North Country life cycle

I spend several days every summer in the North Country. The weather is always typical for New England, both warm and cold, dry and humid, sunny and rainy—all the contrasts that summer brings in our region.
Plenty of rain this year has ensured that the color green is pretty much overwhelming. The rain seems to have served up more insects and seeds for birds, because I’ve never heard such a chorus in late July.
The mountain trails are full of hikers. The ponds hold swimmers, canoe-ers and kayakers. The state campground down the road is full. Motorcycle flotillas roar by. Hot dog stands and clam shacks do a robust business. Some locals make their annual trek down to Boston to see the Red Sox play. Even the smallest towns have bike races, weekly farmers’ markets and outdoor concerts.
This summer we have much entertainment from Washington too. We were at a restaurant where the patrons were in stitches imagining Mexicans throwing bags of drugs over a border wall and hitting Americans on the head. They went on to laugh about a president’s lawyer whose name is Ty Cobb and the drama of a meeting with Russians—a meeting, one wag said, that appears to have had more people in it than attended the inauguration. Even Steven Spielberg would have trouble imaging all the weird things going on.
As summer progresses, though, it’s clear that this season stands out from the rest in its unique activities and leisure. It’s not like the joke—at least I think it was a joke—in the movie La La Land, in which each season introduced a section of the movie, and yet nothing changed.
New England’s summer progression is most apparent in the plants. Plants mark time passing as they can’t do in winter. It seems a metaphor for a life span.
Summer’s promise in the North Country is heralded in April by deep green skunk cabbage, bursting tree buds and the bright happiness of daffodils, almost like the anticipation of a newborn baby. Soon those beginnings give way to the solid structure of forsythia in gardens and along the roadside hobblebush, apple blossoms and painted trillium, more like a toddler. Tulips and then lilacs can seem as overwhelming as loud children at play.
By the time the mountain laurel appears in June, the summer is nearing teenage status. Peonies, columbine and gas plants (do you realize gas plants can actually catch fire?) are showy garden plants much like those teenagers with their dramatic appearances.
Lilies decorate the Fourth of July as does the abundant feverfew and are as dependable as college graduates going out to work.
Late July is rather like people in their forties. The show on the roadsides is in its prime and well settled in. It is as diverse as it will get before being taken over by goldenrod, a native plant, and Queen Anne’s lace, an alien I like, although some states have designated it invasive. Those August plants signify you’re on the downhill slide into fall.
In the neck of the woods I frequent most often, the most dramatic sign of fall is the proliferation of Michaelmas daisies, also known as wood asters. They last until the woods turns bright yellow with the native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, which unlike the early spring Asian witch hazel, puts out its best show in the fall. To create the skin antiseptic with the same name, Native Americans taught the early European settlers to boil the stems of this plant.
After those bright October days, the last item left standing is the winterberry, a native holly that lasts for only a couple of weeks in November since the birds eat all the small red fruits. Once I put winterberry in my window boxes only to attract sparrows, which wiped the stems clean in a few minutes.
After this, it looks as if life shuts down, even though it will come again in the spring. Unless it turns out we can be reincarnated, that’s where the metaphor for human life ends.

Following up on the HarborWalk walk

A few weeks ago seven friends and I explored the HarborWalk from Lovejoy Wharf to Congress Street.
We were dismayed by the blind alleys, signs pointing in the wrong direction or no signs, parking lots and the sad condition of parts of the walk.
Now I’ve investigated what’s being done. The prognosis is mixed, but Boston Harbor Now’s plans over time could make a difference.
Before delving into the fixes, I must apologize to the condominium owners at Union Wharf, which was developed into housing before the walk was created in 1984. They pointed out that they had paid attention to the HarborWalk more attentively than other older wharves, and they are right. I’m sorry to have defamed them when they didn’t deserve it.
As to the fixes, one difficulty is that dozens of different public and private owners are responsible for the HarborWalk along its length. A Friends of the HarborWalk does exist. It comprises eight to ten volunteers who host free walking tours, organize cleanup days and install “wayfinding” signs, said the group’s president, Mike Manning, in an email.
But the sign focus has been in East Boston, which is undergoing a waterfront resurgence. Manning invited us to go on a tour with his folks, and I’m sure he would welcome others also. Find their information on www.BostonHarborNow.org.
As to the condition of the HarborWalk abutting the soon-to-be Eliot Upper School at 585 Commercial Street and Langone Park in the North End, it’s mixed.
Construction, to be completed in 2019, has begun on the school, said Boston Public Schools Communications Director Richard Weir. But the HarborWalk behind the school is owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, a notoriously underfunded agency.
At nearby Langone Park, however, there are plans. “Later in this fiscal year we plan to start a community design process for upcoming renovations to Langone/Popuolo Park, with construction starting the following fiscal year,” wrote Ryan Woods, Director of External Affairs at Boston Parks and Recreation. “In the meantime we will look into patching up the HarborWalk area so it is a safe place for residents and visitors to enjoy.”
Boston Harbor Now has the best news yet, although it is a long-term project that won’t spark immediate changes. Boston Harbor Now is a newish organization formed by combining the Boston Harbor Island Alliance and the Boston Harbor Association.
This non-profit’s mission is broad. In partnership with public agencies, communities, and private and non-profit entities, it aims to “re-establish Boston as one of the world’s truly great coastal cities.” That pretty much covers the waterfront (sorry).
Jill Valdes Horwood, BHN’s director of policy, said they are aware of the problems.
The most effective solutions to a continuous, navigable public walkway can be implemented through private developers with cash on hand and big new plans. Through negotiations under the 1866 Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 91, which “seeks to preserve and protect the rights of the public, and to guarantee that private uses of tidelands and waterways serve a proper public purpose,” the Department of Environmental Protection requires those entities that seek to develop waterfront property to create such public accommodations as walkways, restrooms, benches, grassy areas, even fishing docks. One of these is in the Seaport District at Pier Four, outfitted with a fish cleaning station and a machine that disgorges bait.
Chapter 91 was haphazardly enforced until the 1980s and early 1990s when the law was tightened as Boston began the harbor cleanup, saw its traditional industrial waterfront uses decline, and welcomed re-use of the old waterfront buildings. At the same time, it realized the public could be cut off again from the harbor, this time not by fisheries and shipping but by private residences, offices and hotels.
As development quickened, the underfunded Massachusetts DEP—isn’t every state agency these days—challenged by a small staff, negotiated with these new entities one at a time, stored the documents and after time passed, who remembers what’s in them? Thus, when a private hotel or residence closes off a portion of the HarborWalk, as critics say they do, is it legal? They might have the right to apply for a private event. Is the hotel forgetting what they can do? Do they not know or care?
Horwood said BHN has a solution that was begun this summer. It involves a website and is time-consuming to execute but thoroughly needed. This website would partly be a map identifying the walk and its amenities, hazards and incomplete sections, since most walkers have no idea what lies ahead and entities in charge of these sections may have no sense of how they are failing.
It would also collect all the licenses DEP has issued over the years into a searchable database so that both owners and neighbors could find out if closing a portion of the walkway at 4 p.m. is legitimate or not.
“The waterfront is for everyone,” said Horwood. “The state holds these lands in trust, and when someone buys a waterfront parcel it comes with strings attached for public access first, then for private development.”
Meanwhile, can we please work on the signs?

Imponderables

News articles extoll Massachusetts’ wealth. From the Boston Globe on June 28: “The Massachusetts miracle: rich and thriving.” In January, “A Waterfront that’s rapidly transforming,” which reports that $1.5 billion of construction was taking place with $850 million about to begin. These new properties mean exploding tax revenue for Boston and higher revenue for Massachusetts with those construction workers’ salaries and the sales taxes contractors are spending on materials.
Massachusetts has been disappointed in actual revenues collected versus revenues predicted, but the numbers are still impressive for both the state and the city.
This leaves questions: If we’re so rich why can’t we afford public transportation at least as good as Paris, which has struggled with high unemployment? Why can’t we keep day care at UMass Boston, not to mention building excellent facilities? Why do our leaders cry poor when schools need funding, when roads need repairing, when rail needs expanding? Why are we so fearful of spending money, while at the same time everyone brags that we’re rolling in it? It’s a mystery.

Do you follow plastic surgery? If so, you might have noticed an interesting spectacle going on in the boobs department. Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump have matching chests. Same size. Same look. And they’re not even related. They don’t look like any of the women I know, except maybe Angelina Jolie, who has a good excuse. (I don’t actually know Ms. Jolie, but I’ve seen photos.) Maybe same surgeon? Maybe the company producing the product makes them only in one size. Who knows?

Then there is Charlie Baker. Will he become a Democrat? Not in next year’s election, since he is popular with voters from both parties.
But, as a Republican, where does he go from here? Nowhere. We saw Mitt Romney embarrass himself repeatedly in his presidential campaign as he tried to please Republican voters by walking back from all he told us he believed in while he was governor. Charlie doesn’t seem like that sort of person. While he hedged on global warming the first time he ran for governor, he finally split with fellow national Republicans and admitted he was concerned about it.
On most matters he’s more in line with Democrats than national Republicans. Charlie is unlikely to get an appointed position in Washington, given his opinions of Trump, and it is unlikely he could win the Republican presidential nomination given his opposition to many of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s policies. Charlie is the antithesis of those guys—the kind of old-fashioned Republican many of us started out to be before the Republican Party left us standing in the sea without a boat.
Charlie could become the head of some company that he’d relocate to Massachusetts with the appropriate tax breaks or be named president of a prestigious university, and he’d have a fine life. But if he hopes to achieve higher office—president, let’s say—he’ll find little support in his own party, and would be welcomed by Democrats. Interesting to watch.

Why are we building parking garages that will attract more cars when we don’t have enough space for the cars already driving into Boston?
City leaders are bringing two government-subsidized garages holding 2,100 cars to the Seaport rather than spending the money on trolley service or other public transit (Red Line extension, anyone?). Traffic is already stopped dead because the Seaport has only limited access to other parts of the city. As if we didn’t already know, The Economist concluded that, “the costs and availability of parking affect people’s commuting habits more than the rapid buses and light rail lines that cities are so keen to build.”
That means parking will only attract more cars. We shouldn’t build parking if, as the mayor’s Imagine Boston 2030 concludes, we want less reliance on cars. But without parking, we must provide those rapid buses and light rail lines. Technology in streetcars is sophisticated—Seaport leaders should visit Bordeaux, France. That city has streetcars powered by rails that respond to the streetcar passing over but can’t be activated by a person stepping on them or a bicycle crossing them. Street cars running on those wide Seaport streets could move people to transportation hubs like Andrew, Aquarium and South Station.
MassPort is in on the act too, building a new garage at the airport when other cities are putting their money into rail lines to airports. Instead of providing more parking, Massport could extend the Blue Line and improve the sad Silver Line, which now takes four or five times as long to get to the airport as does a cab.
Rapid transit doesn’t work unless it is rapid. That’s what we need, not more parking that will slow us down even more.

One immigrant’s story

In 1990 eight-year-old Victoria Glazomitsky stepped off a plane at Kennedy Airport with her mother and father, her paternal grandmother and grandfather and her three-year-old brother, Misha.
They were immigrating from what was still the Soviet Union. Her grandmother didn’t want to leave. But everyone else did, including her father, who as an engineer could surely get employment in the US.
He would finally. But for two years the Glazomitsky family lived on food stamps and welfare. They struggled to learn English. They depended on a family member who had come earlier. They moved around. Victoria and Misha went to school. The family finally could support themselves. The grandmother gradually lost her nostalgia for her homeland. They all became citizens.
In one way, Victoria’s story is like all immigrant stories—a hope for a better life, a long journey, a struggle to fit into an unfamiliar country, and eventual success, especially for the generations following.
But it is also her unique story. What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than by telling an immigrant’s story. After all, unless we are descended from the First Peoples in North America, we all have one, even if that immigration was forced upon us, as it was for so many Africans.
Victoria said she has achieved success in America because of good mentors and good luck. It’s possible, however, that her drive, persistence and determination to do well also helped her. But again, that is a typical immigrant’s story.
Victoria was a good student interested in art and art history, so when she enrolled at UMass Boston, that’s what she studied. She also was good at math, a native Russian speaker and believed she had a knack for business, so she also majored in International Management.
She caught the attention of Professor Paul Tucker, a renowned art historian, who became one of her important mentors.
After college, with financial stability as a goal, Victoria first went into the insurance world. After a couple of years, she knew it wasn’t for her. Professor Tucker helped her sort things out and steered her to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. At first she was an assistant to the director, but when the 2008 recession hit, the deCordova had to let several staff members go. Victoria took over their duties.
At first, it was a burden of more work and sorrow at the loss of co-workers who were also friends. Later, though, she realized that learning everyone else’s job and steering the complex projects other staff members have formerly managed gave her valuable experiences.
After about five years Victoria confided to the director that, having learned what she could there, she planned to move on. Before she could start a job search, however, the director himself found her a new job.
He had been at a conference with the director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. PEM’s director had a number of projects in his expanding museum that had no supervision. He needed someone who could take them over, even though some were still amorphous. The deCordova Museum director said, “I’ve got the perfect person for you.”
Victoria attributes that career builder to the luck of having her director sit next to the PEM director. Maybe.
During her three years at PEM, Victoria acquired a friend who would become her husband and a future stepdaughter. She and her stepdaughter often traipsed around Boston’s museums. One day in the fall of 2014, they stepped into the Nichols House Museum on Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill. They enjoyed their visit, and the docent told them about the upcoming house tour in December that the musuem has annually sponsored. She couldn’t remember the details, however.
Victoria looked up the house tour online and had good luck again. She found on the web site that the Nichols House was looking for a new director to replace Flavia Cigliano, who was retiring after 16 years at the small museum’s helm. Victoria applied and got the job.
Now with her Russian origin masked by her flawless, unaccented English and her husband Todd McKay’s last name, Victoria is moving on, too soon as she puts it, since she intended to stay at the Nichols House Museum at least five years.
She’ll become the managing director of advancement at the Boston Society of Architects Foundation. This job will help solidify her fund-raising skills.
It’s curious about immigrants. Soon they become so American that their talents and accomplishments mean that no one thinks about their more complicated story than those of the native-born.
Nichols House Museum President Kate Enroth’s comments reflect that.
“We are sorry to have Victoria leaving the Nichols House Museum,” said Enroth. “She had great ideas for new programs and events that brought attention to the museum. Most importantly, she led us in the final steps to gaining the significant honor of accreditation by the national American Alliance of Museums. We wish her well in the next stage of her career.”

HarborWalk—signs needed

Last Thursday, I took a walk along the harbor with four friends from downtown Boston and others from Iowa, Kentucky and Washington, DC, to assess how the 33-year-old HarborWalk is doing.
Time constraints confined us to the stretch between Lovejoy Wharf and the Fort Point Channel post office. I’ll take a walk at other locations later.
The post office is not officially on the Harbor Walk, but it’s a gem. Its spruced-up look has vents like ocean liner stacks. But never mind. We were assessing the walk, not the buildings.
Our verdict? Parts of the walk are dazzling. All of these were built and are maintained by private developments. Presumably their high rents or condominium prices pay for the upkeep.
The city’s properties and such older developments as Union Wharf, however, built and rehabbed before the walk was established, degrade it with lack of access, blind alleys, unsightly parking lots and poor conditions.
In some parts no one would realize the HarborWalk exists since it looks like a driveway. Few signs point to its location. Signs in general are poorly placed and often wrong. We decided the Harborwalk needs a Friends group to get the powers that be to pay attention.
Let’s begin with the fabulous. On a path next to Bobby Orr’s statue park we headed toward Lovejoy Wharf. There we found a passageway through the new building. Wow! That passageway enshrines a splendid view of the Bunker Hill Monument.
Like other parts of the walk constructed since the late 1980s by private developers, this walkway was wide and landscaped beautifully. Its view incorporated the locks, the police station, bridges and the Cambridge and Charlestown shores on the other side. We gave it an A-plus.
Other welcoming spots were along the Boston Harbor and Intercontinental Hotels. Atlantic Wharf had a grassy lawn filled with happy people eating and sunbathing. Also beautiful was Battery Wharf, but no signs let you know the public is invited. Boston Planning and Development Agency: Require Battery Wharf to put up signs inviting people to the public walkway.
On the other side of the Washington Street Bridge from Lovejoy was a stretch that led along the North End. We gave it a D. Crumbling asphalt abutted granite walls that were askew. The walk by the playground, tennis courts, ball fields, the Mirabella Pool and the Coast Guard facility was disappointing and mostly streetside. This waterfront space is wonderful—expansive and welcoming. But again, signs were non-existent and one was completely wrong. Surely that park could be redesigned to incorporate a repaired HarborWalk.
We deplored all the parking lots we had to navigate, sometimes unsuccessfully. The area behind the Aquarium, along the Harbor Garage, Harbor Towers and Independence Wharf were regrettable, forgettable or hunkered down against the public. We wanted pleasant seaside establishments where we could sit down and have a nice, cool drink. We wanted places where people wanted to be.
We were actually warned at one point. “You know this is private property,” said a woman passing into the townhouse section at Union Wharf, while we were standing trying to find a directional sign. I guess the owners there don’t like the public walking by their houses, as the public does past mine—without incident, by the way.
On the other hand, along one wharf, and I can’t remember, maybe Commercial or Sargent’s, the HarborWalk looked like an scruffy driveway, but beside the doorways were gas grilles and charming flower pots—signs that its residents know how to live in a public city. Surely there are carrots and sticks available to reclaim some of the harbor’s private spaces for the public—and get rid of the parking lots.
We loved Christopher Columbus Park. And we were happy to see Tia’s, the kind of outdoor restaurant there needs to be along the waterfront to attract visitors. The boats along the wharves were a treat, as was the harbor itself.
By the time we got to Long Wharf we were tired. (My phone said 12,000 steps by the end.) No one liked Long Wharf, which my coterie did not know has been the subject of lawsuits between some residents and the BPDA over installing a restaurant or something active there. It seemed uninviting and sparsely populated. It is not near residences and most wanted a restaurant. “With dancing on the wharf every Friday night,” said one. My companions suggested a farmer’s market or seafood market would be another good use, but saw it as dead now.
The HarborWalk’s barriers, poor condition, parking lots and general difficulty finding one’s way made it hard to convince the out-of-towners to stay with us. They preferred to get back to the events at the Copley Plaza hotel where their organization was holding its national annual meeting.
We Bostonians found that a problem. Tourism is a big industry in Boston. If the HarborWalk is unpleasant and hard to navigate, it’s not helping the city. While we loved the space behind the Intercontinental, we wanted tourists to appreciate Boston’s older parts also.
Right now the HarborWalk is falling down on that job.