Day hike: Cambridge and Boston

The heat wave was getting to me. I went out at 12:30, thinking I’d climb on the subway and head off to find someplace air-conditioned to spend the afternoon. But the air felt drier, and even though it was hot it felt good. I went back home, ate a leisurely lunch, and started walking at about 2 p.m.

By the time I reached Harvard Square, you could feel the change in the air. I left Mass. Ave. and made my way to the Charles River. The air felt glorious. The wind backed around into the east, coming right off the ocean and up the river: a back door cold front. With the change in the air, my head cleared and I felt lighthearted for the first time in days.

I walked down along the Charles, past all the boathouses. The sailboats were having a good time beating up the lower basin of the Charles against the wind; right next to me, one sailor did two quick messy tacks and brought his boat up to the dock of the MIT boathouse. Crossing the Longfellow Bridge, the easterly breeze felt cool:– I was walking at a good clip, but not even breaking a sweat.

Down Charles Street to the Charles St. Meeting House, where there’s nothing left to remind you of the time when the white Universalist minister hid Huey Newton from the FBI in a Sunday school room. I went over the lower part of Beacon Hill — cool and quiet and very, very wealthy — to Boston Common.

The Common was crowded, not just with the usual crowd of summer tourists, but with all kinds of people enjoying the first good weather in days: office workers headed home, homeless people, construction workers carrying plastic lunch coolers, a gaggle of young mothers pushing strollers, older children splashing in the frog pond, a group of people sitting and talking and listening to a man playing a tenor sax.

Near the Public Garden, a crew was working on the lights at the stage for Shakespeare in the Park. Crowds of people on the path across the Public Garden: A group of Japanese tourists got their picture taken by a woman with a Boston accent. A child holding on to his mother’s hand looked down at the Swan Boats and said something I didn’t quite catch. “No, dear,” she replied. “We can’t go on them, they’re closed for the day.”

The lower end of Newbury Street was more chic and further upscale than I had remembered. Young women wearing chic dresses and chic flipflops walked the sidewalks, peering into the windows of the boutiques. Tourists held their cameras at the ready, and stopped in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to gawk at the stores. People got a little scruffier at the far end of Newbury Street near Mass. Ave. I stopped briefly at Trident Bookstore and inside no one was wearing a chic dress.

On Mass. Ave., people crowded the sidewalks getting on and off the buses. Around Berklee School of Music, young people with scruffy hair toted instruments cases for a variety of instruments — alto sax, guitar, woodwinds. But the quiet shaded back streets through Northeastern University were deserted all the way to the Museum of Fine Arts.

In the Fens, I paused briefly to look at the community gardens. A few gardeners managed to grow vegetables in spite of the shady trees, but mostly I saw flowers and ornamentals, gravel and even brick paths, trellises and chairs set out under leafy bowers. One woman industriously swept the path in her garden plot; in another, a family sat enjoying the green shade.

As I neared Fenway Park, I could hear them announcing the lineup for today’s game. People streamed towards the park wearing Red Sox hats and sometimes Red Sox shirts with numbers and names of famous players emblazoned on them. One little boy still had a shirt saying “Garciaparra,” even though Nomar hasn’t played with the Sox for a couple of years.

The M.I.T. Bridge across the Charles is still measured in Smoots, and on the far side I walked right up Mass. Ave. towards our summer home base above Porter Square. I stopped only twice: once to buy a quart of water (which was gone in minutes), and once to stop at Pandemonium Books (which has finally reopened in Central Square).

Ten or twelve miles.