Monthly Archives: July 2014

Noisy Life

My neighbor had some tree limbs removed this morning. Family Tree Service did a fantastic job – branches came down with little fuss and no damage to people, plants, or property. When all the cut branches were gathered in the driveway, the chipper pulled up. For the next forty-five minutes, I heard nothing but the grinding of limbs into mulch. I ran the vacuum and couldn’t hear it; I moved boxes and my portable dishwasher without the usual creaks and rolls. My tea kettle at a boil couldn’t be heard. My two cats headed for the room farthest from the noise – they are wise about such things. When all the branches were gone, blessed quiet returned. Bird song, the rustling of leaves in the breeze, the gurgle of water filtering in the fish tank all returned. Not silence, but a sufficient and interesting quiet.

It’s not just wood chippers that bring unconquerable noise; schedules crowded beyond reason, cut-throat competitive practices at work or home, inordinate preoccupation with material or career success – all these things can unite to push life to decibels capable of drowning out the sufficient and interesting quiet required to hear God and neighbor. Granted, it’s usually noise I’ve created out of societal expectations, personal doubt, and selfishness. The big question: how do I turn down the volume of life noise?

August will be about just that – turning down the volume that drowns out peace and quiet. Scripture, prayer, faith practices, and trust can help turn the knob. I’ll start with I Corinthians 13…

Elm Street

Across from Park Street is Elm Street, the last one I’ll describe on this blog. The train tracks cross here. The Old Company Store is on the left, just past Fearing Tavern Museum. The old Tremont Nail Company buildings sit on the right, town property yet to be repurposed. Just past that is the bridge, closed down for repairs at the moment. The water on the left side of the bridge is several feet higher than on the right. There’s a ladder for fish to climb, bypassing the gates that dam the water. The remains of a water wheel are still attached to the nail factory, a symbol of power and the passage of time.

Elm street needs work. Its pavement is bumpy from years of frost heaves and patching; the sidewalk is narrow, cracked, and sandy. It looks and feels like a neglected space, well past its prime and not yet reclaimed for future purposes. Except for The Old Company Store.

Over fifteen years ago, two sisters bought what once was the company store for the nail factory. They kept the wood floors inside and the shingles outside. A ton of cleaning, dreaming, and great attention to detail later, this store is one of the most successful businesses in town. Food, music, books, housewares, gifts of all sorts, special events – you can find it all here. The owners and staff are friendly and knowledgeable, the prices are more than reasonable, and shoppers find things here that malls just don’t offer. They support local charities and happenings. In recent years, they repaired and bricked the sidewalk from the edge of the bridge to a bit past their parking area. There are tubs of flowers and decorations for holidays. The love they have for this town and their business is evident in everything they do and everything I see here. Without a doubt, Wareham is a better place because The Old Company Store lives here.

Elm Street is a walk into possibility and neglect. The life of a town can go either way, and usually does. The difference is often connected to dreams and hard work, and an ongoing trust that nothing is beyond redemption. That’s a lesson I need to learn over and over again.

 

Question: What lessons are found on the streets of your town?

Park Street

Park Street’s got the smallest crosswalk in town, and I walk on it this morning. It’s a one way connection for Main Street and Gibbs Avenue, not quite a mile out of town center. One one side is Memorial Park, on the other one long residence – at some point, a small house on Park and the stately white home on the corner at Main Street grew together. Walking up Park Street to Gibbs, I see the congregational church and the war memorial. Walking back to Main Street I see Fearing Tavern Museum, the railroad crossing, and just a bit of the old Tremont Nail Factory. In years past, this was town center. These days, Park Street is a road less traveled: Its one driveway could easily be moved to another street, and Gibbs connects directly to Main just a few yards away. Park Street is no longer a necessary to get from one place to the other.

I walk on Park Street because it’s a vital connection – not so much between two roads, but from past to present, from commercial/political center to commemorative and recreational space. Connecting these things is vital for understanding, appreciating, and learning from the wisdom and folly of the past. Some day very soon, it will be the places and events of my lifetime that reside on plaques and markers – the wisdom and folly of my generation that is no longer the center of attention. What better place to honor this truth than Park Street?

Question: Will our actions be a blessing or a blight to future generations?

 

Main Street

At the bottom of Cedar Street, I can see the beginning of Main Street to the right – a few hundred yards back at Warr Avenue. But I go the other way, walking past Tobey Hospital into town.The Agawam river meets salt water here at Besse Park, hosting swans and herons, fish and fishers. Train tracks run between Main Street and the river, disappearing behind downtown businesses just a few yards past the hospital.

Wareham village, the town center, looks good. New sidewalks and lights, gardens and trees make it a welcoming place – a federally funded facelift that encourages tourists and residents alike to spend time here. Riverside Cafe serves a tasty breakfast at a low price, Twigs & Tides offers the wares of local artists, Minerva’s has great pizza, and the post office staff is friendly and efficient. Bait and tackle, dog grooming, legal advice, haircuts, chiropractic adjustment, and gas for the car are all here in this half mile space.

The odd thing about Main Street: the businesses on the right side of the street, closest to the river, face away from the water. Changing tides and graceful wildlife are blocked from view by walls, storage rooms, and dumpsters. Riverside Cafe’s customers can see the insurance office across the street, but not the river. The only exception: Cafe Soleil. When it was Merchant’s Way Cafe years back, the owners built the dining room facing the river.

I love this downtown, but I see in it a cautionary tale. For convenience and the loveliness of human communal space, the wild world that feeds human bodies and souls is often ignored. The Agawam has its own life, far removed from human needs and preferences. It supplies fish and oysters, and destroys homes and streets when it floods. This tidal area serves a much larger purpose than feeding and entertaining me and the rest of the human family. It is fearfully and wonderfully made by and for the glory of God – not for the glory and convenience of humanity. When I walk on Main Street, I wonder if these buildings turn away from the river to avoid facing this.

Question: What can you see in the heart of your town?

For more information on this series of writings, see Walking Wareham on the “About” page.

Cedar Street

High Street ends with a choice: turn left or right onto Cedar Street. On the right, a steep, partially paved section of road with many potholes; on the left, a steep hill, well paved. I turn left.

This a peaceful place to walk. Maple and Oak leaves shelter the houses and wildflowers grow in sidewalk cracks. After the leaves fall, there’s a beautiful view of Besse Park and the tidal area where the river meets salt water. Two of the houses were recently renovated, two more need work. Beauty, decay, and renewal live on Cedar Street. I wish the memory of a death didn’t.

A few years back, a seventeen year old borrowed a family car without asking. It was after midnight when she saw flashing lights from a police car. She flew straight through the stop sign at the end of High street, ran out of road and flipped the car. Trying to avoid a speeding ticket and punishment at home, she died. The priest at her funeral asked everyone to pray for the girl’s soul, since she died committing the sin of disobedience. Perhaps he thought it would serve as a deterrent, keeping other teens from borrowing cars late at night.

I pray the kyrie on Cedar Street: Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy. For the girl who died so young, for her loved ones, and for the priest whose words brought pain and sorrow rather than peace.

Lord, on this street and in this time, Grant Us Peace.

High Street: Gibbs/Marion Road to Cedar Street

Walking up from the light is a literal statement – the street slopes upward, coming to its apex just beyond Tobey Hospital. Past the light on the left is Ladner Street, with a garden so lovely it refreshes the soul. Sawyer Street cuts in on the left halfway up, with Kennedy Street one house up from it on the right side. Half the distance again, and Center Street is on the left. Saint Patrick’s Church and Church of the Good Shepherd (the bullet hole in its spire cross is a story for another time) are on the right side. Tobey hospital comes next, on the left. High street dead ends a few hundred feet later, with a right or left turn onto Cedar Street. With houses lining its sides, two churches and a hospital, it offers the full range of human experience – a living novel. But those stories are for another day. Today, it’s the walls.

The first is a three layer wooden retaining wall, just eight or so inches high. It hugs the yard of a white colonial on the corner of Chapel and High. Next, fieldstone walls on either side, forty inches high with taller columns marking the driveways. At Sawyer Street, a nine inch cement retaining wall in front of Wiegandt Immigration Law. Almost across from it, a two foot fieldstone wall with electric lanterns lighting the front walkway. Close to the end, a waist high stacked stone wall separates the street from Tobey hospital’s parking lot.

I’ve loved walls my whole life, walking countless ones for untold hours and holding the hands of many little ones as they learned to do the same. I’ve fallen off a few – gravity at work. Balancing on the narrow ones, skipping along the wide ones, walls offer a new perspective. Young children grow taller than their parents, getting a foretaste of their grown-up height. Adults can see farther in all directions than is possible on the ground. Thin ones are an exercise in balance and trust, wide ones are steady as solid ground.

I don’t walk on them so much as walk beside them these days, except the one at Sawyer Street; the owners are friends who won’t mind my trespassing. I still love them, though. They remind me that 1) Adventure and fresh perspective can be found by anyone, but not without personal effort and some risk; 2) Learning to walk on walls is easier with a helping hand; and 3) At some point, it’s time to be the helping hand.

High Street: Gibbs Ave to Chapel/Marion Road

It’s over a mile long, parallel to Main Street, and I find myself on it almost every day. It begins on Gibbs Avenue, with the blue and white hospital sign pointing the way. Mulberry Bed & Breakfast and Bladez Hair Salon are on its left side, workplaces and living spaces to their owners. A quarter mile down, Highland Avenue comes in on the right. Morse Avenue  comes next, its sign obscured by the grand Catalpa on its corner. Another few hundred yards along comes the light at Chapel Street/Marion Road. It’s as far as I’ll walk today.

One of my favorite things about High Street is its geometry. I can stand at any telephone pole, look either way, and see all the other poles on the street perfectly aligned with it. If I stand behind one pole, all the others disappear completely. It’s an amazing gift of engineering and craftsmanship. It’s the same with the old trees that line the sidewalk. I take time to enjoy this visual effect at least once a week, an investment of a few seconds to behold geometric perfection realized with wooden poles and living wood.

I know very little about civil engineering, but I know it’s made High Street a good place: a one-point perspective  in three dimensions, bringing with it a life-enhancing sense of proportion and order. It wasn’t created to be admired from afar. It was built for hands and feet, wheels and foliage, asphalt and wires. A public work that works for the public.

High street is a lesson. Skill and vision, with work and good materials, make an artful way to get people from one place to another – a beautiful means to an end beyond itself, outlasting its creators. It’s the same with scripture, poetry, and prayer – words thoughtfully aligned, beautiful in their own right, holy because we walk through them to God.

Question: What do you see on your town’s High Street?

For more information about the Walking Wareham writings, see  the “About” page.

Gibbs Avenue

Walking up Marion road, past the library sign and town offices, I turn right onto Gibbs Avenue. The side entry into Shaw’s is the first drive, followed by the driveways of many houses on both sides of the street. I walk past Highland Avenue on the right  and Bodfish Street on the left; High Street merges in farther down, followed by Park Avenue. Gibbs ends with a stop sign: First Congregational Church on the left, Memorial Park to the right, Main Street ahead. Gibbs is a favorite for walkers and drivers alike; I rarely walk its length without passing someone on the sidewalk, heading the other way.

There is a Cape Cod house on Gibbs that was empty when I moved to town. Its white paint had all but worn away, visible only around door sills and window frames. Queen Anne’s Lace and orange Day Lilies had taken over the whole yard and the once shell covered driveway had reverted to sand. Three years ago, the whole place was renovated – new windows, new siding, new residents. It’s a lovely old place and Gibbs is the better for its presence and restoration. I love the house, but I love its story even more…

There was a man from a wealthy family. He fell deeply in love with a woman. For whatever reason, his family didn’t approve of her. Then came the threat: leave her or lose your inheritance. He chose his love. They bought that Cape on Gibbs, making a marriage and a life together until her death. He remained until his death a disinherited outcast.

I don’t know any details of the couple who lived in this now renovated Cape on Gibbs Avenue. Love stories are remembered for their passion and sacrifices, not the daily acts and choices that mark a marriage. The Love Or Money ultimatum, when true love conquers all, is supposed to be followed by Happily Ever After – details just get in the way.

I love the story, but I wish the years had preserved more than the romance of it. The choice wasn’t really love or money, after all – it was the love that creates a new family or the love and benefits of parents, grandparents, and siblings – wings or roots. Love lost one way or the other.

Perhaps the man’s parents thought he would choose them. Foolish people to forget this holy truth:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it.

(Song of Solomon 8:6-7, NRSV)

Question: What are the legends and fables that haunt the streets of your town?

Highland Court

A few hundred feet past the light and down Marion road is a blue and white library sign. Taking the sidewalk to the back parking lot, crossing the spaces and climbing the stone stairs, I reach Highland Court. It’s small, with four driveways and two houses that look onto its asphalt. There are many more chickens and garden beds here than people – farmland in downtown Wareham. Cars must enter and exit from Highland Avenue because it ends at the chain link fence at the top of the stairs – passable on foot and a dead end behind the wheel. It’s a peaceful lane leading to a quiet destination of books and dreaming for cyclers, strollers, and walkers.

Years back, Highland Court was the access road to the elementary school – a place of learning and playing, noisy and busy. Buses and cars drove through an entry now blocked by the fence. When the school burned down, elementary education moved out of town center and the library moved in. Now and back then, it’s mostly children who take this pavement and staircase; once a way to elementary school, now a shortcut to the library. After a good snow, it’s a tiny sliding hill for small children.

I’m here frequently. It’s an integral part of my walking route, leads to the houses of dear friends, and delivers me to the library. Like my life path, it began in elementary learning and no longer concerns itself with the complexity that can dominate life between childhood and grey haired maturity. Fostering green spaces and birds, domestic and wild, is a treasured activity, and it leads to a place of beautiful words and images. When I walk the earth here, I see my life: simple and short, with a beginning and an end. There’s a staircase that takes me beyond it. The way is narrow and I can’t enter weighed down with cars or camels, or troubled by many things. But that’s to be expected – it’s how Jesus sent his disciples into the world. Holy adventures start with empty hands, simple faith, and the willingness to be part of God’s amazing story.

 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25, NRSV)

 Question: If we are Christ in this world, then we continue the story. What adventures are found in your life’s chapter?

Marion Road

Chapel street ends at the light, running into High street. Walk straight through the light and it becomes Marion road/route 6 on the other side of the intersection. A few hundred yards away are the library and town hall. Behind the town hall parking lot is Spillane Field; it’s the summer home of the Gatemen, Wareham’s Cape Cod League baseball team. For $2, you can see some of the best college players, MLB scouts, and lots of residents enjoying the great sport of baseball.

Past the town buildings, at the Shaw’s shopping center, Marion road widens to four lanes. Roads on the left lead to popular beaches, roads on the right to Rochester and West Wareham. Straight ahead, Kool Kone offers fabulous food and ice cream at reasonable prices and Gateway Tavern serves drinks and terrific seafood to locals and visitors alike. Just past these places, a bridge offers views of osprey nests, tidal marshes, and people fishing. The bridge is not the end of route 6, but it is the end of Marion road; Wareham ends here, becoming Marion and route 6/Wareham road. Change the town, change the road name.

I’ve never walked across the bridge into Marion. There isn’t much on that side for a couple of miles, and there’s enough on the Wareham side to keep me happy. The two towns have very distinct identities, and most who live in one wouldn’t choose to live in the other. It’s one thing to name a road after a neighboring town – it’s a great way to let walkers and drivers alike know where they are headed, but it’s quite another to claim kinship with the town next door. Marion road in Wareham, Wareham road in Marion: both the same(route 6) and both different.

I think about Marion when I’m walking on Marion road. It’s a beautiful town on the same water as Wareham. I’ve spent time in its shops and churches, on its beach and in its preschools. But it’s not home, and I don’t spend my days and nights there except to visit. But the road that takes me there is part of my daily life: it’s the road to my library, my town hall, and my team’s baseball field. Whoever named Marion road showed wisdom in his or her selection: at the very heart of home is the road that leads to the next door neighbor.

 

Question: What are the main roads in your town? Do they lead to your neighbor?

 

For more on the “Walking Wareham” writings, click “About.”