Monday, February 13, 2006

The Nordic and the Dead

Damn that modulating ocean breeze off Boston Harbor! JP seldom gets the snow of Lincoln or Lexington, as though the weather gods say, "Hmmm, there's 128. Let's drop it here."

Yesterday, we could ski out the front door, down our little hill and right up and into Forest Hills Cemetery. It's almost always quiet there, what with the corpses so outnumbering the quick. In intermittent white-out snow, it was the ducks and I. They swam and I skied.

Normally, we head to the Franklin Park golf course. Whether I got solo or with the family, there are few others around. Most locals and quite a few SUV-types from the near burbs come to the arboretum. That makes it like a shopping mall. The same pasty faces, the same fancy togs, and even cell-phone users on skis do the arboretum. It's Newton come close.

Franklin Park though is quieter, less crowded, and of course less wooded. It has lots of hills of various grades, long straights, a stone bridge, woods on the edges, and a huge warning bell to ring.

Where it differs though is that it is a microcosm of Boston's racial divides. Franklin Park is still in the mind of most Bostonians a black park. In reality, it was much more so when I first began visiting it in the late 1960s. Then, it has open roads by what is not a running way beside the golf course. Drug dealers and car thieves did their nefarious do there and physical harm was common.

There used to be one Roxbury before Boston annexed it over in 1868. It ended up with part of Back Bay and South End, and all of today's Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and West (a.k.a. White) Roxbury. On the JP and Roxbury side, there's still a lot of the rox, really puddingstone conglomerate often 20 or more feet above ground level.

Franklin Park has changed considerably. The surrounding neighborhoods have stabilized and drugs and gangs are less in evidence North and absent from the Park. The central golf course is a gem, both low priced and a racial bridge. On a typical sunny day, it's common to see foursomes various ages and races thrown together for a mutual pleasure and getting along just fine.

However, while the zoo has a lot of white customers, most Bostonians tell us that they think Franklin Park is too dangerous. We are surprised and benefit in having such a beautiful woods and park in warm weather and a free ski resort almost to ourselves in the winter.

Ironically though, I have seen only two black skiers on the golf course in the 17 years I have gone there. One was a friend I brought with me. Cross-country skiing is pretty much a white sport. There are quite a few black downhill ski clubs and associations, but no black cross-country ones I can find.

It's like one person in the air and one in the water when I do interact with black folk using the park on snowy days. They invariably are running on the adjacent path, which has been scraped. We pass and call out. Sometimes, a woman will say, "That looks like fun," but I never see her on skis the next year.

Well, today, there were neither black folk nor white folk in the cemetery, no living ones anyway. However, there were a few geese and maybe 100 ducks, swimming in the little lake in the middle.

I slid to the edge of Lake Hibiscus to watch them. Initially, they quacked their ducky warning quacks and got ready to fly. When I stood still, they went back to feeding.

It brought me back to a conversation with boss lady Cheryl of Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge in December. Following a Globe piece saying it was the place to buy a Christmas tree, we bought that and dragged the two kids who would rather be doing anything else to where we could pick a tree for them to kill for us.

At the end, the tree murderer brings the victim to a pavilion to place it in an absurd needle-shaking machine (which the college kids sometime use on each other) and netting for the trip home. While we waited, we chatted with Cheryl about her abutting petting zoo. The garish Chinese pheasants were walking and chattering like they didn't know it was in the 20s F.

Cheryl said the ducks were more amazing. They don't feel the cold in their feet and legs. Their bodies, of course, are fat insulated and have super feathers that act as waterproof fur-like coats.

Back to the cemetery, nearly all the ducks were in the shallow water, with a few on the nearby ice. They repeatedly went bottoms up to feed. All those swimming were frosted with perhaps a half-inch of snow. As Cheryl said, these guys had no sense of discomfort from the gelid water.

Any day that provides such a crisp image is a good one.

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