more post.

When the Fugitive Slave Law was enacted in 1850, Jackson was minister of a Baptist church in Philadelphia. He almost immediately committed civil disobedience, and here’s how told the story years later:

“William Taylor was the first fugitive slave that had been arrested following the passage of this law. Recognizing the ‘Higher Law’ as being in force by Divine Authority and being superior to the Decree of a wicked Judge, and feeling a kindred sympathy with my brother as being bound with him, I felt morally and religiously impelled to strike for his freedom. The whole community had been thrown into the most terrible excitement over the arrest of Tayloer, the fugitive slave. Whereupon I felt myself nerved with moral and physical courage to do my duty, and save a brother man from perpetual and cruel bondage. Hence, as the leader of a band of brave men, we went forth and rescued the prisoner from the clutches of the Marshall. We arrayed him in the attire of a woman, and successfully landed him in a few hours on the shores of Canada, where he found shelter and friends in the city of Toronto. As the leader of the rescuing party, I was duly arrested and incarcerated in the city jail.

“On learning of my imprisonment the colored people immediately assembled themselves together in their Churches, like those of old when Peter was imprisoned, where prayer was offered for my deliverance. A party of my friends and the members of my Church had met at the Parsonage… where they fervently invoked the blessing of God upon their imprisoned pastor, and earnestly prayed for his deliverance. Strange as this remarkable interposition of Providence in answer to the prayer may appear to some, I was soon released from the Jail by a writ of Habeas Corpus from Judge [King] obtained through the efforts of the Rev. Edgar [Levy] of the First Baptist Church, West Philadelphia, and [William W.] Keene and [Major] James M. Linnard, and presented to my people at the very time they were praying for my deliverance. It was certainly the most remarkable coincidence, how God in his mercy seemed to manifest himself in my behalf by putting it in to the hearts of these men to use every effort, at this unusual hour of the night, to secure my release from prison. Though it had been indicated by the officer at the time of my arrest that I should try to get bail, I surrendered myself up at once and made no effort in that direction, for I regarded it as no disgrace to be arrested and imprisoned under this infamous and inhuman law, or for advising my fellow men ‘that if they would be free themselves they must first strike the blow.’  ”

I like the fact that Jackson refused to get bail. It gives a good measure of the man.

All posts on William Jackson.