Tag Archives: Boston

A true story…

I ran across a true story last week, with a plot worthy of a 19th C. novelist. It’s such a good story, I can’t resist writing it down here. (Even though all those concerned with this story are dead, I have changed dates and identifying characteristics anyway — and no, this story has no connection to New Bedford.)

The story begins in 1857, in a small town in northern New Hampshire, when a baby boy is born to a young couple. We’ll call him Albert. Everything is fine until Albert is two and a half, when his parents die, leaving him an orphan. This is a backwoods place, and the only household that can support him is a house of working men; for some reason, they agree to take care of this little toddler. But this is not a fairy tale where cute little Albert reforms these rough, tough men — instead, Albert grows up wild, swearing and cursing from the time he could talk, hearing about the men’s sexual exploits from a young age, having little or no moral guidance (at least, that’s how he remembers it late in life).

When Albert is twelve he becomes friends with a girl three years younger than he. We’ll call the girl China. She lives in a nearby house, and her father is a foul-mouthed drunk, and her older sisters are little better than prostitutes (who knows where the mother disappeared to); in other words, she belongs to the same social class as Albert. Their friendship is the one bright spot in his otherwise miserable childhood. Then they hit adolescence, and before long they start having sex, and by the age of sixteen China is pregnant.

In 1876, society was not tolerant of girls getting pregnant outside of wedlock, and this was especially true for girls living in small New England towns. The townsfolk try to bring legal action against Albert, but under New Hampshire law of that time he is still a legal minor, so they can’t take legal action against him. But they separate China from Albert: he is sent away, and she stays in town and bears the child, a healthy baby boy named Saul. By the time Saul is five, the owner of the town livery stable, a man named Mr. Brewster, marries China and adopts Saul as his own son.

Meanwhile, Albert heads south to Concord, New Hampshire, where he attends school, and eventually winds up studying law with an established lawyer. The lawyer sends him off to Bowdoin, where he doesn’t get a degree, but he does get a year and a half of college. Then he goes back to Concord, New Hampshire, is accepted as a partner in the law firm where he had been working, and almost immediately marries a young woman named Belle who’s from Concord. Before they get married, he tells Belle all about China, and she is broad-minded enough that it doesn’t worry her. They have a child together. When the old lawyer in the law firm dies, Albert decides to try his luck in boston, where he practices law for a time. Then Belle and Albert decide to move to Lowell, and Albert practices law there for a few years before he moves to Somerville.

Thirty-odd years after they marry, Belle dies. While Albert hasn’t been wildly successful as a lawyer, he has done well enough, and over the years he has served with the Massachusetts Bar Association, and has many respectable friends in the Massachusetts legal world. By now, it’s 1925. Albert decides to make a sentimental visit to that little town in northern New Hampshire where he had grown up. He has been gone for nearly half a century now, and he doesn’t expect to find many people whom he remembers, or who remember him; yet whom does he meet but China herself. Mr. Brewster died only eight years after they were married, and she has been single ever since. Albert and China fall in love all over again, and they get married.

Two years after China and Albert marry, a close friend of Albert’s begins to put two and two together. By some freak happenstance, this friend happens to find out when China got married to Mr. Brewster. The friend knows that China and Albert were in love with each other before China married to Mr. Brewster. And this friend knows how old Saul, China’s son, is now. The arithmetic is easy, and the deduction is logical…. Albert realizes his friend has figured out the skeleton of the story. He writes a long letter to his friend, and fleshes out the rest of the story. Albert writes that while he’s thoroughly ashamed of his wild youth, both he and China were victims of their circumstances, they were not immoral but amoral; they are different people now than they were then; and now he is proud of his son Saul, and he is happy, not ashamed, to be married to China. Albert begs his friend to keep this secret, and declares that he would not burden his friend with the story except “I knew when you saw Saul, you figured out that he must have been born before China married Mr. Brewster.”

That’s the end of the story. The friend did keep the secret — at least, he kept the secret until Albert and China and Saul and he had all died. And although I stumbled across this story by pure chance, now I have kept the secret, too; because the real secret is not the story itself — a story that I am sure has happened frequently in the unwritten history of the human race — the real secret is knowing just who the people really were who were the chief characters in the story.

Boston DOMA protest

Two of us from First Unitarian in New Bedford drove up to Boston today to attend the demonstration opposing the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA (info about the demonstration here). It was cold — I saw one thermometer over a bank that read sixteen degrees. The cold kept a lot of people away — I would estimate that less than a thousand people showed up for this demonstration.

There may only have been a thousand of us, but we were enthusiastic, not least because you stay wormer when you’re enthusiastic. Just a few politicians braved the cold: Barney Frank, congressman from our district; Tom Menino, mayor of Boston; Denise Simmons, mayor of Cambridge. After Barney Frank spoke, the two of us from New Bedford made sure to say hello to him, and tell him we voted for him. He even posed for a picture:

Jean Kellaway and Barney Frank at the DOMA protest

That’s Jean K. posing with Barney Frank. Frank and several of the other speakers reminded us that now is a good time to start writing to your representatives and senators, telling them that we want DOMA repealed (heck, even the conservative legislator who wrote DOMA now wants it repealed). With a new president and a new congress, we have a much better chance of getting equal marriage rights over the next two years, but they do need to hear from you, their constituents.

Here’s one more photo, showing us walking through downtown Boston past King’s Chapel, one of the Unitarian Universalist churches in Boston:

Boston DOMA protest walking by King's Chapel

Finally, I note the following: I didn’t see any other Unitarian Universalist ministers or laypeople at this demonstration, but there was someone from the Boston Metropolitan Community Church handing out refrigerator magnets advertising their church.

“Str8 against H8”

Leona, Amy, and I went up to Boston’s City Hall today so we could join in the “Join the Impact” demonstration against California’s Proposition 8. There were dark clouds, and it looked like rain. As we walked from the Park Street subway station over to city hall, we wondered aloud about how many people might be there. “They’ve got 3,000 on their Facebook page who’ve signed up to be there today,” said Leona. “Yeah, but with the rain I’ll bet it’s half that,” I said, “although there will be people there who forget to sign up, so what, maybe 2,000?” Leona still thought it would be more.

There were a lot of people at City Hall Plaza, more than I expected; and more streaming in every few minutes. Early on, one of the speakers said there were 5,000 people there — but I suspect there were more than that at the peak of attendance. We wound up standing up at the top of the amphitheatre, pretty far from the stage.

Miraculously, the rain held off. Down on the stage, a woman shouted, “Who’s here from Boston?” and all the Bostonians shouted back. She listed off various regions of Massachusetts, and the people who were from those regions shouted back at her. But of course she didn’t mention the south coast (people in Boston don’t even know that we exist), so when she was done and there was a little lull, I shouted, “We’re from New Bedford!” and since I have a really big voice a bunch of people laughed, including the woman on the stage.

About two minutes later, someone touches my arm, and I turn around, and there’s Donald, an old friend. “I thought that loudmouth who shouted had to be you,” he said, grinning. I haven’t seen Donald for years, so we chatted a little bit. He pointed out some of the home-made signs people were holding up: “Don’t Forget Us, Obama!” and “Mormon Families Support Gay Families” and “Str8 against H8” and some others. We both noticed the sign that read, “Hey California, WTF!?”

They had a lot of speakers. Some of them were pretty good. State representative Byron Rushing quoted Frederick Douglass to great effect. Niki Tsongas, congresswoman representing Lawrence and Lowell, was short and to the point. Congressman Ed Markey got the crowd all revved up. The speakers went on for over two hours — maybe a couple too many speakers, and a little bit of live music would have been nice.

But it felt like time well spent. There were events like ours in every state. 5,000 of us turned out in Boston to demonstrate our dismay that California would take away rights that used to be granted under their state constitution. Maybe 6,000 people turned out in Seattle, more than 10,000 turned out in San Diego (those are the only cities the news outlets are reporting right now). With only six days’ notice, thousands of people showed up in front of City Halls nationwide — let’s hope that makes the politicians sit up and take notice.


The train from DC to Boston was an hour late. After we passed New Haven, the car I was sitting in was two thirds empty. We hit Providence well after midnight, where a few people got on. I was sitting up trying to stay awake. A young man sat two seats in front of me. My attention wandered, and I realized that he was talking to the young woman in front of me.

“You think one of the hostels will be open?’ he asked her.

She wasn’t sure, so I said, “They’ll most likely be closed up at this hour.”

“Will they let me stay in the train station?” he said.

The young woman and I went back and forth on that question, trading opinions as two people will who both know a city pretty well, but who don’t know the exact answer to a specific question. We finally said we thought he’d be better off not trying to stay in the train station. So then he wanted to know, could he stay in the bus station? The young woman and I went back and forth a little bit, and said that would be more likely.

Then it turned out that he wanted to take the train to Maine, but that train doesn’t leave from South Station, so we had to explain to him the difference between North Station and South Station, and how you get from one to the other. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the fact that one city could have two train stations. Then he went back to whether or not he could spend the night in South Station.

I leaned forward. “Have you ever spent the night in a train station?” I said.

“No,” he said, seemingly surprised that I would even ask.

“Well, take it from me, if you spend the night in a train station, don’t lie down and go to sleep,” I said, “because if you do, a cop will come around and think you’re some homeless guy and tap you on the feet and tell you to move on.”

He thought about that for a moment. Fortunately, just then the young woman remembered there’s an all-night diner around the corner from South Station. Neither of us could remember just where it was, but we told him that he could ask someone in the station for directions. At that point I realized that if we didn’t warn him, he was going to go around downtown Boston asking questions all night, because he wouldn’t realize that asking innocent questions could get him in trouble.

“I could be wrong,” I said, “but you don’t seem like a city kid to me.” He smiled, and acknowledged that he was not a city kid. “So when you get into the city,” I said, “don’t go asking questions like you’re asking us. Just make up your mind where you’re going, and go there, and try to look like you know exactly what you’re doing.”

“Oh God yeah,” said the young woman. We were pulling in to back Bay Station, and she was standing up to get her luggage. “Don’t trust anyone except us. And maybe you shouldn’t trust us,” she added, grinning at him.

We pulled into South Station at about one o’clock. I walked with him over to some security guards. He asked them where the all-night diner was. He was confident, as if he knew exactly where he was going and what he was doing. They told him. I walked him down to Atlantic Avenue, and showed him the bus station on the right, and where he’d find Kneeland Street and the all-night diner on the left.

I left him, and caught a cab for myself, because the subway stops running at 12:30. I still don’t know quite why he got stuck in downtown Boston at one in the morning. But by now, I’m sure he’s safely in Maine, telling everyone about his adventures in the all-night diner.

Unitarian sports figures

(1) Hearing my plea for some Unitarian or Universalist sports figures, A Denominational History Expert (ADHE) sent me a transcription of the inscription on the Boston Common Football monument, which stands at the entrance to the Common near Beacon and Spruce Streets — his transcription appears at the very end of this post. Anyone who knows their Unitarian history will immediately recognize the name of Francis Greenwood Peabody, who was a Unitarian minister and a theologian of the Social Gospel who wrote Jesus Christ and the Social Question — and who was also the son of Ephraim Peabody, Unitarian minister here in New Bedford from 1837-1846. According to Wikipedia, the Oneida Football Club played a very early version of football that may have had some similarity to either or both American football and soccer. Further research may show that other members of the Oneida Football Club were also Unitarians. In any case, we can claim one of the very first football players in the United States.

(2) I might have found a Unitarian who won an Olympic gold medal. Turns out that Kevin Barrett, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, was born a Unitarian. His father was Peter Barrett, who was a well-known sailor who won a gold medal for sailing in the 1968 Olympics, and who won a silver medal in the 1964 Olympics (link) — he would have won the gold in 1964, except that he hit another boat, and though no one saw him do so, he dropped out of the race anyway in an act of true sportsmanship. If Kevin Barrett was born a Unitarian, there’s a decent chance that his father Peter was also a Unitarian — but I can’t confirm that. Peter Barrett lived in Madison, Wisconsin, so perhaps some of my readers have connections with the various Madison-area Unitarian Universalist churches and can find out whether or not he was a Unitarian Universalist.

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In the State House

Today was the third anniversary of the court decision that affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry under the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (RCFM) decided to hold a little ceremony at the State House in Boston. For the past ten years, RCFM has been gathering signatures on a declaration for same-sex marriage rights (the Massachusetts Delaration of Religious Support for the Freedom of Same-Gender Couples To Marry), asking clergypersons and representatives from congregations to sign. Over the past few months, RCFM made a big push and got a total of 999 signatures; they saved the one thousandth signature for today’s ceremony.

I got to the State House at a couple of minutes before eleven. I remembered to leave my pocket knife at home, so I got through the metal detectors quickly. Then I headed up to Nurses Hall (dedicated to Civil War Nurses from Massachusetts), which was pretty nearly full of RCFM supporters. Massachusetts being the kind of place it is, I looked around for people I knew. Across the crowd, the Unitarian Universalist minister in Medford caught my eye and waved. I made my way through the crowd to chat. Hank was there with Adam, the Unitarian Universalist minister from Natick, and John, an Episcopal priest, and David from the Unitarian Universalist Assocation. Hank and Adam both looked very Bostonian — Hank in a dark pinstripe suit with a white shirt and a red tie, Adam looking very natty in a seersucker sport coat and khakis.

“Hank, I’ve gotta hand it to you,” I said. “You’re standing on the correct side of the cameras” — a few videocameras on tripods faced a lectern — “and you’re wearing a power tie.” Hank grew up in the state and went to U Mass Amherst, which also means he probably knows half the people working in the State House.

Adam and Hank told me they would have to leave a little early. “We’re going to the annual meeting of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to the Indians,” Adam said. “You’re kidding,” I said, “that’s still in existence?” They informed me that the Society, founded in the Colonial era, still disburses money from their endowment to good causes, particularly to Native Americans in the state.

Then the RCFM speakers began. The original signers of the Declaration were recognized; the outgoing director of RCFM spoke; the incoming director spoke; a rabbi (whose name I missed) had us all say “Mazel tov!” to celebrate three years of same-sex marriage; and then Deval Patrick appeared unexpectedly.

Patrick briefly spoke to us, talking about the importance of protecting civil rights. “If we had voted on Brown vs. Board of Education,” he said, “Board of Education would have won, given the sentiments of the time.” Patrick was accompanied by House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who spoke about the importance of leaving the state constitution unchanged so we can maintain the right of same-sex marriage. And then Senate President Therese Murray came down the steps from her office, and she spoke, too. “I heard all the noise, and I couldn’t get any work done,” she said, “so I thought I’d better come down.”

(Patrick, Di Masi, and Murray do not look like politicians, they actually look like real people. You can tell Patrick comes from the wealthy Boston suburbs — wearing and immaculate suit and gorgeous yellow silk tie, he speaks standard College-Educated English. Sal Di Masi, representing Third Suffolk (i.e., Boston), is a classic Boston politician, a product of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School who speaks with a good solid Boston accent. Therese Murray represents southeastern Massachusetts, far from the centers of power in Boston’s suburbs — she looked like an ordinary working person, slightly rumpled from sitting at a desk, some roots showing. Compared to the interchangeable, indistinguishable white-men-in-dark-suits of the Republican presidential debate, these three Massachusetts politicians looked like human beings instead of Muppets.)

Oh, and somewhere in between the unexpected appearance of politicians, the the Right Reverend Gayle Harris of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts became the one thousandth signer of the Declaration. Having her was the one thousandth signer was a powerful statement in a number of subtle ways. First and foremost, Episcopalians in Massachusetts still include many of the wealthiest, most powerful people and families — so they’re definitely not some tiny powerless minority group, religiously and politically. Then there’s all the fuss the worldwide Anglican communion is having over same-sex marriage, there’s some risk in what Ms. Harris did. Then there’s the fact that Ms. Harris is African American, which helps remind us that this is a civil rights issue. It didn’t hurt that Ms. Harris is a powerful speaker — someday, I’d love to go hear her preach.

By this point, the whole event was hopelessly behind schedule. Adam and Hank slipped out at ten minutes to noon, when half the scheduled speakers hadn’t yet spoken. We heard some speakers from the United Church of Christ (UCC) and Unitarian Universalist (UU) speakers. RCFM probably has more UCC and UU ministers and congregations than any other denomination (but I have to admit that the oratorical abilities of the UCC and UU ministers were not up to the level of the other clergy who spoke). The camera crews left as soon as the politicians left, and now the reporters and still photographers started to leave as well. I had only allotted an hour in my schedule for this event, so I slipped out at two minutes to noon.

At the Massachusetts State House

“Join Us at the State House January 2,” said the announcement from the Religious Coalition for the Freedom To Marry, or RCFM.

Join us for an ALL DAY RALLY at the State House in Boston as we ask legislators to stop the discriminatory ballot initiative. Tuesday, January 2, 2007. All day, beginning at 7:30 AM. We welcome supporters to come whenever you can — before work, lunchtime, after work or school. Bring signs and banners, especially ones that show your faith. Show legislators, the media, and our opponents that People of Faith Support Marriage Equality.

I had a staff meeting and one phone appointment this morning, and then I drove right up to the Riverside T station, and took the trolley into Boston. By quarter of one, I was standing on Beacon Street across from the State House, looking at the people on the other side of the street who had rallied to oppose same sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Standing on Beacon Street

The woman standing next to me was taking a long lunch hour to stand in public witness of her support for same sex marriage. Someone had left a hand-lettered sign leaning on the fence behind me. “Do you mind if I get that sign?” she said. I got out of the way. She picked it up and looked at it critically. She read the sign out loud: ” ‘Another Ally for Same Sex Marriage!’ Had to make sure I agree with it before I hold it up,” she added. “And that’s me, another straight woman for same sex marriage.”

Bob S. and Jean K. from my church arrived at about one. “You didn’t wait for us,” said Jean. I had misunderstood the telephone message she had left at the church, thinking I was supposed to drive up as soon as I could and not wait for them. Bob found another hand-made sign to carry: “Jesus Loves Equality.” Across the street from us, two people held up a twenty-foot long bright orange banner that read, “JESUS IS LORD” — representing a slight difference in theology. A woman standing on the other side of Bob looked at the big bright professionally-done orange banner, and said, “Yeah, but if you ask W-W-J-D, what would Jesus do….”

“He’d’ve performed same sex marriages,” I said, finishing her sentence when she trailed off. “I didn’t want to say that, because I’m Jewish,” she said. “Well, I’m a minister,” I said, “so I can say it. Although Jesus didn’t actually perform marriages, as far as we know,” I continued thoughtfully to myself, but no one was listening to me.

More than half the signs on the other side of the street were identical white-on-green signs saying “Let The People Vote.” On our side of the street, we all noticed that most of their signs were professionally printed, while most of ours were hand-made. Compared to us, they looked like well-organized shock troops against same sex marriage. I decided we looked more like a grassroots movement — but I was biased in our favor.

The Constitutional Convention was supposed to convene at 2:00 p.m. Jean, and then Bob, went in to the State House to watch the proceedings. I have little tolerance for political maneuvering, and said I would stay outside. But the wind began to feel colder and colder. Then a voice said, “Is that Dan Harper?” Standing right in front of me were the father and stepmother of Jim, my brother-in-law. “We’re going in to the State House,” they said, and I decided I was cold enough to tolerate the political maneuvering.

In the bowels of the State House

Of course, we didn’t get in to the actual room where the legislators were deliberating. We got to watch it on a projection screen, supporters of same-sex marriage on one side of the room, the other folks on the other side of the room, the middle occasionally patrolled by a state cop or a park ranger. I felt as if I were back in high school — the bland institutional space, the somewhat rickety old projection screen, the authority figures. But there was Dwight from Fairhaven, and Andy and Bev from the New Bedford area, and one of the ministers from the Tri-Con UCC church in my old hometown, and a few other people I recognized.

At two o’clock, the Constitutional Convention convened, and they voted on the measure to place an anti-gay constitutional amendment on a state-wide ballot. If 25% of the legislators voted in favor, then the ballot proposal would move forward to next year’s Constitutional Convention for another vote; if 25% of the legislators voted in favor the second time around, then the measure would go on the ballot. Which would mean (I’ll bet my boots) that huge amounts of money would pour into the state to support that anti-gay amendment, and even though polls show that the majority of Massachusetts voters support same sex marriage all that money could sway people. That’s why we don’t want a vote on civil rights.

The vote was taken. More than 25% of the legislators voted to place the measure on the ballot — 61 out of 200.


The legislators voted for a one-hour recess. I went out and got some lunch, and then went back to stand with the same sex marriage supporters across from the State House. Someone from the Mass Equality office came over and told us that the legislators had voted to reconsider the first vote. By now, the sun was getting low and there weren’t many people on either side of Beacon Street.

A young woman wearing a RCFM sticker showed up on a bike. She was a high school Latin teacher, and she biked down to the State House as soon as classes had ended. Two other woman showed up, all of us churchgoers, and we talked about our respective churches. One woman belonged to Trinity Church in Copley Square, Boston (“Yes, our building does take up a lot of our time,” she told me); one woman belonged to Old South Church across from the Boston Public Library, and the Latin teacher belonged to Hope Church. “The UCC church in J.P.?” I said. “Yes,” she said. “That’s supposed to be a really cool church,” I said. “It is,” she said. We agreed that a cool church has to be multi-generational, multi-racial, and totally hip.

We all noticed that the people on the other side of the street were, on average, much older than the people on our side of the street. You saw more hip clothes on our side of the street, too. But then, I’m biased.

The ending

The people on the other side of the street erupted in cheers. Someone from the Mass Equality office came over and told us that the legislators had voted to allow the anti-gay amendment to move forward to next year. We all filed over to the lawn on the east side of the State House for a closing rally. As we walked past those other folks, I swore I heard them singing “Cumbayah” (so un-hip).

We gathered in the darkness. Someone from Mass Equality told us that we have made progress — the vote to move the amendment forward was lots closer than anyone had thought it would be — Deval Patrick, our governor-elect, had been calling legislators all day, and yesterday too, trying to shut this amendment down — and seven of the most virulently anti-gay state legislators had gotten voted out of office back in November. “The new legislature will be a whole new ball game,” said the man from Mass Equality. Then the executive director of Mass Equality told us that now we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work — we don’t have much time to work to defeat this next vote — “As soon as you get home, start calling your friends and neighbors and getting people mobilized,” he told us.

The beginning

Consider yourself mobilized. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, contact your state legislator tonight (find your legislator here, and then click on their name to get contact info for them). If you’re a U.S. resident but not a Massachusetts state resident, consider making a donation to Mass Equality [link] — because if same sex marriage gets outlawed in Massachusetts, you know it will be a very long time before you get same sex marriage in your state.

More coverage on this issue:

Bay Windows posted a minute-by-minute account of the Constitutional Convention, and has posted which legislators voted for and against the anti-gay amendment (“N” or no votes are on our side) — Link.

The Boston Globe Web site, Boston.com, has posted a very short article — Link. (In the photo showing supporters of same-sex marriage supporters, I must be just out of the picture — I was standing a couple of people away from the guy with the flag and the guy on the right.)

Late fall

I drove up to Boston today to take part in the demonstration in support of same-sex marriage. The state legislature was meeting in joint session today to consider whether to put same-sex marriage to a state-wide ballot test. Personally, I don’t want same-sex marriage on the ballot. It would be one thing if the ballot question could be fairly and honestly decided, but that wouldn’t happen. Opponents of same-sex marriage from out of the state would swoop in like vultures to try to subvert our state’s decision-making process, spending huge amounts of money. Money is not democracy. When you’re trying to decide whether or not to remove a fundamental right enshrined in your state’s constitution (in this case, the right to marriage for all persons), you don’t want to say that whoever has the most money gets to decide.

So I drove up to participate in the demonstration. I knew there would be no parking in Boston. I knew that the parking lots at the Riverside and Alewife subway stations would be full. So I decided to try a few secret parking places we have discovered in Cambridge, where you can park within a ten-minute’s walk of a subway station for several hours for free. I drove around for forty-five minutes, but our secret parking places were all full today. And by that time, it was just too late — I had to be back in New Bedford in the afternoon — so I gave up.

On the way back home, I stopped in for a quick walk in the Blue Hills Reservation. The footing was bad:– everything was still wet from last night’s rain, and the wet leaves on the rocks made for slippery walking. I had to keep my eyes on the trail pretty much the whole time: the golden-brown of white oak leaves, the rusty red oak leaves, the golden beech leaves, the wet stones all blue-gray with bright green lichen. The sun came out while I was walking, and the warmth made me remove my coat and tie it around my waist. I walked up one of the lesser hills, stopped for a minute, and I could see Mount Wachusett to the west, Mount Mondanock to the northwest, and Boston Harbor to the north east, with dark clouds moving far away to the east. By the time I got back to the car, I had forgotten everything:– my frustration with politics, problems at work, worries about a family member;– all fallen away, leaving nothing behind but the bare bones of life: earth, sky, mountains, downed leaves, putting one foot in front of the other.

Day hike: Louisa May Alcott and walking to Boston

When we were children, someone told us about the time Louisa May Alcott walked from her family’s house in Concord all the way to Boston. I no longer remember the details of the story, but it always seemed to me that walking from Concord all the way to Boston was something I would like to do. So today I did. I walked over to Porter Square to catch the 8:45 train out to Concord. When the pleasant young conductor got to me, I said I was going to Concord. “Round trip?” he asked. “No, one way,” I said.

I walked from the train station though Concord center to get to Louisa May Alcott’s house out on Lexington Road. I stopped to talk with Pam, the owner of the Barrow Bookstore. She was just opening her store. “How’s business?” I asked. “Not as good as last year,” she said, “not as many foreign travelers this year.” We laughed together at some of the more ridiculous airline security precautions we had heard about.

Lexington Road was originally called the Bay Road, because it led to Massachusetts Bay. The first English settlers followed the course of the Bay Road when they first went out to Concord in 1635; no doubt parts of that road are older still, and were once paths trod by the Massasoit Indians. Not that you need to know this history; my walk wasn’t a historical re-enactment, it was more of a literary pilgrimage.

It was another perfect summer day, maybe seventy degrees, sunny, a nice breeze. Lots of cars passed me on the roads, but I saw very few people. Many of the houses I passed were perfectly painted, their yards perfectly landscaped — Concord is a very wealthy town now — but many of the houses and yards hardly looked lived in. I wondered how many people you would have seen out and about in Louisa Alcott’s time.

The Alcott family moved frequently, and lived in several houses in Concord. Two of them are right next to each other: Orchard House, the current site of a house museum devoted to Louisa Alcott and her family, and the Wayside which is now more famous as the house where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived. I don’t remember where Louisa Alcott was living when she walked to Boston, but I figured those two houses would be my official starting point.

Soon I got to the Battleroad Unit of Minuteman National Historical Park. The Battleroad Trail winds for five miles through the woods and fields of the park, connecting the towns of Concord and Lexington. At times I was walking along an unpaved road between two old stone walls, with grass growing between the road and the stone walls with open fields beyond. This, I thought to myself, must have been a little bit like what Louisa Alcott saw on her walk to Boston. But not really, for the fields were just rough grass and weeds and not planted with crops, there were no cows or horses or sheep grazing anywhere, no kitchen gardens thriving near the few houses I passed. Nor did Louisa Alcott see any bicyclists in spandex shorts, tourists with cameras around their necks, and park rangers dressed up in tricorn hats, breeches, and waiscoats.

At the end of the Battleroad Trail, I walked on the sidewalk along Massachusetts Avenue, up over Concord Hill in Lexington, through a neighborhood where the old 1950’s ranch houses are gradually being torn down so that McMansions can sprout up.

In Lexington Center, I crossed the Battle Green and passed Buckman Tavern, a historic museum where a man dressed up in 18th C. garb played a tune on a fife. Maybe, I thought to myself, I should have planned to follow in the footsteps of the Minutemen as they chased the Redcoats to Charlestown on April 19, 1775. But I was committed to my Louisa Alcott walk. I bought a sandwich to carry with me, and stopped to talk with Marianne, whom I knew when I worked at the Lexington church.

From Lexington Center, I followed the Minuteman Bike Path all the way to Somerville. The bike path follows an abandoned railroad right of way that roughly parallels Massachusetts Avenue, which is the modern name for that same old Bay Road that goes all the way to Concord. About two miles from Lexington Center, the bike path passes next to Arlington’s Great Meadows. I followed a little path in and found a knoll with a picnic table. I sat down to eat my lunch, gazing out at an expanse of marshland covered with Cattails, and Purple Loosestrife in full bloom. Away on the far side of the marsh, I thought I saw a few red leaves just starting to show on some Red Maples.

As I approached Arlington Center, two men passed me, one riding a bicycle and one on rollerblades. “Downsizing you car saves a lot of money,” said one. “Yeah,” said the other. “…Gas, insurance,” said the first. “Yeah,” said the other. Two women followed them, one woman on a bicycle and one on rollerblades, and they too were deep in conversation.

I stopped to rest in Arlington center. I wasn’t in a hurry, I wasn’t trying to set any speed records, and I had a cramp behind one knee. I sipped some iced coffee and read a newspaper.

On the other side of Arlington center, I came around a corner and there was Spy Pond. The pond was so beautiful — trees and house lining its shores, a small sailboat lazily moving along near the far shore, glints of sunlight on its surface — that I caught my breath. I left the bike path to walk along the pond’s shore. Children and dogs splashed in the water, a large extended family gathered around a picnic table, a woman typed on her laptop, a man sat reading. Regretfully, I rejoined the bike path.

After a while, when you’re walking for a long time, you tend to reach a state of mind where you don’t think about much. When I got to the Alewife subway station in Cambridge, where the bike path officially ends, I had to think because it wasn’t obvious how to get to the extension of the bike path that gets you to Davis Square. That’s all the thinking I did from Spy Pond to Davis Square.

I walked a couple of blocks over from Davis Square to Mass. Ave. and then followed Mass. Ave. to Harvard Square, and then I walked over a couple of blocks to the path that leads along the Charles River. I still wasn’t thinking about much, except that one knee hurt. I crossed over to the path along the Boston side of the Charles. Lots of people out sailing on the Charles. I watched one person sailing a Laser, a small fast sailboat, pushing the boat to its limit, coming about at the end of each tack with losing headway, heeling over until the lee gunwale was covered in foam.

Then I headed up Beacon Hill to Louisburg Square, and stopped for a moment in front of number 10, the house that Alcott bought with the money she got from her writing, and the house where she died when she was just 55 years old. Maybe I didn’t follow the exact route that she did when she walked from Concord to Boston, but that felt like a good ending to a good walk.

About 25 miles in nine hours of leisurely walking.